When I was at a university notorious for its rigor and prestige, I felt the weight of failure crushing the life out of me. I couldn’t seem to do well on exams, I couldn’t understand the classes no matter how many nights I stayed up late, reading and rereading the materials every day. The gray skies melded into a gray world with white walls, chalkboards, and lecture halls one after the other.
Surrounded on all sides by failure and spiraling deeper into depression, I was hitting rock bottom hard and fast. It seemed that already there was nothing left in life. Just daily drudgery, steps to failure taken over and over…
I just wanted it to stop. This desire soon translated into wanting life to just stop.
I was walking to the bus stop one day, half toying with the idea of walking to a nearby bridge and ending it all when I passed a concrete bench. It sat up against a small hillock with decorative flowers, plants, and small trees. I walked by this bench every day without thought, but I stopped this time and really looked at the chalk marks that caught my eye.
“Dear God, be good to me.
The sea is so wide
and my boat is so small
I read it once. Then I read it again. Over and over, the words echoed in my mind.
How had the mystery writer captured the feeling so well? That of a person, all alone in a single boat -I imagined a small row boat- in the middle of an ocean with no hope, no shelter, no safety in any direction. Sharks circling closer, the sun sinking on the horizon, no food or water -how do you survive that?!
But even with the bleak mental imagery, I latched onto a tendril of hope. I’m not alone. There’s someone else who feels like I do, forsaken and abandoned. If they can make it one more day, I think I can too.
I can make it through today…
I made it through that day. And the next. And the next…
Did my life magically change? Fuck no.
I still struggled with my classes, I still failed exams and stayed up late to study while retaining very little (it felt). But every day, when I passed that writing on the bench as I stumbled to and from the bus stop, the support of those words gave me hope.
The chalk writing itself proved resilient: an ongoing symbol of my one-sided commitment to “one more day”. Rain washed the chalk away, but the writing would reappear, freshly written and unsmudged.
Snow fell, but the words returned in the spring.
A year past. Fall semester rolled around and once more the quote reappeared.
Sometimes I noticed it. Sometimes I didn’t. But every time I did, the words spoke just as strongly as the first moment I saw them.
Two years later, I graduated with my degree and while I didn’t get straight As (unlike all my other degrees), I felt the proudest of this one degree that cost me my sleep, my health (at times) and my sanity (almost…).
I got a job working on the campus and I worked there for 2 years.
And faithfully, every year, the writing appeared on the bench.
I recently went back for an alumni event (apparently a big deal) and I happened to walk past that bench again.
This time, I stopped and took a picture.
I never knew who wrote this quote. But if I believed in angel guardians, I think that one guided my eye that day.
If I hadn’t seen it, my life could have ended that year.
I never got to thank the person who faithfully writes the quote every year, but I hope that they will one day know the impact their words have made.
Maybe, I will leave a message of my own.
“Thank you for these words. They kept me alive.”
Life isn’t perfect. In my lifetime thus far, I’ve been in “eras” of depression 3 times or more. I’ve thought of suicide numerous times, planned suicide frequently, and stopped at the last seconds on 4 occasions that I acknowledge.
I am imperfect. I sometimes feel like giving up. I don’t really talk to people about that and it’s something I’ve only recently come to terms with.
But somehow, in those dark hours, I’ve been inspired to just go one more day. One more day… with the potential for a better day than yesterday. One more day, to experience something new.
Like pleasure, passion, love, excitement, happiness.
One day could make all the difference.
It has for me. Not immediately- by all means not! A string of “one more day” has brought me to a better place. Not perfect; Better.
If I could talk to myself in those days, I would probably say the following -where I so eloquent.
Just try it. Try giving it another day…