Facebook reminded me that today is the birthday of a friend from my UBC days. But there will be no party because he committed suicide several years ago.
He didn’t choose to kill himself, though. The demons in his mind drove him to such despair. I remember when his mental illness first came out. We were in second year university. We lived in the same dorm—he on the fourth floor and me on the third. Before the sudden change, we had been “partners in crime,” working together in the lab for the one science course I was forced to take thanks to the requirement that Arts majors have a science class. I chose biology and found myself growing mosquitoes. There was way too much larvae for my liking and I don’t think I would have survived that course if it wasn’t for his camaraderie.
He was part of the group of my friends who would walk to Vancouver’s best beach of Spanish Banks and watch the most stunning sunsets while singing songs in harmony. I remember he had an amazing voice. As the sky went from blue to purples, pinks, yellows, and oranges, we would raise our voices with “How Great Thou Art” and other such hymns.
Then one day he wasn’t around. One day turned into several. And then our circle of friends got word: he was in the hospital—on a mental health ward. I remember the day I went to visit: it was gorgeously sunny and he sat by a window with earbuds in. He had a peaceful smile on his face but he was not the same person. When he saw me, he pulled them out and told me to place them in my ears. “You have to listen to this song,” he said.
And so I was introduced to Robin Mark’s Revival in Belfast song, “Jesus, All for Jesus.” I fell in love with that song then and have listened to it many times in the two decades since. It has been a source of inspiration for me in prayer as well as in preparation for giving presentations. When I hear that song, I think of him.
When I think of him, I think of his love for Jesus; I think of his defence of pre-born children who he was a strong voice for on our campus; I think of his joy; I think of skipping along the street, speaking in fake accents, singing, and laughing. Yes, he got sick with an illness that tormented him and led to a tragically short life. But he also forever touched my life, and others', in a positive way.
On this, what should have been your 37th birthday, my dear UBC buddy, may you be resting in peace, raising your voice in song with a chorus of angels.