A new message was on my answering machine. It was from Susan, my ex-wife. In a quavering voice, she braced me for terrible news: Early Sunday morning, a good friend, Kevin, threw himself in front of a train. He was 28.
Four years ago, I was facilitating a DBSA support group in Princeton, NJ. In walked Kevin, exuding a goofy charm, baseball cap on backward. But there was something about his presence that indicated he was no mere goofball. The others in the room felt it, too.
He carried that exceedingly rare quality of instant likability, but he wore it with a seriousness of purpose that endeared him not only to those in his age group, but to those twice his age, people like me.
He had a lot of serious personal issues to discuss that night, ones with no easy resolution. As facilitator, I did my best to make him feel welcome, to let him know he was in a safe place, amongst friends. But his personal issues? Anything I said was bound to ring hollow.
Then I had an inspiration. I sensed the potential for a rapport with one of the older members of the group. I put out the suggestion that maybe they should be talking to one another during the week. The suggestion took. Now, our group had a new regular.
Over the weeks, I couldn't help be impressed by the way Kevin carried himself. He would walk up to newcomers and introduce himself and start up a conversation. In the group, he was a great listener, dispensing the wisdom of a sage, leavened by a keen sense of humor.
It was amazing to observe him with people much older. At once, he was deferential, compassionate, and exuding great authority. You simply forgot you were talking to someone much younger. You simply wanted to be around him, laugh with him, seek advice from him.
It wasn't long before I asked Kevin to help facilitate the group. He took his new responsibility very seriously. He learned everything he could. We would talk for hours. He facilitated far better than I ever could, and it showed in the way the group responded to him. I had the book knowledge, but he had the real wisdom.
Yet, he still deferred to me. He was wiser than me, but wise enough to know that he could still learn, even from me. This is a rare quality in anyone, but in a kid half my age? Aren't they all supposed to be wise-asses?
Maybe he was grateful that I saw something in him. After all, he did have inferiority issues. He came from a broken home. He did not have a higher education. He was going through personal stuff guaranteed to knock the self-confidence out of the best of us. Plus, his illness, his illness.
He had his setbacks, his dark moments. Yet, over time - in group, over coffee, over sandwiches, hanging out - I watched him blossom. With his extraordinary people skills, the sky was the limit.
In late 2006, my marriage broke up. Kevin was the first to offer me support. He invited me over to his place. With his wife and friends, we played cards. He suggested various places I should check moving into.
Then came an offer from a friend in the San Diego area. Suddenly, I had my life in seven or eight FedEx cartons. I popped into the DBSA group one last time. Kevin was facilitating. He gave me a heartfelt tribute. I felt the goodness in the man. Goodness, true goodness. That was the last time I saw him alive.
He had so much to live for, so much to offer. Yet, on a miserable muggy New Jersey morning, his brain tricked him into believing something else. I can fully understand, even if I don't understand ...
Published On: September 16, 2008
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