I have always been good at looking behind me. When I buy a new outfit, I bring it home and then review my decision over and over again, wondering if I really can afford my purchase. When I bought my condo in 2005, I spent the next twelve months looking at the real estate listings online, trying to figure out if I could have gotten a better condo somewhere else. While I have a mortgage that cannot be changed anytime soon, I have used different calculators often, putting in the numbers to see what my payment would be if I had a 5.5%, 30 year fixed mortgage instead of an 80/20 mortgage with the 80 percent mortgage fixed at 5% and the 20 percent mortgage floating at prime plus one. While we booked the reception site for our wedding, I keep looking at other options, wondering if we made the best decision. I am not very good at making decisions and moving forward. I spend a lot of time reviewing the past.
I am not the only one who spends time in the past. When tragedy struck our nation on 9/11, we looked back over everything in an effort to discern how the terrorist attacks could have been prevented. When a mentally ill student went on a shooting rampage at Virginia Tech, we examined what would have happened if the classroom doors had been equipped with locks while asking ourselves what the university officials could have done differently. And now that a bridge has collapsed in Minneapolis, we are looking at things that should have been done a long time ago to strengthen the bridge. We are good at looking back. We are good at making ourselves miserable over things that we cannot change. No matter how much time we think about what could have been done, nothing will change what happened in New York City, Blacksburg or Minneapolis. The past is the past.
Like many of Tracy's friends and family members, I have been spending a great deal of time this week wondering what could have been done differently. What could I have done to make sure that Tracy knew she was beloved by God and many others? What could I have done to add more joy to her life? What could I have done to reach out to her more often? Could I have made a difference?
I have gone through old emails and notes that I wrote to her. I have thought about the last time I prayed for her and with her when she came forward for communion. I have pondered the conversations we shared. And, I have made myself miserable. There is nothing we can do to bring Tracy back. While we can think all we want about what we could or should have done, we cannot change what has happened. We can, however, change what we do in the future.
One of Tracy's friends sent me a statement earlier today on the sorrow of suicide. She concludes her thoughts on Tracy's death with these words:
So maybe we all need to give ourselves a break. And what I need to ask—what we all need to ask—is “What if…?” What if I use this tragedy to better educate myself and others on mental illnesses? What if I reach out to people who seem in pain or are engaging in self-destructive behavior rather than judge or gossip about them? What if I try to prevent another family from experiencing this horrible, horrible pain by volunteering at a suicide hotline, a homeless shelter, an addiction group, or at some other place helping people with mental health issues? What if I lobbied Congress to force health insurance companies to decrease barriers and red tape and increase coverage for mental health treatment? What if I release myself from all this guilt and use this painful experience to grow as a daughter, a sister, a friend, a coworker, an attorney, and a human being? That’s how I can honor my friend’s memory.
So, “What if?”