If you’re reading this, and you’re struggling with depression, anxiety, suicidal thoughts or anything that makes you want to hurt yourself, please understand that people care about you.
I am in a scholars program here at St. John’s called the Ozanam Scholars program. It involves 25 of us, living together, working at service sites 6 hours a week, doing reflections and going on trips. We are together almost constantly. At the end of Freshman year, we all went to Puerto Rico together on a service trip. I struggled with learning Spanish. I have always struggled with languages. When I got back, my family asked if my Spanish had improved. Every time I said the same thing: “I read a paragraph in Spanish by the end.” To be entirely honest, I couldn’t have done it without a member of my cohort, Zach. We sat waiting to get a tour of La Fortaleza, staring at a giant sign with an image of the moon on it, wondering what it said. So we sat and took the sign word by word. Eventually, we figured out that when America went to the moon, we brought a Puerto Rican flag there and back as a gift. And in a display case under the sign, there was the small flag. I don’t think I would have ever figured that out without him.
Ozanam has given me so many opportunities, from travel to friends to life lessons. But I’m not sure any of that will ever be matched by the almost year I got to work with Zach. Last summer, I was sitting down with my mom after dinner when a member of our cohort told me he had committed suicide. It took me a day to even believe it was real. I completely shut down that night and went to sleep. The next two days were a blur of phone calls and emails and making arrangements to get to his hometown and come to the wake and mass.
Zach was scheduled to go to Italy with us. I remember saying to a friend how excited I was to get to spend more time with him because I hadn’t felt like I had gotten to know him well enough. I still feel that way. I’ll always regret that the next time I got to know more about him, was at a kitchen table at a friend’s house in Maryland as we swapped stories about him. And now, every time someone plays an acoustic guitar I think about how he would have played it better.
He was an incredibly kind soul. I don’t think there’s a person in Ozanam who cared more about the work we did than him, including the administrators. He would sleep outside on Christmas Eve to better understand the plight of the homeless. He worked with kids in a way I really envy. He taught me a lot about service work. He taught me about being friends with people, even when they may not agree with you on everything. He really did teach me about what I wanted to be: patient, understanding, and peaceful.
Ozanam has been a large part of my life for the last year, and I know it will continue to be important as I continue my college career. This semester I will be working for Little Friends For Peace (LFFP), an organization that teaches young students to be more peaceful in their interactions in the world. If you have read my articles, you may not have used the word “peaceful” in describing me. I have been known by friends and family to be argumentative. Zach worked at LFFP for years, and hearing him talk about it was amazing. If there’s anything I could wish for, it would be to gain that zeal in service.
If you’re reading this, and you’re struggling with depression, anxiety, suicidal thoughts or anything that makes you want to hurt yourself, please understand that people care about you. Zach and I were not close friends; I only had fleeting moments of service, fun, and learning with him. Yet, I still feel deeply affected by the light he brought to this world. There are people in your life who feel this way. There are people in your life who love you with every bone in their body and want you to get better. There is nothing wrong with going to therapy, taking medication, or seeking help. I have been going to therapy for most of my life, and it is one of the best decisions I have ever made. If there is something I want you to carry from this story, it is that everyone has a light that they bring to the world, and every light deserves to be seen.
Suicide Prevention Hotline: 1-800-273-8255