The things people say or do often catch my eye, in what would otherwise be some of the most mundane moments. Like while driving.
It was about a year ago, in Spring of 2022. I was approaching a stop light on a busy, four-lane road. My eyes were drawn to some black-and-white bumper stickers on a gray Subaru Forrester. One was placed diagonally on the left side of the rear window, saying, “You Matter.” On the other side, “Don’t Give Up.”
I thought to myself, “Wow. That really says it.”
Then I did what I always do. I had to see the driver behind the bumper stickers. She wore salt-and-pepper hair, drawn back in a small bun, with glasses and a gentle face of conviction. Clearly, this was not someone with an axe to grind—angrily politicking or decrying the latest injustice. She was probably a grandma. To the desperate, the lonely, and those on the brink of self-destruction, her words were a beacon to any who had eyes to see: You Matter. Don’t Give Up.
Meanwhile, I’m aware of yet another community preparing to memorialize a precious young soul. She was 18 years old. She was artistic. She was funny. She had been part of two churches where her parents brought her up.
And she took her own life.
The pictures and the words wrench my heart, as people remember how much this young woman—this girl—meant to them over the years. Somehow, until after she had ingested far too many toxins for her young body, she had forgotten the quietly heralded truth displayed by that grandmother. For others, maybe they’ve never heard that they matter or that their lives are truly worth something. By what is said, or what is left unsaid, many believe quite the opposite. I think that’s what the Subaru grandma is speaking to us in the simplest way she can.
As the world sputters to life again, after the oppressive restrictions and lock-downs of the COVID-19 pandemic, it seems that our suspicions about the Internet have been confirmed. The younger crowd gravitates toward the video-gaming world, TikTok, and other social media platforms. Deluged by envy-inspiring images and stories, they internalize messages, “She’s beautiful…and I’m not.” “She has these friends…and I don’t.” And, “he gets to do all of that…and I don’t,” etc. It’s no wonder that recent data indicates a spike in suicides, especially amongst teen girls.
The older crowd has not been immune to these struggles either. Many are overwhelmed by the novelty of the Internet. Deprived of their tried-and-true get-togethers (like card-playing, senior centers, and Bible studies), a number of them still suffer in the silence of their homes. In the span of two years, many of the programs and people they knew have ceased to exist, or they moved away.
As a mental health clinician, I think the solution of lock-downs has been worse than the problem.
We need to get back to community, and we need to do it in a hurry. One person at a time, we need to re-engage with one another. Some of us, more than others, need to resist the false safety of isolation and reach out. Whether a helpline, a local church, or a counselor like myself…get connected and ask for help, and keep doing it until you find someone who can. Maybe there’s someone you can help too.
We would do well to hear it, to speak it, and to act upon it every day:
Don’t give up.
Words to live by.