Tag Archives: love

I Have Nowhere Else to Go

Photo: Amanda Slater via Wylio

I went to confession this past weekend. I try to go as often as I can; that is, when it doesn’t interfere with my family’s plans. I used to arrive about 10 minutes late. When I did, the line was like Walmart on a Saturday afternoon.

Sure enough, when I show up 10 minutes early, I still have to wait because, wouldn’t you know it, there is absolutely no line, and the priest is still getting ready. So this weekend I decided to arrive right on time. Like a game of roulette, I had to wait and see; I wasn’t able to let my wife know when I would be back.

It turned out there was only one person in line when I arrived. I noticed a man in his 30s who had just walked out of the confessional. He was looking around as if he wasn’t sure of the way out. He asked me if I knew which door led to the west parking lot. I told him and expected him to go on. No one usually speaks when they’re in the confessional line. It’s much too somber. Plus, I was feeling awkward as usual. Anytime that I’m outside of my home I feel awkward and self-conscious, as if everyone is staring at me, gazing at all my faults.

But the man didn’t go. Instead, he spoke to me. My heart sank; I knew what was coming. Those two dreaded words: small talk.

I was wearing my Knights of Columbus T-shirt, so I didn’t want to appear rude or odd. Like the vehicles that have the fish logo on the back: If they don’t drive like Christians, it would make them look bad.

Luckily he opened. “So, you’re a Knight?” he said, nodding toward the logo on the left breast of my shirt. Thank goodness. Something I could talk about with some degree of ease. He said he was also a Knight, but he wasn’t active. His council was located on the other side of Dallas, a very spread-out metropolis, so he was definitely far from home. His name, he told me, was Jim. Jim had just started a new job in the vicinity and was interested in joining my parish. I told him a little about my council and the parish in general. The confessional door opened, and suddenly it was my turn. We exchanged pleasantries and then parted ways.

The whole time my conscience was screaming at me inside my head. Invite him to the next council meeting! Tell him about the next pancake breakfast!

But, like so many times, I had blown my chance of helping someone. All because of my timidity.

I won’t even blame it on my illness. My awkwardness appeared worse than usual, probably because I was too focused on something that never materialized anyway: gaining the nerve to invite Jim to check out our council. I mean, the man could have been single and alone in this new phase of his life. He could also have been married or even widowed. I have no idea because I didn’t ask.

I could have stepped aside to speak with Jim some more. It’s not like the priests expect the line to always be full. Then I started thinking about other guys in my council and how they would have “made the most of every opportunity,” like those motivational posters declare.

When I was younger, I was a member of a church that many people, ex-members and others, described as cultish. We were required to “reach out,” meaning evangelize, every Monday. The other days were filled up with meetings, “discipling” groups, and two services per week.

I was forced to walk up to complete strangers in supermarkets, go door-to-door, and stop students on campuses with the pressure of getting a name and phone number. Every Friday we had to report our “numbers” to our superior, the dreaded “family group leader.” I hated this so much. Of course I never got many names and numbers because I felt so out of my element with those particular approaches.

Maybe those difficult years are still ingrained in my head. Maybe that’s why I avoid opportunities to meet new people or to suggest a church activity to interested people like Jim.

Yes, I’m expected to share my faith and evangelize because I’m a Christian. The Church recognizes this and has called for the New Evangelization. In the Bible, Jesus calls all believers to go forth and make disciples. But there’s a way to do it, and there’s a way not to do it.

I want to help people. I know what it means to suffer from mental illness and to start my life over after returning from the brink of death. We’re human; we all long for love and fellowship with one another. Atheists are starting to form their own “churches” on Sunday mornings because they realize their need to be loved, strengthened, and encouraged by others, even if they don’t believe in a Creator.

A lot of times it seems so hard to be a Christian. A lot of days I want to give up in order to ease the stress. But I have nowhere else to go. I’ve tried making my way in the world without God. I always ended up in my own hell. I am reminded of someone I heard on Catholic radio recently who said, “Atheists say we use God as a crutch. Why not use God as a crutch? People who are hurt and injured need crutches.”

Yes, I let Jim wander back outside into an unfamiliar and uncertain new life without offering anything. I pray that our paths will cross again soon. If they don’t, I pray that someone else won’t be too scared to offer a hand to him.

There are so many people in the world who are hurting. I am one of them. However, I’ve found that by taking the focus off myself, I can better help others. I mess up a lot, but I’ll keep at it. I have to. I have nowhere else to go.

~t


Homosexuality and Bullying

Credit: Fotolia

I have taken part in several flash fiction challenges over the years. I love writing, and writing extremely short pieces of fiction really pushes me and helps me to develop more as a writer. Hopefully at some point I can make time to continue this guilty pleasure.

