This morning, the news spread like a fire through our workplace and small, North GA community. The Jackson and Banks County areas are rural and loosely populated, and one of those parts of the world where most everybody really does know almost everybody.
“A student shot themselves at Banks County High School this morning”, my wife told me.
No name. No details. But immediately, my mind started scrolling through the names and faces of teenagers we knew who attended there. Family. Kids of friends. Neighbors. Even people we only “know of”. Not that it would lessen the impact if the student is unknown to us, but being honest…that’s just what I thought.
Bits and pieces incrementally came together. A news clip here. An office conversation there. Someone’s husband called in with an update. A Facebook post to fill in some gaps. Finally, a name. The news that he is actually still alive. And before long, most of us had a reasonably clear picture as to what had happened.
I don’t know this young man. At all. No clue as to what kind of kid he was. What his social standing was. What color his hair and eyes are, or who his parents might be. But it doesn’t matter. In the end, it’s a recurring story, regardless of race, color or creed. Quite simply, a young man, relatively uneventfully, walked into school this morning. Stopped. Pulled out a pistol, pointed it at himself, and pulled the trigger.
Caleb, my middle son is 15. His face keeps flashing in my mind as this story gets told and retold and talked about.
And as it does, lots of folks, including myself, are asking the obvious question, “Why?”
And I honestly don’t know. Experience apparently isn’t always a great teacher, because even though this is something many of us have seen, before…I still can’t explain it.
It happens far too often. A teenager (popular or not) has the mounting pressures of, well…of being a teenager. Boyfriend. Girlfriend. Grades. Sex. Clothes. A phone. A car. A talent. A sport. A date. Hormones. Dreams. Grand plans. They struggle. They worry. They panic. They’re terrified of what they can’t control and don’t understand. Maybe this one doesn’t deal with things the way most of the other kids seem to be. And finally, in desperation, thinking there’s no other way out…they end it.
It’s all too common. And is getting worse. Nearly 20% of high school students report having considered killing themselves. And almost 15% have actually made plans to go through with it. Just a couple of years ago, do you know nearly 5,000 kids aged 5-24 took their own life? That’s about a child, every couple of hours…24/7, 365 days a year. And estimates say that for every suicide that succeeds, another 25 don’t.
This is a problem. But not a new one…
When I was in school, it happened twice, that I can remember.
The first time, a young man at our school hung himself in his closet. Why? Why would he do that!? He was popular, good looking, smart, active and involved. God, how long had we been in school together…since 2nd grade? Who would’ve ever guessed what was going on in his mind. Afterwards, the rest of us came back to school to a world turned completely upside-down that next day. Everyone confused and at a loss and asking “Why?”. It just didn’t make sense.
A few years later, another kid, also hung himself. Same outcome…but a different set of circumstances this time. He was admittedly slow, academically. Mostly unpopular. No new, trendy shoes or clothes. No girlfriend. Even openly picked on at school. He lived just down the road from my house. We even rode the bus home and walked a good quarter of a mile to my driveway together every day, before he continued on his way to his house. Life was hard for him at school. I mean, I wasn’t openly cruel to him, like I had seen some be. But I still laughed at him when the rest of my peers laughed. And I certainly didn’t go out of my way or make any point to be particularly nice.
If you went to school with me, you know the kid I'm talking about. You know what he dealt with from us. All of us.
That following Monday at school, was again, a day of shock for all of us. “What is going on? Why!?” Only this time, shock came with the common shadow of guilt hanging over all of us. That wondering if we caused this…or could’ve prevented it. This time, it did make sense…but still left us at a loss.
Why? Always, “Why?”.
I don’t know. I really don’t know.
I do know this though…that as odd as it may be to say it…I not only remember those events in my school, but I also remember the reactions of the student body, after they happened. I remember the “air” in the hallways. I remember the manner of the students in the lunchroom. The conversations between classes. And on the whole, I must confess…those two periods of sadness and distress were the greatest moments of strength and kindness and friendship, that I can remember, at our school. We drew in upon ourselves, in the wake of that storm, and found our strength in each other.
Did God cause those boys to kill themselves? No, I don’t believe so. But did He allow those dark days to bring about an unexpected sense of good, in all of us? Yes, I firmly believe He did.
Is that the “good”, in the midst of the “bad”? I don’t know if I could call it “good”. But if God gave us the chance to receive a blessing, out of that apparent curse, then yes, I believe in that “good”. A most unexpected good.
So at the end of this day, again, I can’t look at this and answer the why. I can’t say what we could’ve done. What we could not have done. I can’t tell you how to make sure it doesn’t happen again.
But I can say with absolute certainty, that if we allow it, God is able to take times like this and transform them into instruments of the greatest encouragement and compassion. Into days of hope. Into brotherhood and love for one another, in a way that will surprise us. And then we can believe that nothing ever happens, in vain. That our God is “working all things together for good, for them that love Him.”
May we pray for faith in Him. Faith that leads us to peace. And a peace that goes beyond our ability to understand the outcome.
“And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose.” – Romans 8:28 (NIV)
“And the peace of God, which transcends (or passes, or surpasses) all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds, in Christ Jesus.” – Philippians 4:7 (NIV)