Cat Stevens, A.K.A. Yusaf Islam, the 70s singer/songwriter who converted to the Muslim religion after a near-drowning accident, had a way with a musical phrase. One of his most plaintive songs asks, “Oh, very young, what will you leave us this time? You’re only dancing on this earth for a short while.” In tune and lyric he captured both the glory and the fragility of youth.
Last week a young person from my extended religious community died in his sleep. I have no idea how he died, and I didn’t know him personally. But his death triggered memories. I’ve known many glorious, fragile young people, some very dearly. And some danced off the earth in a very short time.
I remember one conversation in which I pled with a young woman, “Just live. That’s all I’m asking.” She understood my plea perfectly, because the will to live lay at the foundation of all her struggles. Thankfully, she said yes.
But another young person I know took his own life. He struggled with the will to live and said no. Suicide, whether intended, accidental, gradual, or sudden, leaves us with a deeper hole in our hearts than death. It pushes us into our own will to live. It forces us to face our own life disappointments. And beyond this, we just miss them and think of what might have been.
When a young person dies, we mourn more than just the loss. We mourn the lost future. That unrealized future sits on the desk of the heart, a check never cashed, a ticket never used. Let’s do what we can to prevent this. Let’s come around the families of young people. Let’s support them and pray for them. Let’s take off the mask of “everything’s fine” and admit that life can be harshly tragic. And when we see a struggling young person, let’s deal ruthlessly with our inner Pharisees. Let’s stretch out our souls and speak to their souls. Let’s love them sincerely. After all, what if they do dance away? What will we wish we’d done?