I had wanted to discuss two different issues on this blog at some point in time; however, after going through my old file of stories, I found something that should really be categorized as “flash flash fiction:” The challenge was to write a story in only 100 words. 100. That is probably as long as my “About Me” page on my blog. Ridiculously brief. And that’s why I took the challenge!

What’s interesting is that the 100-word flash fiction piece addresses both of the issues that I wanted to write about. Why not kill two birds with one stone? I originally wanted to discuss each topic in separate posts, but I will attempt to merge them here and try not to bore you with an outrageously long post.

Anyway, here is the flash fiction piece entitled “Bullies and the Bullied:”

We always made Todd close his eyes in the shower after gym class.  Once, during our barrage of insults, I threw his clothes in the trash barrel.

Todd spoke softly with a lisp and only hung out with girls.  As far as I knew, he never got beat up; no guy wanted to touch him.

After that school year, we never saw him again.

***

My son’s junior high photo smiles at me from the mantle. “Of course I still love and accept you, Michael,” I say to it, wiping my eyes.

When you get home from school, I’ll tell you that, buddy.

(I wonder how many of you counted those words…? I might have been off by a few.)

The inspiration for the second half of the “story” came from a conversation that I had with my wife shortly after our oldest son (now seven-years-old) was born. I have read about quite a few parents over the years who had to come to terms with the fact that their son or daughter was gay. When I lived in Japan, I had a Canadian friend who was disowned and told to “go to hell” by his parents after coming out to them.

Of course my wife and I didn’t have to think about our response at all; we would love and accept both sons because they mean more to us than life itself. I would never have the heart to cut off all contact with my two little buddies.

Now, that doesn’t mean we would support the lifestyle. I’m sure you noticed that this blog is written by a Catholic, and I accept and believe what the Catholic Church teaches on homosexuality. But nowhere does it say that anyone should be looked upon as sub-human.

I am really ashamed to admit that the first part of my story really happened. I was young and foolish. Too concerned with trying to fit in, I joined in on the taunting and verbal abuse of my fellow seventh-grader. How I wish I could go back and shake my younger self by the shoulders and scream, “Look at yourself! Think about what you’re doing to this poor kid!”

But I can’t go back. All I can do now is hope and pray that “Todd” is safe and not going through the harassment like he did every day after gym class so many years ago.

Maybe I joined the crowd because the focus of my peers was temporarily off of my awkward, uncoordinated self. Or maybe because I had to take my frustrations out on someone more vulnerable than I; anger and hurt from my father’s continued physical and verbal abuse during my entire childhood would build up from time to time.

There is never a legitimate reason to bully or hate someone. In fifth grade, our family moved to a new city, and that meant a brand new school for my sister and me. By that age, every kid in my new class already had their social groups fixed, and they made it clear that I wasn’t allowed in. Needless to say, I was bullied and even had mud thrown at me. It wasn’t until later in junior high that I finally made a few friends: other outcasts who knew that strength in numbers would be the only way to survive the dark, scary corridors of high school.

Going back to the topic of homosexuality, the Bible and the Catholic Church have never taught that it is a sin.  Rather, they teach that homosexual activity is a sin because it goes against the laws of God.

God gave each and every one of us dignity when He created us. As a result, every person on the planet deserves our love and respect.

~t


Dear Rhonda

This post consists of Rhonda Elkins‘ comment that she left on this blog and my reply. I didn’t intend to make them into a blog post, but it seemed like the right thing to do: I realized there was some information contained in our exchange that could be helpful to people.

Topaz,

I am greatly moved that you have made an entry in your blog about my blog and the loss of my beloved daughter. Your writing is beautiful and moving. What I am very happy about also, is that my blog and my feelings about my daughter’s suicide made an impact on your life and cemented your promise to never do that to yourself. In the depths of depression, many people don’t see the impact that it will have for those left behind, they only see their intense mental pain and want to end it. However, if people know beforehand, before they get to that point, maybe that knowledge can be retrieved in that dark moment and decide not to do what their depression is asking them to do.

I wish you happiness in your life, and if you ever need a friend, I will be here. Thanks for mentioning my blog. The more people can read about what suicide does to those left behind the better and I also want to fight against the stigma of mental health problems which prevents many people from seeking help. I think this is what happened to my daughter.

My name is Rhonda Elkins. I really did not realize I had not put my full name on my blog. It’s in the article I wrote way down at the beginning of my blog, but sometimes people might not go back that far. I don’t mind people knowing who I am.

Please keep in touch and thank you.

***************************

Dear Rhonda,

Thank you so much for your thoughtful comment. Everything I wrote in this post was true and from the depths of my soul.

When I used to be a Bible discussion leader back in college, members told me that they admired me for the way that I could “feel.” I never really knew what they meant until recently. I often feel for others so much that it overwhelms my soul and envelops me in a dark cloud.

