One of my best friends from college took his life last week. I hadn't seen or heard from him for over 15 years, but I'd gotten occasional updates from mutual friends that his drinking had gotten worse, his marriage was struggling, and he'd spent some time in prison.
The memory that comes to mind whenever I think of him was the first time we met. I was struggling to adjust during my first few weeks at drama school in London, one of four Americans in our class and a few years older than most of my peers. We were supposed to pair up for an exercise in movement class, and as I pretended not to look around to spot a fellow friendless outsider to pair up with, the most handsome young man I'd ever seen walked up to me, looked me in the eyes (his were movie star blue, mine were just frightened), and said, "We're going to be friends."
His prediction proved prescient, and over the next few years he taught me how to drink beer (never really got the hang of it), shoot pool, and relax enough to enjoy life and make friends in a city that was as foreign to me as it was home to him.
Perhaps my favorite memory of him was the day I finally got the courage up to go back to my flat and declare my affections for the girl who lived upstairs. I had been thinking about it for a while, and somehow knew that we'd reached a sort of "now or never" point in our relationship where a lack of action on my part would lead to permanent relegation to the "friend zone."
I sat down in the pub with him after rehearsal, fresh pints of lager in our hands. He didn't say a word -- just looked at me as if to say, "Are you really going to sit here with me instead of going home to her?" I plucked up my resolve, slammed down my pint, and he saluted me as I headed off to make my pitch to the woman who 27 years later is still the love of my life.
I don't feel particularly bad that I wasn't there for him at the end -- we had drifted apart many years ago and I only followed his life through his occasional roles on television and in films. But as I went to bed last night, I reflected on what I might have said to him if I'd had the chance to speak my peace before his final act. I don't know that it would have made any difference, of course -- people are complex and their pain can run deep. But I think it might have gone a little something like this...
I hear you're struggling at the moment -- that you've been struggling for a long time. As you were one of the first people to see something worth saving in me as I was coming out of my own years of depression, I thought I'd share a little bit about what I've come to see since that time.
First and foremost, you're not alone. You might be lonely as hell, but that kind of hell only exists in your own mind. The world's like a Rorschach ink blot -- it looks like Dante's Inferno when the elevator is going down and like a pretty girl with a twinkle in her eye on the way back up. You are so loved, my friend -- and it really doesn't matter what you've done to try to make people hate you.
We used to talk about the world and it's wife - -our hopes and dreams of fame, fortune, and family. It took me a long time to realize that fame and fortune are temporary solutions to permanent problems, and that our true family is nearly 7 billion people strong.
The human condition seems pretty damn inescapable -- everything that's born will die; everything that comes into form will one day disappear back into the void from which it came. But there's something in us which never dies, because it was never born. It's the spark inside of us which can sit quietly and untended for years and then burst into flame in any moment.
I think that spark is made of love -- not just the love that I feel for Nina or that you feel for your kids but the love that's ever present inside all of us. Some people would probably call it "God" -- not sure where you got to with that one -- but even without the label the presence of something beautiful unfolding behind the scenes remains.
Love never dies (c'mon -- you've got to allow me at least one Andrew Lloyd Weber reference, even after all these years), because it's always been here. We're made from it -- it's in our DNA. And the only reason we don't feel it so much of the time is because it gets "sicklied o'er by the pale cast of thought."
Hamlet got it wrong. He wasn't miserable because his father was dead, or his mother betrayed him, or his girlfriend didn't understand his pain. He was miserable for the same reason you and I get miserable -- we start to believe that the world we're living in inside our heads is real, and permanent, and it's never going to get any better than the way it feels right now.
But life doesn't work that way, and neither does our thinking. We wake up from every dream sooner or later, no matter how horrible of a nightmare it may seem while we're in it. And the moment we do, its like it never happened. You don't have to make right what goes wrong in your dreams; you just have to do your best when you wake up. Opportunities may pass you by but you will never run out of possibilities.
I love you, and I can't (and wouldn't want to) make your decisions for you. I hope you find that love inside and I hope you choose to keep the dream alive. But whatever choice you make, please know that I love you, and my life is so much better for having had you in it.
With all my love,
If you -- or someone you know -- need help, please call 1-800-273-8255 for the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline. If you are outside of the U.S., please visit the International Association for Suicide Prevention for a database of international resources.