They say the shock lasts a couple days, and then the sadness is overwhelming. And then you become numb. And then shocked by your own numbness. And then overwhelmingly sad about your numbness.
And then you get over it.
Yes, it was my cousin, and no, I didn’t interact with him but for a couple hours every five or six years, but for some reason this one hit harder.
My freshman year of high school, my dad lost his sister and his father, and suffered a heart attack, all within three months. I remember the shock and the sadness and the numbness during that time, but today is different.
My grandfather died from cancer, and my aunt from hospital complications tangentially regarding her lifelong battle with bipolar disorder.
But my cousin died from overdosing. And something about that has been harder to digest. Harder to move on from.
I remember interning on the Hill last summer and getting far too passionate about the importance of needle exchange programs (buses that travel around and provide clean needles to heroin and other intravenous drug users so that these users do not spread HIV—now also offered directly in hospitals).
I remember my boss asked me if I could prepare a memo on benefits of such programs.
I remember furiously typing away at my desk, filled to the brim with emotion that anyone could possibly be against this. North Carolina has one of the highest HIV rates in the entire United States, and shared needles were only perpetuating the problem.
I remember reading scathing criticisms saying that needle exchange programs would only encourage intravenous drug users. Some even had the audacity to say that these programs would encourage non-users to become users now that HIV risk would decrease.
But what I remember most is silently sobbing over these people’s insensitivity and ignorance in thinking that all IV drug users needed to do was “just quit.”
As if it were that easy.
I wish it were that easy. I wish my cousin could have reached his full potential. Could have unleashed his wit, brilliance, and huge heart to the world through cultivating a family, perfecting a job, making the world brighter. If he could have just quit, I know he would have. I know he would have because he tried. And kept trying. And trying and trying. Until he gave up.
The saddest part is that I think he knew he let everyone in his life down.
But I can’t help but sit here and feel like I let him down.
Where was I when these idiots across the country protested these needle exchange programs? Where was I when my cousin just wanted someone to laugh with at our awkward family reunions? Where was I when I hear and see friends my age experimenting with weed, cocaine, and binge drinking? Where was I when I see the homeless man on the corner of the downtown McDonalds with scars from his drug use asking me for help? Where was I when AA calls for money or when one of the best rehabilitation programs in the country, TROSA, is right down the street from my university?
I sit back even though I know people need help. I sit back and I criticize, I run from the injustices of the world, I sink back into comfort. And, unfortunately, a lot of us sit back, too.
We sit back when we make “jokes” about our “pothead” and “basically alcoholic friends.” We sit back when we make stupid choices because we don’t care to consider the consequences behind them. We sit back when we think we know best, when we think we understand, when we insinuate absurd things like quitting is easy. We sit back when we stop empathizing and when we stay in our comfort zone of pretending like people aren’t hurting in this world.
Sometimes stepping out of that comfort zone is too hard. Sometimes when I think about the things my family has been through, I don’t want to help anyone. Sometimes I just want to pretend for a few minutes that everything is okay. Sometimes I just want to help myself because, often, that feels hard enough.
This overwhelming weight of the world is dangerous. It’s probably what led my cousin to his addiction to begin with. And it’s what led him to his death, too.
For my cousin, the weight of the world led him to addiction. For you, maybe the weight of the world has led you to lie, to cheat, to hurt those you love, to give up on dreams or certain passions altogether. For all of us, the weight of the world leads us to look for solutions, for ephemeral fixes, that we hope will take the weight off our shoulders.
Many times we fall into the trap of falsely thinking these ephemeral fixes are actually eternal.
My cousin thought drugs were the eternal fix he needed. He later realized the truth. But it was too late.
I am lying here thankful that I believe in the eternal fix of Jesus. Because if I didn’t know Him, I would spiral downward too. I would chase after fake dreams of “happiness” and “fulfillment” from the right major, the right grad school, the right job, the right beauty, the right personality. I would believe all of these lies that society throws at us, and I would crumble.
I can already see crumbs around me: the people I’ve disappointed by being somebody I’m not, my stupid resume I cling to when I feel insecure, my worn toes from one too many runs from trying to make my body look like something it’s just not meant to look like.
But I can brush off these crumbs and hold my head high. I can smile amidst the pain and the hardship of life because I am confident in the knowledge that although school, accomplishments, beauty, boys, money, and stuff are not eternal fixes, I do have an eternal fix and He will make all the brokenness new.
I don’t know what you’re going through. I don’t know what makes you feel the weight of the world. But I know that weight is huge. So I want you to know that you are not alone in your pain nor are you alone in your desire to find a quick fix. But I pray so fervently that you don’t hold to that quick fix as your eternal fix. Because I know that, just like my cousin, it’s not so easy to “just quit.”
“He will wipe every tear from their eyes. There will be no more death or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away.” -Revelation 21:4
“For our light and momentary troubles are achieving for us an eternal glory that far outweighs them all. So we fix our eyes not on what is seen, but on what is unseen. For what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal.” -2 Corinthians 4:17-18