In the US, suicide kills more people than homicide. Think about that for a second.
Think about how many people feel as though ending their life is in some way more manageable or more appealing than living it. And then think about what it takes to get to that place.
Perhaps not all of us can think of a time where we’ve been pushed to that extreme, where we felt that our world was just too unbearable to go on. But I would wager to say, that most of us, at some point or another, have felt unhappy, unloved, unconnected, or unworthy – that we’ve questioned whether the tomorrows would ever get better than all of the yesterdays that came before.
In those lowest of low moments, it’s almost automatic that we remember the unkind things that others have said to us: the condescending remarks about our weight (height, beauty, skin color, sexual orientation), the withering appraisals of our clothes (car, home, significant other), or the brutal assaults on our religious (political, cultural, scientific, philosophical) beliefs. All those moments we felt slapped across the face (or worse) by our fellow humans.
But, for most of us, we are also able to remember the other voices. The ones that help us regain our dignity, find meaning in life and fight the simple yet equally difficult battle of getting out of bed each morning. These are the voices that that help us recover. These are the voices that remind us that each and every one of us is loved and appreciated and so deeply needed.
And so I asked 13 people, of varying ages, genders, and backgrounds, “What words or experiences have stood the test of time? What are some of the things that people have said to you or about you that you will never forget?” Their answers follow. They are both heartbreaking and uplifting and they remind us, as writer Leo Buscaglia put it:
The majority of us lead quiet, unheralded lives as we pass through this world. There will most likely be no ticker tape parades for us, no monuments created in our honor. But that does not lessen our possible impact, for there are scores of people waiting for someone just like us to come along…Someone who will live a happier life merely because we took the time to share what we had to give. Too often we underestimate the power of a touch, a smile, a kind word, a listening ear, an honest compliment, or the smallest act of caring, all of which have the potential to turn a life around. It’s overwhelming to consider the continuous opportunities there are to make our love felt.
I think the most hurtful thing that’s ever been said to me is when I told my mother I was quitting my 6 figure job to be a stay at home mom. She just looked me in the face and said, ‘I have failed you as a mother and I have never been more disappointed in you in my life.’ While my mother and I have never been the best of friends, you never expect a response like that from your own mother. It took everything I had in my not to start sobbing. I knew that breaking down would only elicit another cruel response from her, so I just held it together the best I could. My two beautiful daughters are now 19 and 21 respectively. They are enjoying college and still haven’t really decided what they want to do with their lives. I couldn’t be prouder and can’t wait to support them in WHATEVER they decide to do.
When I was in first grade, I overheard my mom telling my dad that I was fat and was putting me on a diet, which she then proceeded to tell me to my face and then do. I was like 6, but I can’t help think it’s where a lot of my body image issues and my struggle with binging and bulimia stemmed from. And I obviously still think about it.
When I was wedding dress shopping at Kleinfeld’s I bought my dress, had my fittings, and was at Kleinfeld’s for my final fitting. There were “stalls” of brides in different stages of fittings, all with their moms, all nervous about revealing their dress to whatever entourage that had accompanied them. I walked out of my dressing room along with another couple of brides and someone’s mom jumped up, clasped her hands together and exclaimed, “Every wedding is beautiful and every bride’s an angel!
It was seriously one of the defining moments of my life. That woman showed us such generosity at that moment. She was all goodwill and joy when she could have been all about her daughter and snotty. I realized that we can have beautiful weddings, success in life and happiness without “taking” it from someone else, there is plenty for all. That two seconds of time is one of my happiest wedding memories, I think about that woman at least once a week when I have to decide to be generous or stingy with my opinions.
One time, after my teacher published one of my poems in our school magazine, she told my mom, ‘You know your daughter is really talented. I mean her poem is amazing.’ I always remember that.
When I was about 12 my father said, “The problem with you is that you are lazy. You could achieve a lot but you don’t want to push yourself, so you won’t.” It stuck with me and gave me a sense that I’d never measure up. It was a thoughtless, condescending thing to say to a kid who was usually trying pretty hard. It probably caused me to work harder on some level, but it also caused me to reject him for much of the rest of my life.
I was old enough to see the hypocrisy of him saying that. He had just lost a series of sales jobs for being lazy and not performing (he would go to the bathroom with the crossword at work). And I immediately saw the injustice of his words. He was hard on me at a time I needed a supportive parent, reversing our roles and making me the one who was supposed to work hard. I resented it and still resent working hard when others around me are doing less…somehow the words “you are lazy” made me work to prove him wrong while also making me angry. I guess both the work ethic and the anger have pushed me to places I might not have gone otherwise.
People have told me in the past that I talk too much, and/or that I need to find a way to make what I say more concise. That’s caused a huge amount of self-consciousness to build up inside me that makes me very uncomfortable when I think I’m starting to talk for too long.
In 12th grade, an underclassman told me I have been her role model since the 2nd grade. She still calls me her big sister to this day. I never really did anything special for her to make her feel that way-I think that’s why it’s so special to me.
When I was in fifth grade the most popular girl in school called me fat…and then told the whole school. I was standing somewhere on the edge of the blacktop during recess, and my best friend Briana was approaching. Briana was practically running toward me. She stops in front of me and blurts out, “Amanda called you fat.” What? “That’s what Sam said.” Fuck. If Sam knows, everyone knows. I think my stomach might have actually hit the floor that afternoon. I applaud my eleven year old self for managing not to cry until I got home later that day, sobbing into my mother’s open arms about what Amanda had said.
Long story short, my mom called her mom and they had “words”, those of which ended up leading to the termination of their friendship, and myself never again having to politely attend one of those little bitch’s slumber parties.
