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How do you respond to a child when they look in your eyes, and tell you at seven years old, that they don’t deserve to be alive?

How did those words even escape their mouth?

I am certain that little children say things they don’t yet fully understand.  They pick things up from everyone and anyone they meet.  They learn about life in the playground from both the happy kids and the emotionally broken.  They listen to anyone who speaks with even a speck of confidence.  They don’t seem to fully realize what they are saying, when they share their thoughts on being alive. 

I think that little kids speak for effect.  They want you to respond and notice them.  They are confused by their feelings and do not recognize how sad and heartbreaking their words become.

Unfortunately, the words a child utters, and how the world responds to them becomes a script.  Unless that script is rebuked over time, it will turn into a story.  A sad story that will wage war upon their soul.

I had the privilege recently to listening to two former students speak about their struggle with mental illness.  They were both honour roll students, and admitted that they hid in their high achievement.   As far as anybody knew, everything was a fine.  Just another cotton candy adventure.  Nothing to see here.  Everything is fine.  Move along.

They shared their vulnerability with the audience and spoke about how difficult it is to obtain any help today and how long it sometimes takes to find the right person to talk to.  They also spoke about stressful University life is, and how important it is to talk to someone.  Anyone.  Everyone.

I have pondered on their thoughts a lot.

I believe we need to engage in more meaningful conversations and be comfortable to share, even that we don’t feel like we deserve to live.

Feelings funny little creatures.  They are a wondrous and amusing at times, but they are nothing more than temporary sign posts.  Road signs that show the many directions we might take. 

Might.

They tell us where we are.  They do not tell us where to go.

Feelings come and go.  They are like a toilet seat at a busy truck stop.  They come announced and uninvited.  They leave when they are ready.  They return just as swiftly.

Thoughts on the other hand, are like our children who will perpetually live in the basement.  Our thoughts use a multitude of facts and figures to convince us that we should go here instead of there. 

There was a time, not that long ago, that I thought my thoughts were infallible and even superior to feelings, but then I became a father and realized everything is made up.  Life is not an illusion.  It is real.  This is not the Matrix.  But the way we see our lives and each other, is tainted and false.  Some of our realities, especially the ones about our well-being and who we are, are sometimes terribly destructive.

We are funny creatures.

We cannot talk to strangers.  We don’t make eye contact.  We are easily distracted by glowing screens, flashing lights, and thousands of shiny objects.  We don’t know how to connect.  We don’t know how to be present.

We live our lives in the past, or dream about an impossible future.  We refuse to see who we are, and who we are with, right now, today, and this very moment.

We need to engage each other more fully in some meaningful conversations.  Not just to become healthy, but because we are human, and it’s in our nature to share our very being with one another.  It’s good for us.  It’s like sugar and spice.  It makes everything nice. 

Our cold and naval gazing educational institutions do not care for our children.  For all the talk, experience, research, expectation, learning strategies, and all the five-year plans; they miss the mark. 

I have more faith, in the outcasts and the broken.  The broken individuals, seem to always rise above their own problems, and manage to spend their time being empathetic towards others. 

The power of being human is inside all of us.  While it remains dormant in some, it is ready to awaken at any moment.  We don’t have to wait for the next election, or the onset of a new set of broken promises, to start today.

Our Education system is broken, if it ever worked at all. 

I have no statistical data to back it up, but my gut and experience tell me that academics take themselves a little too seriously. 

The workload they demand of their pupils is extremely demanding.  But is it necessary?  Did I really have to read twelve Canadian novels in three months and write four essays about them?  I couldn’t read ten, eight, five, or one? 

Who sets the pace?  Who came up with idea of the honour roll and why?  Is there not enough competition in the world? 

Who set the median at seventy percent and called it normal? 

Who created free tuition, scholarships, grants, and the three-hour exams?  Who asked each student to work so they have the privilege of being a cog in the wheel or another brick in the wall.  Why are we in a rush to spend most of our lives in traffic and an uninviting cubicle?

I remember arriving to a lecture once at York University in the early part of autumn.  It was a rainy day.  Uneventful.  It was early in the afternoon.  Half asleep, I arrived to find a sealed door of my lecture hall, and a dozen or so loitering students, and a taped, hand-written note, that informed us that class was cancelled.

I asked around and learned that there was no lecture today, because a young man had hanged himself on the ceiling of the hall, right above the spot where he heard our lectures.

I have a tough time today forgetting this young man whom I had never met and I remember thinking back then, how stupid it all was.  All the useless assignments, that I now don’t remember, and don’t care reminisce about.  The stress and illusion of becoming someone.  The lack of human interaction.  The absence of human contact.  The heartless numbness of higher education.

The following week I sat in the lecture hall very quietly, glancing up at the sealing, as though I couldn’t help myself.  Not daring to stare too long out of respect.  Awaiting, patiently, the comforting thoughts and sentiments of our professor. 

He arrived as usual and on time, and went on to explain that we are behind and have a lot of work to do.  He spent the next fifty minutes covering what we missed. 

Not a word about the young man. 

The young man was not really that important, it seemed.  He was a hindrance to our education.  He was a fallen branch on the busy road to success.  A piece of shit that landed on our windshield.

I know I deserve to be alive.

I ask for nothing.  I want anything.

I’m just happy to be alive.  Perhaps to stir some shit up, once in a while.

If you are reading this somehow and struggling with something, anything, let go.  Thank the ugly voices in your head for sharing themselves, but that you have no time for them.  Lift-up your toilet seat, and let your feeling flow. 

Don’t flush.

Be open.  Be vulnerable.  Be human.  Be yourself.

Live.  Share with someone.

Share often.  Don’t wait until you need to.  Build friendships when there is no storm on the horizon.

Don’t be afraid of the truth or what it sounds like.  Sweet dreams are made of this.

Most importantly.

Don’t let the bastards grind you down.