I blame this ability/curse on the reason why I haven’t been able to achieve more in a career. I feel like such a loser because I’m approaching middle age with a Master of Arts degree, and I am still underachieving professionally. This thorn in my side, as I refer to it, is more than likely my illness. I think God is showing me that it can be a strength after all. I don’t know.

I didn’t want to tell you about this blog entry because I don’t like drawing attention to myself. I figured that if you found it on your own, then it was meant to be. That’s one reason I blog anonymously; the other reason is, of course, the personal nature of my posts. As you mentioned, there is an enormous stigma tied to mental illness that keeps me “in the closet.”

You’re right: Many people cannot think rationally in the depths of depression. I know I sure didn’t. For some unknown reason, it just wasn’t my time to die. Right before my first attempt, I remember cursing God and telling Him that He would have to physically come down and stop me. I said all this as I consumed about six shots of tequila. I said it one last time back in my car before I swallowed 40 Xanax tablets (1 mg each).

As you can see, I should not be here right now.

Maybe God wanted to use me as a testimony to help others. Again, I don’t know. I haven’t mentioned this publicly, but I attempted a second time last October. However, I got scared and changed my mind as the carbon monoxide fumes started burning my throat. I called 911 and was soon whisked away. My two little boys and my wife were waiting for me at our local community center for a Halloween event; I never showed up. It was the second time in two months that I had disappeared from my family. I am amazed and humbled that my wife is still with me.

My support team consists of two certified therapists, my psychiatrist, and my mother. I meet with all of them regularly (Well, my mother lives out of state). One of my therapists used to be an interrogator for the U.S. Army, so he pulls no punches. I also spent time in three different mental hospitals last year and earlier this year.

I already consider you a friend and it goes without saying that I will be in touch on a regular basis, because that’s what friends do.

[~topaz]


A Life Cut Way Too Short

I’m not into posting in an impromptu manner, but something has been weighing heavily on my heart today.  There is a lady whose blog I have recently discovered.  It is called My Bright Shining Star, and it is an outlet for her to deal with the trauma of losing her beautiful daughter, Kaitlyn, to suicide this past April.

As a lot of you can guess, this topic really hits home to me since I attempted suicide late last summer (the night of August 24 to be exact).  I cannot do this poor woman justice by describing her pain and torment and how she pours her heart and soul into her blog posts, so just go over there and read them for yourselves.

I know the blogger’s name, but since she doesn’t publicize it anywhere (that I saw) on her blog, I will just refer to her as Kaitlyn’s mother.

She is still Kaitlyn’s mother and always will be.

My wife spent one year in the U.S. as an exchange student in high school. She was placed with a very dear LDS (Mormon) family. They had six children, but two of them tragically died in a car accident years before my wife lived with the family. To this day, my wife’s host mother still includes all six children’s names in her Christmas cards that she sends out each year.

It melts my heart each year when I open the card and see all eight names at the bottom (including the parents). To my wife’s host mother, the two deceased children’s bodies are no longer here, but their spirits live on in the hearts of the surviving family members.

I’m not sure what the Catechism of the Catholic Church says about it, but my wife and I have a mutual understanding that we would have done the same exact thing had we been in her host parents’ situation.

I wrote a comment to Kaitlyn’s mother today and told her that her blog has impacted me in ways that she probably cannot imagine. After my attempt last summer, my wife, parents, and siblings told me over and over how they would have been affected and how it would have changed their lives forever. My mother even said that she wouldn’t have been able to celebrate Christmas quite the same for the rest of her life; she and I share that holiday as our favorite, and I would have unknowingly ruined it beyond repair.

My older cousin took his own life while I was living abroad, and I’ll never forget reading the email from my mother about the details. I began sobbing right there in the Internet Cafe as I read the news. My mother said that my cousin even took the time to put his two beloved dogs in their kennels before he shot himself.

My mother, from whom I get my emotional heart, said she would have given any amount of money to know what he was thinking as he led the dogs into the kennels and latched the doors for the last time. Those little trivial thoughts are like life support for a memory that has already evaporated.

Even though it has been over twelve years, little things like that pop into my mind from out of nowhere. One year for Christmas I bought my cousin a newly-released CD box set of The Doors, his all-time favorite band. He loved that gift so much. I still wonder what became of those CDs. Are they sitting in an attic covered by layers of dust? Did his ex-wife sell them at a garage sale? Or did my aunt and uncle leave them in his bedroom where he had last left them, like a lot of parents who seal off their deceased child’s bedroom to preserve their memory for as long as possible?

Anyway, if you’re reading this, Kaitlyn’s mother, please know that, although I cannot begin to comprehend your loss and the trauma that you’re experiencing, your writings have impacted me like nothing else ever has. I promised my family that I would not attempt suicide ever again, and you have helped me to cement that vow.

May you and your family be comforted and carried by the Lord and His angels until you are all reunited with your lovely daughter again.

~topaz