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  • Writer's pictureChar Seawell

The death by suicide of Stephen “tWitch” Boss has been one of the most difficult celebrity deaths for me to process. Having encountered his work and his spirit on his first season of “So You Think You Can Dance,” he seemed a beacon of talent, humility, positivity, and honor.

One encounter he had with a young dancer backstage on a subsequent season of the dance show inspired a song called, “Best Days of My Life,” and I loved telling his story anytime we performed the song in concert. I fantasized about one day being able to share that story and song with him.

But it will never be. He is gone.

In the wake of his death, people have wondered what deep, dark, painful place he must have entered to have ended his life in spite of what appeared to be everything in the world at his feet. The world who mourns talked about his joy, his smile, his ability to make everyone around him feel comfortable. They wonder what warning signs were missed.

And I say, it is all those qualities that were so admired that perhaps were the warning signs.

In my family, I was the one who answered the phone call at 2 am from the hospital where they took my dad after he was hit head on by a drunk driver. When they called to inform us of his death an hour or so later, my mom took my brother and I to her bed and we listened as she wept aloud and cried over and over, “What am I going to do? What am I going to do?” My mother, the German immigrant who had not shown much emotion my whole life, who always had an answer, was at sea.

The next morning, when sitting at the table bleary eyed and shocked as a family, I remember seeing the Sunday comics and aching for the laughter that always accompanied their reading. I decided at that point that no matter how I felt, it was my job now to keep others from their tears.

Shoving my own depression under the surface of a dark sea, I honed the skill of keeping things light and fun. Over the years, especially in professional settings, whenever I tried to expose tiny pieces of depression, I was usually met with comments that denied how anyone like me could ever be depressed.

So I mastered the art of keeping my own underground river at bay so that someone else could feel more comfortable, or laugh, or feel free of some burden. I fooled pretty much everyone except my own husband Tim, who himself came from a family who probably suffered from clinical depression. Only in his presence could I be my real self, it seemed. And in the therapist’s office, which I frequented for over a decade.

You see, in our culture, depression has been confined to stereotypes. The suffering artist…the kid dressed all in black…the one on medication …the person with the long, sad face.

But I say from my own experience that the ones we need to check in on are probably precisely the ones we go to for their optimism, their caring hearts, their listening ears, and their joyful smiles. I would say that perhaps those who seem to give and give are actually signaling the depth of their own need for support.

And I would say that perhaps, some of us have clung to optimism as a life raft as we are tossed in our own internal sea.

This season, and for all the days that follow, perhaps we need to look beyond the surface of those who seem to “have it all”…whose hearts seem the most open…whose spirits seem the most joyful.

Not because those emotions are false, but because sometimes there is a deeper, darker journey there that births the qualities that are admired. And because sometimes, we need to turn our attention in their direction and simply say,

I see you. Tell me your story. All of it. Especially the dark places.

Who knows what that story for tWitch might have been. I only know mine. And that story contains chapters when the razor was at my wrist, and the tears were so overwhelming and the pain so jagged that in moments I, too, would have given up.

I weep for him today, and my heart breaks. I could have been him.

So when you hear the admonitions on social media to check in on your friends, go to the ones you are least worried about and ask the hard questions.

Because they just might be the very ones sitting by the sea trying to find reason to take another breath.

  • Writer's pictureChar Seawell

As a hiker in the Pacific Northwest, preparing a day pack was a series of what if questions. What is if I get hungry? What if I get thirsty? What if I get lost or injured? What if I get cold or it gets dark? What if I have to spend an extra night?

And so the careful preparations began for placing supplies in my fluorescent orange day pack…not so much out of fear but out of experience. You learn to prepare for these eventualities because you have encountered them.

Now in this desert landscape, the fears are different and new questions arise. A host of new venomous creatures lurk in these desert places where javalina and coyote leave tracks on the trail, and wild cats keep company with wild turkeys.

But there is another kind of encounter happening in this desert as well. Amidst the cactus, the Palo Verde and the desert dwellers, underneath sweltering skies, encounters of the human kind are happening.