But honestly, a little part of me wanted to go. I wanted to go and be accepted there.
I think that the comment has stayed lurking in the back of my mind all these years because in calling me fat, Amanda validated a fear of mine, that I was fat. There’s knowing something about yourself, something that you aren’t happy with or are self-conscious about, and thinking that only you feel that way that’s a lot less scary than knowing everyone else feels that way too. Or at least now has the option to feel that way, in this case, because the most popular girl in school put it in their minds that they could. I didn’t want my guy friends to think that I was fat, I liked playing sports with them, being able to kick a ball around and not talking about who we had crushes on or which Backstreet Boy we’d rather marry.
Sometimes when my pants feel a little tight, or I catch myself dwelling on my weight, I do wonder what it might have been like had Amanda never said that. Would I still have been friends with all those guys when they stopped being interested in only sports, and started talking nicely to Amanda and her friends? Would I have struggled with anorexia in high school? Would Mitch have liked me? I don’t know and I never will, but like I said, I still wonder.
My grandfather always said to me: “Never wish away time.” I was constantly wishing I were older or more grownup so I could do certain things and he always stressed to me that time moves so fast and is so precious that it should never be wished away. I hear his voice often when I start to think about jumping ahead to the future, or even just thinking that I wish some difficult thing would be behind me (“I can’t wait until after this big project is done…”) and remember to value the time in the present.
Also, I heard this phrase about a year ago from Wayne Dyer – basically that if you have the choice to be right or be kind, always choose kind. I heard it again recently with regard to a new children’s book that is out called “Wonder.” I sometimes get indignant about people doing the “right” thing and following rules (no surprise I became a lawyer!), but I think it’s so important to give people the benefit of the doubt and be kind.
When I was in 7th grade I went to overnight camp for my 3rd summer. I had an established group of friends, but being a 13 year old girl there was plenty of drama. I wasn’t exactly the most sparkling and wonderful person at this point in my life (the tween years were hard on me) so I had somehow managed to piss off various girls in my friend group simply by being “annoying” in one form or fashion. Anyway, one day all my “annoyances” came to a boiling point and this girl, her name was Rachel, basically bitched me out, telling me that I made mountains out of molehills and that I was alienating everyone because of that.
This comment has seriously stuck with me since then. I consider myself to be a pretty relaxed person now, I tend to just do me and not really give too many fucks. But, I had to work extremely hard over the years to basically suppress my neurotic side and become the person I am today, because some girl told 13 year old me that I was annoying. I have never really decided if this was a negative or a positive in my life. Maybe both?
My fifth grade camp counselor told me “You’re a pretty amazing woman. You are going to go on and do great things. You just don’t know it yet.
I can remember the scene vividly. It was one of the first times I can remember hearing that I had worth, and value. I grabbed those words and locked them away in my heart, like a tiny treasure. I bring them out from time to time and turn them over in my head, admiring the magic, polish and shine of them.
My father, upon hearing that I had to drop out of college because I was broke and couldn’t afford to eat said to me, “What made you think you were good enough to go to a private college anyway? Your sisters all went to public ones.”
At the time, it stung. I was 20, and my parents had both filed bankruptcy, and neither had filled out the paperwork necessary for financial aid – instead they claimed the tuition on the bankruptcy, which had backfired. So I had missed all filing dates, and had a full tuition load, plus apartment rental, food, car loan, car insurance, etc on my shoulders. I was young, scared, broke and honestly felt at that time that I had no other options left. No way out of the financial hole I was in. I was ~$50k in debt — and didn’t know where to go. So when I came to my father to explain what had happened, those words, completely void of compassion and full of judgment, felt every bit like the slap in the face they were intended to be.
I have been angry about those words for a long time. And yes, I am still angry about them.
They are the pivot point in my life. The day that I stopped my life as “my parents’ daughter” and began my life as “my own person”. I vowed never to have to hear them, or words like them, ever again.
So when I think about those words, I am reminded that I AM good enough to be exactly where I am, and where I want to be. I AM strong enough to make the right decisions to get me there. And that if I am in a hole, and don’t know how to get out of it, to never give up. Those words have taught me to find a different way. And that I am capable, in my own right, of moving mountains and making magic happen. To see the possibility in randomness and exploit it. They are my galvanizing center.
“I Love You”
Two Weeks before my 18th birthday I was fighting with my mother about the car. It was a Saturday night — July 2, 1977 — and I wanted to go out. After arguing for a while she finally did agree to let me take the car. As I was leaving the house she called my name and as I turned, she said, “I love you”…”I Love you too,” I replied. Little did I know three hours later she was gone. 38-years-old and as she got up out of a chair, she stated she was dizzy, fell back in the chair and was dead.
My life moved on and I treasured the fact that our last words to each other were, “I Love You.”
I decided then that my last words to the ones I loved at the end of a conversation or visit would always be “I Love You”. If something happened to me no matter how long it had been since our last conversation…an hour, a day, a week or a month. The last words from me to them would be “I Love You”. Rarely did I forget to say these words.
29 years later, February 2, 2006, my brother and I had been talking every day because my grandmother was ill. He worked nights, had two young kids, but we talked when we could. On this particular day he had called me at work and we were rushed in our conversation. We ended our call and after I hung up I realized that we didn’t say “I Love You”. Rarely did I forget…I thought about calling him back and telling him that I loved him. I convinced myself I was being silly that I would talk to him tomorrow. But there was no tomorrow. He like my mother, died suddenly at work that night. He was 35.
Rarely…Rarely….Now it is never….My last words ALWAYS to the ones I love are: I LOVE YOU.