I saw him in the corner. I was busy and in a hurry and I was hoping that he wouldn’t stop me. But he looked up, from a book, I think and he smiled. “Well,” I thought, “There goes my quick trip to the corner cafe.”
We were both community organizers of a sort. He was a well-known doctor. A cardiologist no doubt. A man of the people who got elected to the City Council. A sane voice among insanity, a liberal light in the bastion of conservative politics. He was what I lovingly call a Birkenstocks liberal, lover all of all things minority, voice of all the oppressed and just a genuinely nice guy.
Dr. Ted Eastburn was not served by his title. His title made him seem at arm’s length but he was so approachable. He always worn those damn Birkenstocks. You’d see him, you’d look at his stoic face, the white coat, the Dr. by his name and get uneasy and then one glance down and you’d see those Birkenstocks and smile. That was Dr. Eastburn alright, a bevy of contradictions.
No matter where I saw him he was laughing and talking and when I looked at him I saw the version of him that I wanted to see: Successful, smart, accomplished, rich, compassionate, caring and a voice for the voiceless. All good things.
And even on that day years ago when I walked into the newly minted corner coffee shop in our midtown Colorado Springs neighborhood I still saw a man of underwhelming strength who only had to look at you to make you feel at ease. There were no airs, no pretensions just a person who seemed genuinely concerned about the world’s problems and wanted to be a part of the key to solve them. He wasn’t a saint. He had enemies I’m sure. Maybe he was too righteous, or too passionate, or whatever but overall he was pleasant to be around.
Darkness lurked around the edges. His son committed suicide. After that he and his wife, a colleague of mine and fellow journalist divorced. But he remarried and all seemed well. It seemed well. When I looked at him in that cafe and he smiled it never occurred to me that today he would be dead. Killed by his own hand. Shot in the head. I say this bluntly because there is no way to sugar coat suicide.
It is ugly, messy, a vexing yet blatant way to die. Judgment aside, suicide as a fact is shrouded in a mystique that seems impenetrable. When you hear someone committed suicide you first think, “Why?” While they were always probably thinking “Why not?”
“It’s a struggle everyday to keep from putting a gun to my head,” a friend told me a couple of years ago. I almost dropped the phone. I couldn’t comprehend this sentiment. Yes, I felt sadness. Yes, I felt what it’s like not to want to get out of bed in the morning, to cry myself to sleep, to wish it would all go away, to want nothing but blankness. But I never considered doing it myself. Taking my own life was unthinkable. It was against everything I had lived for – my God, my family, myself. But here was my friend, a person I loved, respected and admired, even envied telling me that he wanted his life to be over.
“I’m serious,” he said. “I’ve held the shotgun to my head and I wanted to pull the trigger.” He wasn’t showing off. He wasn’t seeking attention, he was crying out for help. It took about 30 seconds for me to regain my composure and in the calmest voice I could sum up I told him to call a counselor. I stayed on the phone until he got a number and we worked it out. He began seeing someone. He still struggles with depression. But he is still here. And that is something that I’m grateful for.
I often wonder that if we really looked at the people we see, would we really know that they were struggling with ending-life issues? And if we knew what would we do? Could we do anything? Suicide is such a frustrating epidemic. It’s anything but a silent killer. But really folks are we listening?
I’m certainly not saying that we can all rescue those who are hell-bent on their own destruction. But we could definitely intervene more. Right? What do you think?