I remember every detail as if it just happened yesterday. As I came into the teachers’ office and sat down with my coffee, one cool, October morning three years ago, my supervisor, whose desk was immediately next to mine, looked at me and said,
“Jonas-sensei. I need to talk to you. Something happened yesterday.” He paused for a moment, as if those words were very difficult for him to say, for some reason, before continuing. “Do you remember Yuuki?”
“Of course! He was one of my most enthusiastic students last semester. Why? What happened?” I asked, sensing an immediate, almost urgent tension in my supervisor’s voice, as if he really didn’t want to tell me something.
“Well, yesterday morning, Yuuki came to collect his books and paid his school fees. Then, he drove back to his home in Otsuki… He parked his car near the railway bridge near his house, and started to climb.”
Already sensing where this uncomfortable conversation was going, I shook my head. “No!” I said. “No… No…” As much as I knew exactly what my supervisor was going to say, everything in me fought the ever-sinking feeling in my gut. I felt ill.
My supervisor swallowed hard and continued. “A neighbour saw him climbing, so he immediately called the police…” He stopped, as his voice choked up ever so slightly. “By the time they arrived…”
“Oh my God!” I said. “No!”
“They were too late. He had already jumped,” he explained quietly, his voice shaking. It was clear, that as much as he was trying to keep his traditional, Japanese, stoic composure, and remain emotionless, his own body and emotions betrayed him. “I just thought you should know because the funeral will be on Friday afternoon, if you wanted to attend.”
I never did. It was too hard. I’m told that the majority of the people at his funeral were young – his classmates and friends. There were many, as he was a very outgoing individual. And almost everyone, from the teaching staff to the students had their own unique experience and story to tell. My supervisor fondly recalled being on the admissions board, and when Yuuki appeared in front of the panel of stiff, formally dressed, older Japanese men who asked him a barrage of questions; one of them was, “Do you have any special skills or hobbies?” Yuuki replied,
“I know karate! Watch!” And he jumped up out of his chair suddenly, and demonstrated a ‘kata’ which is like a choreographed routine, of kicks, punches, and yells, while the panel sat there, mouths open, both shocked and amazed at such an unusual and physical response. But he was so charming; they couldn’t help but smile and check off the “accepted for admission” box on their papers.
For me, the relationship was more personal than most of my other students. While I was an experienced instructor, with literally thousands of students having listened to my lectures and taken part in my classes, very few were like Yuuki.
Yuuki was unusually motivated. He took English as an optional class, in addition to the mandatory curriculum that everyone was required to take. In fact, there was only one other student who did so as well, so with only two in the class, we all got to know each other quite well. Whenever I asked that they bring outside materials to class for discussion, he was the first to volunteer. He would request for us to translate song lyrics for his favourite bands, which were The Clash, and Maroon 5. Then, after school, while I was in my office, he would frequently come and visit me for no particular reason. He just wanted to hang out, and talk about soccer and martial arts. He would show me clip after clip of random videos on Youtube, until I finally had to tell him that I had to get some work done, or that I was leaving to go home, so he should also consider doing the same.
He was the son of a baker, and every morning he would be up with his father at 4 in the morning, baking, cleaning, packaging, and delivering. On the weekends, he would drive out to the coast with his friends where they would hang out on the beach, listening to music, and talking about girls. He was 20 when he decided to take his own life, just when his life seemed like it would be awesome.
A little over a decade ago, it never would have crossed my mind that I would have such an incredibly close experience with a suicide, even though I was living in a country with one of the highest suicide rates in the world. In fact, it’s difficult to speak with someone in Japan who hasn’t been directly or indirectly touched or affected by it. And believe me, nothing can ever prepare you for such a thing; it’s almost surreal. And yet, even in this country, according to Statistics Canada, suicide is a major cause of premature death. In 2009, there were 3,890 deaths by suicide, with men between the ages of 40 and 59 being the highest risk group. In addition to which, it is also the second leading cause of death among 15-24 year-olds in British Columbia. One in five teens consider it, and one in ten actually attempt it. Only car crashes kill more young people. The reason for the “emergency exit” door for today’s Advent reflection is because for many, suicide represents precisely that – an exit. If you’ve ever asked yourself, “How could anyone every consider such a thing?” I have a great link for you today. One of the best descriptions I’ve ever read about suicide was written by a journalist and blogger, Joe Peacock. He writes, “Something you should understand: no one wants to die. People who attempt suicide don’t want to die. They want the pain to stop.”
Although suicide rates during the holiday season don’t seem to rise, as some have traditionally maintained, I still believe there is great value in reflecting on how this affects all of us at this time of the year. I’ve added a helpful list of resources here that include some crisis line phone numbers, for if ever you, or someone you know needs to talk to someone, and some other good information, like the Joe Peacock article that describes what it’s like to be so depressed that suicide might become a viable option. So remember to please take care of yourselves, and if you or anyone you know has thoughts of suicide, know that you are never alone, and I for one, am always willing to help. I am willing to listen, and I will be your friend.
I am poured out like water, and all my bones are out of joint; my heart is like wax; it is melted within my breast;
my mouth is dried up like a potsherd, and my tongue sticks to my jaws; you lay me in the dust of death.
For dogs are all around me; a company of evildoers encircles me. My hands and feet have shriveled;
I can count all my bones. They stare and gloat over me;
they divide my clothes among themselves, and for my clothing they cast lots.
But you, O Lord, do not be far away! O my help, come quickly to my aid!