Why Should I Go On Living?

Kids Raising Hands

I was approaching my apartment building in London, Ontario, Canada.  I almost made it inside, but an older man came up to me.  He asked:  “I see you driving around here all the time in your wheelchair, and you seem happy – smiling and motivated.  I was just wondering if you could tell me why I should go on living.”  I stopped and blinked.

A stranger was asking me for a reason not to commit suicide.

I knew that what I would say next was important.  There we were, in my building’s parking lot; the cold biting our ears.  I said: “Well, I’m just happy to be alive.  I was born without arms and legs, and I have never known anything else.”

A true statement – but I was floundering.

His eyes didn’t change.  They had the same dull, pleading glimmer to them that I saw when he approached me.  “You know, I travel the world, playing a sport I love.  I am at university studying Political Science and French and I have an amazing girlfriend,” I continued.  What a ridiculous thing to say.

Now I was just going through the parts of my motivational talk, hoping that this man, whose eyes were demanding a life changing response, would connect with some piece of my story.

It was not happening.

As I tried to talk my way through this, I remembered something a teacher, at one of the schools I have spoken at, told me.  She said they overheard in the hall, the week after I spoke, two boys; one couldn’t zip up his jacket.  He started to get mad and upset, and his little friend yelled: “Hey!  Didn’t you hear what that man in the gym said?  If you can’t do something, just try again!”

So I tried again.  My window of opportunity was closing.  My mind was flashing with images and ideas; I opened my mouth, and said: “I get the chance to speak at a lot of elementary schools.  I always ask the students to raise their hand if they have ever asked for help – every hand goes up.  Then I ask them to raise their hand if they have ever helped someone – every hand goes up.  The feeling I get each time that happens is electric.  The entire gym feels it.  That’s why you should keep living: to help, and be helped.”

His eyes softened, and he thanked me.  I watched him walk away, and I unlocked the door of my building.  I don’t know who he is or what happened to him.

But, I know that the boy in the hallway, helped his friend get his coat on that day.  He also helped me find the right words, in a parking lot, on another day.