A Tragedy Among Friends (Chapter 6)
To be honest, none of the three of us who met together at the dinners described in the last chapter really knew what to do. We each had our own professions and our own lives to deal with. What to do was something that we thought seriously about because we took responsibility for caring for our community and knew that action was required to remove the taboo of suicide. Such is the prevalence of suicide that it is a blight from which escape is impossible. Tragedy is such a brutal imposition on our existence.
The one thing about tragedy is that everyone is somehow affected. Ironically, it is at times of tragedy that we as humans become attuned to the greatest resources we possess: our capacity for empathy, our deep reserves of love, and our unfaltering ability to care for others. Tragedy is the great leveller of human experience. When death is played as the trump card by tragedy, it is a game with no consideration for status, wealth or position in society.
In the wake of tragedy how we respond is open to our interpretation. When hardest hit by tragedy, we reach into the void of existential meaningless and find our own story to explain the world around us. It is this narrative that either sparks us into action or condemns us to a life lived in defeat.
One thing is for sure. Rarely are we prepared for tragedy. Reality is brutal.
No one gets to chose the timing of tragedy. A good friend of mine maintains a compassionate response to the actions of others. She says: “be gentle on everyone. For even as bad as their actions might be, they are doing as best they can in light of the circumstances they face.”
This story is in part about failure, but I also want to make a distinction between failure and tragic circumstances. Failure is feedback we receive during the undertaking of any endeavour. Usually, it is not what we want to hear, and often it completely derails our plans with awful and unforeseen consequences. But I don’t know that we should describe failure as tragedy. Conversely, it is because of failure that the hero has an opportunity to rise towards greatness. Failure is part of the process, but it is not the same as the vile lacerations from tragedy that leave us gutted. I know from personal experience that it can be hard when dealing with failure to see any positive in the experience, but if we are to grasp the concept of Backswing then we must make every effort to lean into failure and push through the resistance which it seeks to challenge us with. We must find a way to prevail.
Returning to this story, I didn’t think much about this running stunt for the next two years after the disappointing end to the aborted 7 x 7 Bridge Run. Even so, it was always in the back of my mind. This narrative jumps ahead to mid 2009 at which time I had returned to Sydney after spending the first few months of the year overseas. I was planning to return to San Francisco for a conference which began at the beginning of September.
A very close friend who I hadn’t seen for a almost a year contacted me in early July. Sadly, their phone call was to inform me about the tragic death of a mutual friend. Suicide as a cause of death leaves many questions unanswered because the decision to take one’s own life can never be fully explained. Many people are affected by the ripples of that decision.
Our friend “had everything” which people might use as benchmark to assess happiness. Unfortunately, as many people know, there are darker threads that run through our minds which have a deeper impact than others can understand.
I accompanied my friend who had informed me of the news at the funeral which was a gathering of many influential people from Sydney. All of their influence and money could have done nothing to prevent this tragedy. It was like a slap in the face to highlight the impotence of worldly influence as having no sway against the real things that matter.
After the service, we attended the wake together. The wake was a fitting opportunity for people to pay their respects and share their memories. It was an elegant affair. Listening to some of the conversations at the wake, I was reminded of the conversations that had taken place in the previous years between Al, Cam and myself. There I was again listening to this staunch resolve to do something so as to never let a tragedy like this happen again. I listened, but grew an uneasy disquiet at the dissonance between the resolve that was not matched with any credible plan for making change.
I also knew that I also didn’t have the answer, but suspected from past conversations that it wouldn’t be found from amongst earnest undertakings to do something where there was no link to action.
As I was listening to the conversations at this wake, a thought came to my mind. I could chose to take action. I resurrected the idea of the 7 x 7 Bridge Run which had never seen the light of day. And so began the 9 City Bridge Run.