I tried to explain the concept of the ice bucket challenge to The Who tonight. I tried really hard — all the ways I knew — and he still couldn’t get it. “Why, though,” he asked, “would someone make a donation just because they put ice on their head?”
“They don’t make the donation because they put the ice on their head. It’s just that doing it reminds them to make a donation. They might not think about it otherwise.”
“But I still don’t understand, Mama. I still don’t understand why ice makes them give money.” He really wanted to get it. And looking at him, standing there, post-shower in his plush hooded bathrobe, his blue eyes wide and imploring — I really wanted to be able to help him.
“Well, like, they might not be thinking about donating to cure this sickness, but being chosen to do this silly thing reminds them.”
“How does money cure a sickness?”
Frustrated, I finally said, “Ask Mommy. Maybe she will be able to explain it better. I can’t seem to tell you in a way that helps you understand.”
“But you can always explain things to me. You can always answer all my questions.”
He’s right. And there have been some doozies, too. (Witness: the time we drove by Planned Parenthood and he asked why they were holding signs outside. And the time they erected the paperclip memorial outside a synagogue and I had to explain the Holocaust.) But, despite the years of practice, I’ve never had as much trouble getting to the nuts and bolts as I did with this one. Somehow my words just weren’t computing for him.
Until they finally did. Until the coin finally dropped. “Ok,” he said after I had explained it one more time. “I think I understand now.” And that was that.
Later, I was editing my ice bucket video and the news about Robin Williams popped up. Talk about hard to understand.
I’ve never been famous. And I’ve never been addicted. Neither have I been diagnosed with any serious mental illness. But I have been depressed. And I have been so low that I wondered if maybe ending my life was the better option. But I never did it. I never did it because the things about living always seemed better than the things about dying. There were always more things I’d miss than those from which I’d get relief. Even at my saddest and most desperate — the day I put my wailing, flailing two-month-old on his back on the carpet in the middle of my parents’ living room, dropped my face into my hands, and screamed, “I wish I never had you!” — even then, I knew that I would not live in that place forever. That it would turn around. As hopeless as I felt, in some small, far away place I knew that it wouldn’t be that horrible forever. And thank God, I was right. It took much longer than I had expected or hoped, but it wasn’t that horrible forever. In fact, it was never that horrible again.
I don’t know how I could ever explain suicide to The Who. If he asked me tomorrow or next week or even years from now, I don’t know how I could satisfy his earnest need to understand. I could give him the pat line about people being so sad that they think the only way to end the sadness would be to end their life, but I don’t think anything I could ever say would explain it enough to sate him. I don’t understand it myself.
For tonight, I am grateful that the hardest thing I had to explain was a viral Facebook meme about being silly and doing good. And my heart hurts for all those in the midst of trying to comprehend the incomprehensible.