Tuesday, February 12, 2008


It's funny how events in life can seem random until something happens that makes you question whether they were random at all. Last night I quoted Dylan Thomas' "Do Not Go Gentle Into That Good Night". Today, I played and re-played NPR's "This I Believe" essay about the importance of NOT minding your own business. It struck a chord though at the time I knew not why. The writer told of the lesson she learned when a neighbor of hers, a young boy was beaten to death by his abusive father. The neighbors interviewed by the media, her neighbors, were a cliche. "I don't know how this could have happened," they all claimed. "We're shocked. Quiet man. Kept to himself a lot." But this writer said the neighbors, including herself, were all liars. That they heard and saw many things which made them uncomfortable but they all decided to mind their own business. Well, minding their own business, the writer said, cost a little boy his life.

My neighbor committed suicide yesterday. I found out this evening. It came as a shock - at first. But like the essay writer, a few moments of thought, of putting things together, and I realize I should have seen it coming.

Steve was a loving husband and father of two little children. They were the family you thought you ought to be. Always riding bikes together, taking nature walks, playing ball outside past dark. They ate only the most nutritious foods. Giggles and laughter were often heard on warm nights when windows were left open. They were happy. Steve was the mayor of our block. Always the first to strike up a conversation with one, or more, of us and never the first to end it. He owned a good deal of real estate and he could talk about his business for hours. That was before the sub-prime fallout.

Sometime during the summer, Steve stopped coming out. When I did see him, he didn't offer his usual gregarious greeting. I thought maybe I'd done something to offend him but I never asked. With Fall, the days got busier and shorter. The few times I saw him, as I was driving a kid to school or off to run an errand, I waved but he didn't wave back. I thought it strange but I decided it was best to mind my own business. That, and I was busy enough with my own problems. A month or so ago, my husband and I did discuss the change in Steve and we attributed his behavior to tough economic times. But who wasn't having them right now, especially here in the land of the writer's strike?

And then I heard the news. With his wife and kids on vacation, Steve killed himself. Planned? I don't know. That is one of my many questions. But do I have the right? Talking with neighbors as we spread the tragic news and shared stories, I realized that we all had the same concerns about Steve. That we'd all noticed the shift. My neighbor across the street who lives right next door to the family said she noticed the house had fallen strangely silent in the last few months. She noticed, too, that Steve's wife, was less likely to stop and chat. She talked with her husband wondering if maybe there was marriage trouble. They minded their own business. A few days ago, I saw Steve's wife as I was driving toward my home. We waved as usual but there was something in her gaze - I couldn't read it then other than to think it queer - but now I wonder what she was thinking? Did she want to tell me to look after Steve while they were away? I don't know, I was minding my own business.

In an instant this woman's life was turned upside down. I want to scream at Steve for taking the coward's way out, for leaving his wife with financial and emotional debts to pay. Didn't he know the bad times were temporary? But I learned that Steve was sick. Depressed. And when you're in darkness it can be difficult to see the light, or believe it even exists . He could have thought he was doing his family a favor by checking out; relieving them of the burden of a failed provider.

My heart cries out for Steve tonight. For his wife and beautiful children. I hope he went gentle into that good night. I will no longer mind my own business and I will be there for his family however I can. I wish I had been sooner.


Manic Mommy said...

How awful. Monday, I went to the wake of a 25 year old killed in a car accident. Her devastated father grew up next door and was a good family friend. I was so concerned about saying the right thing that I don't know if I fully expressed how truly, terribly sorry I was.

It shouldn't be about being proper or private. Sometimes it's about stepping outside of our comfort zone to comfort another. I'll try and remember this lesson as well.

InTheFastLane said...

This is soo hard. It is hard when you see signs, but don't know what to do. It is hard when sometimes there are no signs and you wish you had looked harder, or asked the right questions, or just spent a few more minutes. But, don't blame yourself. I think Steve absorbed all the guilt himself, as his illness progressed.

mah-meeee said...

I had lost a good friend over 3 years ago and I still feel guilty thinking that if only I saw the signs. Maybe he hid it really well or maybe I (we) were too busy with our own lives to see.

mah-meeee said...

BTW, did you by chance caught Oprah today? It was so on the par with what you were blogging about.

©2010 merlotmom.com. All rights reserved. Reproductions of any portion of this website only at the express permission of merlotmom.com.