Brother’s Keeper

*Dylan’s mom stood in the doorway of the shiva house, looking out on a grey, stormy day, the weather most likely in precise alignment with the torment inside her. For a moment, I didn’t realize it was she. We hadn’t seen each other for about fifteen years. Her hair was different then, shorter, curlier. We met at an intensive therapeutic program for our then-preschool-age sons. I asked where the family was taking visitors.

 “I’m the mom.” ‘It’s me.” She said pointing to herself.  

 

Last week, Dylan, age twenty and a college junior, made the tragically irreparable decision to take his life. No words adequately express the level of devastation and sorrow his family, friends and community are going through.

In many ways, he was a success story. Dylan, despite his Aspergers** diagnosis, (an autistic spectrum disorder seriously impacting social skills) soared in his mainstream classes, worked as a camp counselor, went snowboarding and rock climbing. He also fearlessly tried his hand at skydiving. He was fiercely loved by his parents and three brothers who never hesitated over the years to provide the help he needed.

Dylan may have mastered some significant aspects of his difficulties like academia and driving a car. However, he was all too aware of the serious social challenges preventing him from grasping the last rung on the ladder of achievements–the possibility of being accepted, to not be different and be like everyone else. That coveted lifeline promised to pull him up, making him level with the rest of the world. But Dylan found it elusive. The rung would always be just a bit out of his reach. He was so close.

In his eulogy, his dad expressed sadness that most people focused on his Aspergers rather than his good heart.

Dylan continuously strove to understand social nuance and the mechanics of appropriate conversation. He eagerly tried to learn how to do better. Dylan hoped for friends of his own who would genuinely want to include and appreciate him; to call him because they wanted to catch a movie—not because they were using him to get a ride. He wanted to know what having a girlfriend was like. He yearned for romance and intimacy.

His heart was worn down over time, his dad’s words continued. Dylan worked hard for peer inclusion but got too little in return.

The family, however, is determined not to allow their son’s death to be in vain. They challenge others to include the person who is alone on a Saturday night or the one sitting by him or herself in the cafeteria or social gathering.–‘the one who may lower your social status.’

To say kindness is difficult is counterintuitive. But kindness should not be confused with weakness. In fact insensitivity, selfishness and cruelty is the easy out, impulsively calling forth our most base reaction. Self-control, empathy and compassion are strengths to be nurtured.

It takes soulful effort to fight through personal discomfort and reach out. Brush off social stigma and rediscover common decency. Say hi. Smile—elemental respect everyone deserves. It is so simple. Dignity is a most fundamental right and human need. Humiliation and hurt are powerful emotions that can lead to despair.

Dylan’s family wants people to know that we can set the example. His brothers always included him with their friends and everyone was all the richer for it.

Lack of systemic supports coupled with status-conscious youth set a most tragic stage for Dylan’s final act. The first tragedy was society’s failure to respond.

If that rung was half an inch away, it was a million miles. Let us not dismiss the ability we have to help close that gap for others.

May his memory be a blessing.

X, S

From National Suicide Prevention Lifeline: If you or someone you know is contemplating suicide call 1-800-273-TALK (8255). You’ll be connected to a skilled, trained counselor at a crisis center in your area, anytime 24/7.

*Name changed

**Adults with Asperger’s have suicidal thoughts at about ten times the rate of the general population: 17% to 66%

Risings

 (I’m plagued by everything from tragedies in the news to the more every-day life-stresses.  I’ve written the following as an expression of  frustration and hope)

What’s plaguing you?

You know, those crumbs stuck in the recesses of your mind sitting there, slowly rotting,  threatening to infect your better self.

Pharoah, the wicked King of Egypt, just doesn’t get it. It takes no less than ten seriously nasty plagues before finally grasping the concept of change (and even then he was quick to fall back on his old ways).

Pharoah’s actions are the epitome of  Einstein’s well-known definition of insanity: doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results.  His hardened heart not only harmed others but his loved ones as well.

Consider how often we are guilty of hardening our own hearts because we hurt, are insecure, angry, jaded, fearful and weary. The red flag waves.

We too must learn the same lesson repeatedly before it sinks in. Are we listening to what our lives tell us again and again? Do we heed the signs hidden or glaring? Do we exercise our empathic muscle when we interact with others?

Many times, mental cobwebs cloud those messages and hinder our objectivity. The status-quo may obscure the path to any possible change. One fundamental reason we flounder and stumble: we lack the skills to make even a small step toward redirection. We simply don’t know how. We’re stuck.

According to the Passover story, the enslaved make a break for it and grab the one opportunity they have for freedom. Squandering it could cost them their lives. The yeast may not rise but they themselves would–to the challenge presented.

Luckily, we don’t have to move as fast.  However, the decision to rid ourselves of crumbs, literal or metaphorical, should be made. The journey may be never-ending.  We are a work in progress.