“Where you used to be, there is a hole in the world, which I find myself constantly walking around in the daytime, and falling in at night. I miss you like hell.” -Edna St. Vincent Millay
Three years ago today it was a Wednesday afternoon when a beautiful girl named Sydney went into a closet and ended her life with her father’s gun. It was a particularly humiliating high school break up that triggered the fall. I walk by her bench regularly, as it is on my favorite dog walking route passing into the heart of a wooded park in town. Her father built this memorial bench on the route that they used to run together.
Every time I walk by her bench, whether I am steeped in gratitude for the beautiful space I am in or lost in worry for the mental space I am trying to leave behind, I always have the same reflection about Sydney. Each time I am awakened again to the truth that our feelings, powerful enough to allow us to end our lives, really have nothing solid in them. When you are sixteen, feelings sweep you away like a sneaker wave in high tide- before long, the stories that attach to them become more real than the breath we are taking.
Each time I think of Sydney I think what one more hour could have meant in her life. How she would have laughed at herself just two days later, at the thought she would end it all, over him. I wonder if she had gotten a call from an old friend reminding her about the future moving towards her, could that have been enough time to escape the prison her mind constructed. Humiliation combined with rejection is a powerful dose of feelings that suffocates, from which it is hard to imagine an exit. Amazing how twelve hours would have brought some space, enough space to glimpse feeling some other way. The unbearable weight of emotions, like shame and pain evaporate with time. We learn with each experience how there is nothing solid in them, just the stories with which we anchor them.
I suspect that this is the lasting gift that Sydney unknowingly left for her friends. If she had one more note to pass, I think she would tell them this, “Feelings are like a storm. Watch them pass, feel them and listen to them, but don’t let them swallow you up. Don’t let the raging storm in your heart steal your future.”
Two days is a long time when you are sixteen, you could probably weather two or three emotional storms and still have time for a rainbow to emerge. Loving Sydney’s memory should remind us all to give ourselves the time to see what comes next.