I’ve Looked Down That Road Too

So I work as a reporter at The Sanford Herald in Sanford, N.C., and my world was shaken yesterday.

We were told there was a police-involved shooting in downtown Sanford, a few hundred yards from our office. We were waiting for more information from police. Then the news came in. I’ll copy our report below:

A 28-year-old male from Sanford died Thursday afternoon of a self-inflicted gunshot wound to the head, according to Sanford police.

The incident occurred around 1 p.m. in front of an abandoned business at the corner of Charlotte Avenue and First Street. Police cars blocked off a section of Charlotte Avenue while the man stood outside of the abandoned business. He was armed with a 9mm handgun and shot himself after communicating with police detectives and other civilians for about 90 minutes.

During the 90 minutes, nearby businesses closed down and people eating at La Dolce Vita Pizzeria, just yards away from the incident, were forced to stay inside the restaurant.

After the incident, EMS administered immediate medical assistance and he was transported to the emergency room at Central Carolina Hospital. He was pronounced dead by the medical examiner at the hospital.
 
The name of the man has not been released yet. Stay with The Herald for more.

I was shaken. Why? I’ve looked down that road before, that road of taking your own life, and it’s a dark one.

I didn’t get too far down that road, but I’ve heard stories of others that didn’t, like this young man. As I saw tributes on my Facebook feed to this guy yesterday, I saw that he was well-loved by people of all races, ages and political perspectives. People came together to remember him. I won’t print his name here out of respect for the fact I never met him, never knew him and had never even heard of him before yesterday.

But I want to believe that I’ve felt part of the pain that he felt. Obviously, something happened in his life or his mind that drove him to this drastic decision, and he felt he couldn’t go on.

I understand the impulse. I’ve struggled with enough in my life to make me think about that path — depression, anxiety, bullying, religious doubt, fear of man, despair over mistakes.

In this time, I struggle to think of what I could say to comfort those who might be hurting or mourning. I’ve never been intimately acquainted with someone who has taken their own life. I’ve known people — a former high school classmate, a distant relative, this man yesterday — that have done so. I’ve known people that have thought about it. Words just aren’t enough in this situation.

What I will recommend, and what I hope to do more of, is this: don’t be afraid to ask, “Are you OK?”

I think we’re nervous to get too invested in others’ lives for several reasons. First, we can be selfish people, and getting too much in others’ lives takes away time and attention to ourselves. Second, we don’t want to pry or make things awkward. And third, sometimes we just don’t know how to.

I’ll suggest it this way: Think about how often you start a conversation with someone and you ask, “How are you?” or in the case of Joey Tribbiani, “How you doin’?” It’s a common conversation starter. How often do you or the person you’re talking to say “fine” or “good”?

I recommend that we start taking the time to dig deeper into that. Obviously not with people you’ve just met or in professional settings, but with friends or relatives, be willing to ask, “How are you good?” or “How are you fine?” If they seem a little unsure, don’t be afraid to ask, “Are you OK? Is there anything I can help you with? Do you need to talk about something?”

The worst that can happen to you is that they say “no” and it’s a little awkward for a while. The best that can happen is that 1) you have a meaningful, productive conversation with another human being (talks that seem few and far between these days) and 2) you might bring a little hope and love into another person’s life.

Yeah, love. There’s not enough of that right now. And I’m not blaming the person’s family or friends or coworkers or whoever for not loving him enough. That’s not the point. I’m asking you who know people to show that love to others. Point them down the path of love.

I want to say one last thing, to send a message to my brother who passed on:

Yes, I know we never met, and you’ve probably never even heard my name. But you’re my brother because we’ve had similar struggles, I imagine. I love you, man. I hope and pray you’re in the arms of a Savior who loves you. I hope your life will spur others on to love. I hope your life will spur me on to love.

— Zach
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Wanna Know What Terrifies Me? Death.

I’m a pretty fearful guy. I’m scared of a lot of things. Bugs, taking risks, going into the unknown. But nothing scares me more than death.

I was reading the story of Lazarus in John 11 this morning and I began to ponder death, when it comes, how I’ll feel, etc. There’s a very real possibility that I won’t be able to contemplate my death before it comes. I could die in a car accident, in a murder, a surprising heart attack. But I could also die a slow, peaceful death, in which I’ll have hours or maybe even days to think about what is going to happen.

As a Christian, I’m supposed to have assurance of what is next: eternity with God, streets of gold, all that jazz. And that’s awesome! I love it. But am I the only one who gets freaked out when thinking about all those things?

Dying is something that we have no firsthand experience of until it happens. Unlike a first marriage, first kid and many other firsts we hear about from others, we can’t speak to someone who has died about the experience of death. And then when we die, we can’t send word back to earth about it. I’ve often thought about if it was possible for me to send a “message in a bottle”-type word to friends and family when I’ve died, but I don’t think that’s a real thing. Sounds like something out of a movie.

Because of this lack of firsthand knowledge about how it goes, death freaks me out. And then another puzzling question comes.

What if I’m wrong about Jesus? What if there is nothing when we die? What if I’ve believed the wrong thing? What if, what if, what if?

I’d love to be able to tell you that I’m consistently trusting in God’s plan for me after my life here on earth is through, but I can’t. I have doubts. I have worries. I have concerns. Trying to contemplate the afterlife gives me a headache, I think because it’s such a mysterious, complex thing our feeble brains can’t handle.

To be honest with you, I’d love a Defending Your Life-type heaven where we get to eat as much food as we want and it’s all good and we play mini-golf and ride trams and just hang out with people for a few days. It seems quite relaxing, except for the whole judging-you-off-of-what-you-did-with-your-life part.

Back on the subject: I know that I have nothing really to worry about. If you’re in Christ, your future is secure and you are safe from eternity apart from God because of the blood of Jesus Christ. And I think it’s necessary for me to remind myself of this truth because my doubt comes very often.

There’s nothing wrong with doubting every once in a while. Doubt is something that’s a natural part of life because, as we said before, we don’t know what’s going to happen in the end from firsthand experience.

But for me, the hope and grace of the Gospel gives me comfort unlike anything else in these moments. I won’t believe the Gospel every minute of every day, unfortunately. That’s just real life. I have doubt and skepticism that creeps up every once in a while, sometimes to a crippling degree.

Thankfully, there’s grace to explore that doubt. God doesn’t leave me when I doubt him for a minute or 60. And He won’t leave me when I die either.