Thursday, August 14, 2014


The death of Robin Williams has ushered in an avalanche of commentary, both positive and negative. One blogger, Matt Walsh, received a torrent of negative criticism for his conclusion that suicide is ALWAYS bad and that many are unwittingly condoning it for those with severe depression by glorifying and memorializing the actor.

I'm not here to join that discussion one way or another, but I will give you one real-life experience with suicide and then pose another question, Was Jesus suffering with depression? What if he had chosen to fall on Peter's sword?

When I was 12 and entering 7th grade, I joined the choir, taught by an energetic and charismatic young teacher named Pat Ryan. It did not take long for many of us to find out this man was not the typical junior high school teacher. He actually liked us, goofed around with us, but more importantly, taught us about the mysterious and beautiful world of music, from pipe organs to the newest fad, Switched-on Bach. We hung out at his house, his wife and kids becoming an extension to our ever-growing "family." He was the dad many of us had hoped for but had never had. He was the big brother who could mess with us but would call us out when we went over the line, which was quite often as I recall.

When as a group we all moved on to 10th grade and high school, Mr. Ryan graduated with us, leaving junior high behind and taking on the challenge of the high school choral department. Nothing changed in our friendship and there were a handful of us guys in the inner circle. We could tell him anything and everything. There were no secrets. And we repaid his confidentiality with our loyalty and hard work. By the summer of my junior year the select group of the choir was heading for a trip of a lifetime to perform at the New York World's Fair. I could fill a memoir on that experience and someday I might, but suffice it to say, that trip, and all that led up to it, would never be forgotten by any of us who went.

When we graduated from high school and headed off to college, Mr. Ryan matriculated right along beside us as a graduate student. From learning about pipe organs to learning about pot pipes. Again, another memoir. As I prepared to graduate, it was easy for me to pick a career. I would become a teacher just like Mr. Ryan. I would dedicate my life to my students just the way he had. He was my idol and he was my friend.

So some years later as a teacher myself, I learned from a colleague that Mr. Ryan had just the night before driven from the high school to a vacant lot behind the school and had proceeded to extend a hose from the exhaust pipe of his car into the passenger compartment where his body was found following his wife's frantic nightmarish search. Mr. Ryan, Pat as we called him by now, had committed suicide.

In the weeks that followed, rumors circulated, a memorial was held, family and friends gathered, and hundreds of his former students mourned. Some of us died a little on the inside too.

You might think it had no bearing, but I only taught one year after that. That musical group I had started? It just didn't matter that much anymore and it ceased not long after. Every memory I ever had, every lesson I had ever learned, every soft secret ever spoken was punctuated by the finality that Mr. Ryan had killed himself. It changed things...forever...and I will have to agree with Matt Walsh that NO GOOD THING comes from suicide. Not one...not ever. You can't convince me otherwise, so when I see so many well-intentioned people trying to put a positive spin on Robin Williams' suicide, I just don't think it will be possible, at least for me. It changes the way I remember him. It changes things.

Another claim that really seemed to tick off Matt Walsh's readers was that suicide is a choice, that it's ALWAYS a choice. And to him it's a VERY BAD choice. That got me wondering. Was Jesus depressed? Did Jesus also have a choice? What if Jesus had chosen to fall on Peter's sword instead of enduring the cross? That night in the garden. Remember what he said? "My soul is overwhelmed with sorrow, even to the point of death." He asked for his Father to take "this cup" from him but in the end he would not assert his own will over that of his Father's. He chose death but of a very different kind.

So suicide, death at one's own hand, is a very bad thing. Sacrifice, by the hand of the Father, is a very good thing. They both change things forever.

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