I Could’ve Saved Him, But I Didn’t Know.

I have to tell you about Roland.

I met Roland in my third and final year of seminary. For my final year, I went to North Carolina to the main campus for a month-long crash course. At the seminary gym, Roland introduced himself to me.

He was tall, a bit desperate, with shifty eye contact, the sort of good-looking guy who probably wasn’t so handsome in grade school.

He followed me around the gym, offering to spot me, copying some of my exercises. We exchanged shallow pleasantries between sets, and at the end, he said, “Maybe we can, uh, like have coffee this week.”

“Sure,” I said, unsure if I wanted to offer my number. I take longer to make friends. Trust issues, I suppose. “I’ll see you at the gym tomorrow?” I said. “Then we’ll make plans?”

Roland grinned, a really sheepish, aw-shucks sort of grin. “Yeah, yeah!” he said, practically clapping. “Okay!”

I didn’t see Roland the rest of the week, and the crash course ended. I went back home to Florida and forgot I had ever met him.

A few months later, one of the professors on the Florida satellite campus made an announcement at the start of class:

“A student named Roland committed suicide this week.”

Roland’s girlfriend had broken up with him. The break-up had happened months ago and he was too lonely to go on. He had swallowed a bottle of pills and went into a coma. His parents decided to withdraw life support.

I remembered Roland’s puppy-dog shout: “Yeah, yeah, okay!”

I understood why he had tailed me at the gym. Why he was so quick to find a friend. Why he wanted to meet for coffee.

After class, I ran to a restroom and threw up everything inside of me.

I could’ve … I should’ve … I didn’t.

I let someone die.

For years, I felt responsible for Roland’s death. I’ve blamed myself over and over, seconds before my head would hit the pillow, remembering his dark-encircled eyes, replaying his voice on mental vinyl, losing sleep and softer dreams.

Could I have done something?

Should I have done something?

Continue reading “I Could’ve Saved Him, But I Didn’t Know.”

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Angry About Anger


An honest confession:

I struggle a lot with anger.

I’ve also been told that anger is wrong, so I tend to stuff it down. Eventually there’s a breaking point where it flies out like twice a year. I look pretty laidback and congenial until I have my semi-annual blow-up. It’s ugly. Embarrassing. Enough to make people leave forever.

Anger, of course, can be scary. I have thrown things. I have punched a wall. I have yelled uncontrollably. There’s no excuse for that sort of behavior and I deserve every consequence. People have a right to leave.

But I never knew there was a healthy kind of anger. That anger is pointing to something true, real, and valid. That it means something is very wrong around us or inside us, and it needs healing. At the very least, it needs to be heard.

No, we should never use anger as an excuse to hurt someone. It’s never okay to say, “I only did that because I was angry.” Nothing justifies abuse. Ever. We must be held accountable regardless of how we felt at the time.

I just wonder how we can talk about this in an honest way without totally writing off the angry person.

I’ve found that underneath rage is usually pain. Grief. A kind of hurt that has left us powerless.

The hard part is venting our anger in a way that’s constructive instead of explosive. The even harder part is to talk about it without people judging.

The common response is always condemning: “I knew he was terrible. His life is so good, he has no reason to be mad.” And maybe that’s true. But how can we correct this unless we talk about it? Aren’t there sometimes real reasons a person is mad? There must be a safe venue for an angry person to say, “I’m bitter, I’m resentful, I can’t forgive, and I don’t know what to do with this.”

My fear is that no one will make room for it. You can usually tell someone you’re insecure, sad, or lonely, and they’ll hear you. Tell someone you’re angry and they assume you’re a “bad person.” Sometimes angry people are also “bad people,” sure. But I wish we could find help for our rage without immediately being crushed and cast out. I wish we could talk through the stigma.

I think, in the end, that anger must have a place. You can be angry for instead of against. It can be motivated by justice. There are legitimate reasons to be righteously mad. A call for reparations. A proper outrage when someone is oppressed, exploited, abused. I wish I had known this sooner. I want to be angry for you, not at you. I hope there’s grace enough to learn how.

— J.S.