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Thursday, May 3, 2012

Everyone's Human (May 3, 2012)

Yesterday was a day of disbelief in San Diego. A hero fell and the sound echoed throughout the county.

I’ve never been a big sports fan, but I’m a little bit interested in almost everything, sports included. I’d heard of Junior Seau, and I’d been to his restaurant once. While I was not an ardent fan the way some San Diegans are, with yesterday’s news of his suicide, I felt sad.

The tv stations covered it for hours. Hundreds of fans gathered outside his home, some in jerseys, some with flowers. One person carved the shape of a cross in the sand nearby.

I’m not even sure what I want to write, exactly. There is a lot of speculation about why this happened, but I don’t feel like part of that group. Some people can’t understand why someone rich and famous would not have enough to live for. I say that if he had depression, that’s not something that wealth or fame prevents. If you have it, you don’t reason it away by counting your gold coins.

Who knows whether he suffered concussions as an NFL player, which may have led to brain injury and depression? Or if he had depression, perhaps it was unrelated to football tackles and head injury.

My point is this: even those idolized by society are human, susceptible to a universe of feelings (both good and bad) that are part of the human experience. Maybe the higher your highs are, the lower your lows may be. The kind of success famous athletes have—is it a high they still crave but can’t find, years after retirement? Perhaps it’s harder to find happiness with the small things in life when your career was about big things—breaking records, winning bowl games, doing the nearly impossible.

Heroes are human. But does our society not condone human vulnerability from people so much larger than life? Men are raised not to express emotions the way women do and perhaps our societal expectation is that the tougher and bigger you are, the more you must project emotional strength. And that’s not right. Everyone feels vulnerable at times, and should not be looked down upon for experiencing a range of human emotion. Did Seau not feel he could get off that pedestal and be human? We may never know.

Suicide makes most of us at least somewhat uncomfortable. It’s very sad when someone dies in a car crash or of an accidental overdose or a terminal illness. But with those kinds of death, those left behind can be angry at a disease, or at an addiction. When suicide is the cause of death, we are confronted with the additional element of trying to accept/ understand someone’s decision to end his or her own life.

I never knew this man. I don’t claim to know what he dealt with, but I feel entitled to my view as someone also dealing with life. Life is complex and sometimes really frustrating, and this is true for you, for me, and for famous people, too. I often forget that, or focus too much on others’ success and assume they don’t struggle. As one friend of a friend put it so eloquently, I compare the best of someone else to the worst of myself. Seau has reminded us that every human faces challenges. Perhaps it’s part of the human experience to want someone to idolize. Do people need heroes, those who inspire us to be the best we can be? But do we inadvertently expect them not to be human as well?

These days there have been a lot of drug overdoses in the news, especially by famous people. We can be mad at an addiction or chalk it up to an accidental overdose of prescribed medicine. With unwanted or accidental deaths we don’t have to try to understand a person’s desperation. That’s hard for many people to understand.

One reason yesterday’s news was upsetting is because I really feel part of my adopted home-town. Although I didn’t spend my childhood here, I’ve spent the second half of my life here, and I love this county. I feel so much a part of it. When something tragic happens here, I mourn for our county, even if it doesn’t affect my daily life. The wild fires that seem to plague us every few years—they affect our county, our people, and I mourn with them. When yesterday’s news hit, I felt sad for the people of this county, who feel the loss of their hero.  It wasn’t just about sports records, either. Seau raised millions of dollars for underprivileged kids, and he gave back to the community where he had grown up. That kind of impact is felt throughout a county.

For me, yesterday started like a lot of other days. Two things were a little different. I knew it was an old friend’s fortieth birthday. She and I parted ways a few years back. But when you’ve been friends with someone that long you don’t forget her birthday. We reached an impasse and could not figure out a way to continue the friendship. Sometimes I’ve felt mad about it, but I dream about her at times and in my dreams there’s a lot of harmony. There’s some nostalgia there. I thought a lot about her in the last week, knowing yesterday was her milestone, but not one in which I’d partake. Yesterday was also the day my next-door neighbor was having two big pepper trees taken out of her yard. They are right over our mutual fence line, and I had mixed feelings about seeing them go. They put up shoots in our yard, and they were raising her driveway, so to an extent I understand her choice. She plans to put in fruit trees and so there will be new life, new color, and a new look around here. Change can be good. But it takes some getting used-to. I liked those trees. Our front and back yards look very different with those trees gone. I felt the loss as soon as the chain saws started up yesterday morning.

Losing trees isn’t as traumatic as losing a parent or a child—not even close. I don’t mean to suggest that. I feel for his kids and family. I hope they’ll find a degree of peace someday. The only reason to mention the trees in this article is because the timing caught my attention. Yesterday there were three losses on my mind. Not all equal, but felt on the same day. There are all kinds of losses in life. Loss of a friendship. Loss of a tree you liked. Loss of a public figure, and for some, loss of a family member or friend. We can’t avoid loss or change. It’s not easy to accept, and we need to acknowledge it. For some, that means bringing flowers to leave outside their idol’s house. For me, my dream life is where my brain tries to reconcile the end of a 21-year friendship. I hope she had a great birthday.

Other trees will grow next door. Other friendships will form. Other public figures will inspire admiration in their fans. But you can’t replace a family member.

Maybe there will be more talk about suicide prevention in the wake of this tragedy. Maybe people will come together in unexpected ways. It’s too soon to say. This San Diegan is still in shock and taking to her blog to try to sift through thoughts and emotions. This was a much-needed reminder for me that others struggle, too. I need to keep making a point to reach out to those who live alone or feel alone, even if they share their home with someone. We aren’t alone. Humans aren’t meant to be like planets, orbiting one another without joining. We need others. All of us do.

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