Transformative encounters.

Divine encounters.

A local pastor here goes to the desert to refill water stations for migrants, and encounters a young boy of five crossing the road in front of him. With only the clothes on his back and a small pack, this child has already completed a 3,000 mile journey with his family to escape the violence in his homeland.

At the border, his family now faces the daily violence of rape, murder, and kidnapping. So great is their fear for their son, so deep is their love, that they send him to the other side of the wall into the desert with a prayer and a phone number of a relative in the U.S. and they pray he will encounter someone in the desert who will rescue him.

He has a name. His name is Esteban.

And a man and his wife hike down a well known trail in my favorite nearby canyon. Hearing agonizing cries from the canyon below the trail, they encounter a migrant who has fallen into a creek and is near death from hypothermia. He is nearly incoherent when they find him.

They take off their warm clothing, and she cradles his head while her husband hikes down to get help for him. She prays her body warmth will keep him alive and that her words spoken in a foreign tongue bring some small measure of comfort.

He has a name. It is Javier.

Estevan. Javier. They are the named. But they are only two in a sea of the unnamed lost, the frightened, and the traumatized fellow citizens of our world who are wandering the desert seeking hope and comfort. They are seeking our humanity, and they are challenging our faith.

Yes, the preparations for hiking in the desert are different here. But so are the questions. What might I bring for someone who is hungry? How much water could I carry for someone who is thirsty? What kind of basic medical supplies might be needed for someone who is injured?

I pray for desert encounters now, and I prepare for them because I know Jesus will be there. I know that will I encounter Him in the thirsty, the hungry, the lost, and the hurting. I know that in the face of the stranger lying at the bottom of a canyon wall, the child wandering in the desert, the hope starved walking these desert paths, an encounter with the Divine is waiting.

And I don’t want to miss it.

  • Writer's pictureChar Seawell

Most like an arch, this marriage, two weaknesses that lean into a strength. John Ciardi

He was a single 25 year old Metro bus driver looking to start making music on the side. I was an unmarried mother of four month old twins looking to start making music again on the side. And for four months we did. Until I did what I am prone to do- wander off to Colorado with the kids and my partner in tow.

He became an unmarried 34 year old Metro bus driver with a history of troubled relationships. I became a 34 year old unmarried single mother of twins, raising them alone since age four, and working in bands in Colorado…with a history of failed relationships.

Following our brief musical experience, our only contact was through about seven random phone calls over eight years where we caught up on life and both wondered why it was so hard to find a soul mate.

On one of those phone calls, however, he announced he had a layover in Denver and wondered if he could stop by on his way to a golf tournament in Florida.

Why not? It will just be a one time meeting and then I’ll get back to my life.

I could not remember what he looked like as I waited for passengers to disembark. He did not know my last name and could not figure out a way to contact me when his plane was late.

But a month later he flew back to Denver and proposed in Taco Bell. Six months later we were married in his parents’ living room. And six months after that I quit my teaching job, moved back to the Northwest, and we started our lives together.

But we never dated.

We jumped into life together not actually knowing each other. We raised children together. We paid bills and earned a decent living together. When Tim finally retired in 2006, my mom had a stroke, and he became a caregiver, companion, and friend for her next nine years. He took care of grandchildren while I worked, a joy we shared after I retired and my mom passed.

But we never dated.

Until now. In our seventh decade.

In the space created by a move to the desert and a downsized life, we are finally getting around to getting acquainted. We go to movies and sit across restaurant tables and have long, deep conversations. We walk together under starry skies reminiscing and sharing our deepest woundedness and our quiet joys. And we literally fill in gaping holes in our knowledge of each other’s history because we never got to know each other.

Now we embrace dating spontaneously with the reckless abandon of youth. But unlike those who do so in youth, we date with an acute awareness of the numbering of our days, which makes every moment more precious than the one before.

In this season, this “third act,” we are dating like we just met.

Because in almost every way

we just did.

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