Before my high school graduation, our principal, Mr. Karlheinz Schröeder asked the school faculty to gather all of the senior students inside the basketball court. When we went inside, he was already there waiting patiently, his eyes fixated on the floor. When we all sat down on the bleachers, he finally set his eyes on us and everyone gave him their full attention.
Before becoming a principal, Mr. Schröeder was a football coach for almost two decades. And although he was trying to downplay his coaching past, it still emanated from him. He took his time before finally facing us for good and started talking.
“I know some of you are probably questioning why you’re here…”, he started. “In a few days you’ll all be crossing a moment in time in which you leave this little world and step into the big one. And that’s when the real journey begins.”
I remember feeling the fear in his voice. He wasn’t afraid to hide how much we meant to him, and how much losing any one of us would’ve devastated him. A year prior to that, a bunch of high school graduates including his own son, were driving drunk on prom night. That dangerous gamble ended their lives. Tears welled up in his eyes when he told that story.
“I remember sitting in the waiting room, praying to God he’ll make it, but unfortunately and as we all know it: life, for the most part, isn’t fair. And so, we lost him.”
As he said that, I imagined being in that car that night, and I wondered if my parents would’ve cared if I was on the verge of dying. I knew they would’ve at the time, but not if they had known what kind of person I’d end up turning into. My parents have given up on me; totally given up. They don’t care. And neither do I. The whole point of the principal’s speech was for him to warn us that small mistakes and simple acts of recklessness can have long-lasting consequences. He begged us to act responsibly, insisting that he wanted to see all of us graduate and go to college.
“Take a moment and look around you. Look at your fellow classmates. Your friends. The people you grew up with.”
Some of us did. I remember looking at Hilda, and her looking back at me with a hint of a smile. He then proceeded:
“Imagine one of them gone.”
The smile was no longer there. The mortifying thought made me question people’s importance in one’s life for the first time. How important are our family members? How important are our friends? Can anyone lead a lonely life away from any kind of human contact? Mr. Schröeder made me think about all of that as well as the existence of death, something we often tend to forget about because we’re too caught up in our daily life. Just like life, death happens as well. Together, they mark the bookends of our lives. Ignoring death leaves us with a false sense of life’s permanence. We think we have forever but we don’t. And death isn’t the only way things end. Separation is another one. When I looked at Hilda and then at the rest of the people sitting around me, I remember thinking not all of us would make it. For me, the thought itself is what makes even more sense now; that nothing lasts. It heavily symbolizes my life and what I had to go through while people around me dropped like flies. Ryan, Hilda, Anders, Warren, Shawn, Matthew, Ellen. All of them had their own exit, whether it was them purposely leaving or dying. It doesn’t make a difference. The effect is still the same.
How do you survive that kind of pain?
Twelve years ago, I walked into a hotel with the intention of ending my life but ended up failing. I have no idea why I haven’t tried doing it again. It’s not that hard. I guess it’s the tiny, little strings of life that kept me holding on. But now I’m asking myself, “For what?”, “Is it worth it?”
I don’t know. I’m still here, and a small part of me wants to be. The bigger part however, doesn’t.