Monday, October 19, 2009

Trying to Save a Life

Because I spend a lot of time standing in front of the synagogue greeting everyone who approaches, I meet a lot of people. A good number of them have become my friends, some are acquaintances, and some have faces I recognize but I’d have trouble putting a name to them.

The other day, one of these acquaintances responded to the question, “How are you?” by saying, “I’m looking for a good way to kill myself. Do you know a good way?” I told him I hope he won’t do that, and that a lot of people would be upset if he did, but that didn’t seem to be enough. I asked a rabbi for advice, and was told to try the local suicide prevention hotline.

Calling the suicide prevention hotline was a little surreal. The voice of the person who answered was very soft and calm. In fact, it was so soft and calm, I had to switch to a better phone so I could hear what the man was saying. In addition, he put me on hold a few times, which gave me the impression he was a new person just learning the ropes, and therefore he had to confer with his trainer from time to time even though what I was calling about wasn’t particularly complicated.

At any rate, the suicide prevention person suggested I try to find out how serious the person was with regard to his comment about killing himself. He also suggested I try to find out why he was considering that option.

I found the man’s phone number and address in the phone book, and gave him a call. I told him I was worried about him, and wanted to know how serious he was. He told me, very matter-of-factly, that he was not sure he was going to do it, but he was thinking about it, and was looking for a good way to do it. “Something not too messy,” he said.

I reiterated that I hoped he wouldn’t kill himself, and I asked him why he was thinking about it. He told me about some of the frustrations in his life, and ended by saying he felt like he wasn’t any use to anyone anymore, including himself. I was able to interest him in a meeting on Sunday, so I have some reason to believe he won’t kill himself before then. In the meantime, I’m looking for more ways to help him get involved in the local community, so he can see that he’s needed and has value.

I understand intellectually that I’m not responsible for saving this man’s life, but if I can help him add some value to it, and he sticks around a little longer because of it, it would still be a relief.

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