There have been a few periods of time in my life when I have experienced a heightened sense of curiosity about the spiritual world, or felt more connected to the universe, or felt motivated to enhance my psychic abilities because I felt something stirring. Often this involved marijuana. Sometimes it didn’t. Almost always it involved sitting in the New Age section of the closest Barnes and Nobles for hours (this was pre-Amazon days, and apparently, also days that I didn’t have a job) and carefully selecting various books to guide me into conversation and connection with the non-physical world.
I don’t have a sense of this world when I am depressed. My world becomes very small, and dark. There are no guardian angels present.
During my senior year of college, I became severely depressed, and was slick with suicidal thoughts. I was terrified of graduating, but had no idea why. I didn’t know how to ask for help and I didn’t know what to do on my own. I had no idea how I was going to complete classwork. I was taking Adderral to stay awake and smoking weed to sleep. I had a part-time job as a waitress, and would pick my uniform off the ground, unwashed, and scramble to get to work with ketchup stains crusted on my pants. I avoided my closest friends and sought new ones, and survived on the newness of falling into friendship with people who weren’t yet weighed down by my neediness and self-destruction. I thought of death constantly. I was so scared of myself that I asked my advisor to have me institutionalized. He sent me to a campus therapist instead. She had me create a to-do list.
Over spring break, the campus cleared out. I had a breakdown. I didn’t think I would make it out alive.
I don’t know how, but I trudged on. As I write this, I can feel my fear all over again, and my terror of not knowing what was next. I felt like I would be stuck in that moment forever.
That spring, there was a collective punch to the gut for the college, as a beloved and loving student and friend to many died suddenly, abruptly, without any warning. I remember thinking that the world seemed upside down when I heard the news. I suddenly wasn’t sure if the earth could hold my weight.
Billy and I weren’t close friends, but I loved him. You know when you meet someone, and you just have a feeling? I can’t even remember how we started hanging out, or how often it happened, but he was so meaningful to me because – and I didn’t realize this until right this very moment – he made me feel safe. I felt at home with Billy; I didn’t feel at ease with many people that year, least of all myself. He provided that sense of safety for a lot of people. He allowed people to be themselves, and I think that he saw the good in people. He saw their spirit.
It was awful when he died.
Something shifted for me in the days and weeks that followed. I came out of my utter despair because I suddenly needed to be present for other people. I felt like I owed Billy to provide some semblance of the safety and comfort that he had so generously given me to others, particularly to his close friends who were suffering such a tremendous loss. And I found that sometimes, in some moments, I could.
I still can’t write about Billy without an overwhelming sense of gratitude that our paths crossed – I think maybe literally, on the Heart – in our lifetimes. Sometimes, like now, when I write about him or connect to my feelings about him, the tears come down fast and furious and salty and huge, and I am just so relieved and thankful to be alive and grateful to be able to feel this sense of wonder and amazement at how much someone can touch your life without doing much at all.
When Billy died, something became very clear to me. I realized that there was something bigger than me out there in the world – at that time, I referred to this entity as God – and I knew that Billy wasn’t really completely gone. I could feel him everywhere. And that was confusing to me at the time, because, again, we weren’t that close, and because not everyone seemed to be feeling the same way. But for whatever reason, I felt Billy helping me to get out of bed in the morning, and I felt him when I went to check on his good friends, and I felt him on the way to his funeral in New York, when I thought about someones and somethings other than the misery of myself for the first time in months. I started to have empathy again. And that’s amazing to me. That Billy was still giving. That someone could be so generous, even in death. I was in such despair. And he pulled me out of it.
I have been depressed time and time and time again since then, and I have had suicidal thoughts come and go, but I have never been that completely lost and afraid and in such immediate danger again.
It’s funny, I went to write about something different tonight, and wanted to focus on a more recent experience of connection after death, but there you have it. Sometimes you’re not in charge.
I still wonder what Billy would do. Sometimes, I think he still tells me.