I’m really not one for blood and gore and I’m really not one for prying into the private lives of others, however, the thing with this story is that I can’t tell it without blood and gore and it has nothing to do with my life. It took place a few years ago and I was 800 miles away from where it happened. I took no part in any of it but it did have some impact on me. The impact came in part from the undeniable shock that such an event creates and also in part because it took place two houses down from my parents’ home. That is the home I grew up in, and the neighbors’ home whose grass I cut. I saw them frequently throughout my childhood. You must put yourself in the context of the moment in order to fully understand the lesson I learned only yesterday from an event that happened two years ago.
It was an ordinary day in the neighborhood. Patterson Road, or rather Patterson Lane as Google and the politicians called it, had seen many a visitor over the years. The people and events that danced up and down the street of my childhood home created an environment that, at times, could have been like a movie scene. Never though had it seen the hustle and bustle of police tape and emergency vehicles that typically present themselves at the scene of a suicide. My neighbor, whose name I will not mention as a sign of respect, awoke one morning and decided after much suffering that that day would be her last. She was the wife of a farmer, so a pistol and corresponding ammunition was not hard to find. She sat in her bed, put the barrel of the gun in her mouth and with the nearly effortless pull of a trigger, ended her life.
I did mention that she had a husband. He is actually the reason for this story. What did you do the last time your wife of many years committed suicide? How did you react when you walked into your house to see her head sprayed across the wall above your bed? Or has that never happened to you? It has surely never happened to me. I cannot imagine what that scene does to a person.
Bob, as I will call him in this story, was the most honest and humble man I have ever knew. He had little in common with the neighbors like my parents and their friends who, in his view, were settled on valuable farmland. He was always quick to help out though and never asked or expected anything in return for his help on a yard project. He embodied the true definition of the classical idea of a farmer. He worked endlessly to keep up with his farm all while standing by his wife’s side as she battled surgeries that made her weaker and ever more dependent upon powerful pain medication. I would have to imagine that after awhile, the pain and the burden became too much to bear but Bob never wavered in his love for her.
When his wife died, they held a memorial for her on the hill that overlooks the house, the farm and the neighborhood. With the release of her ashes and the installation of a rudimentary swing, her memory lived on and Bob went back about his life of hard work and being a good neighbor.
The other night, I sat at the basement bar in my parents house. This is a magical place all its own that has seen many characters, parties, good times, bad times and even a wedding once. Bob came up to the house as my parents and I sat around the bar, beers in hand, chatting about our own struggles. Bob humbly walked in, enjoyed a few beers as he enlightened us about neighbors and problems of the past. He mostly just sat there and tried to enjoy the company around him, although, I could tell that some of the conversations that took place about other neighbors and local politics were not ones that he wished to weigh in on. After a while he left, walking the short distance home.
It wasn’t until a day or two later that I even thought about that night or about Bob. I was working in my parents' yard and bitching about how miserable I was. I have had a feeling recently like I have lost everything that I once thought I had a grip on. Love, money, a job, friends, and even living where the sun shines more often. I felt like all those had been taken from me and I was being punished. It was at that point that I thought about Bob. He said one curious thing to us the other night. My mom asked him if he could live anywhere in the world and money was not an issue, where would it be? He looked confused by the question and eventually replied that he was fairly happy right here, where he was. Although humble, Bob is not an idiot and he has seen countries as far as Italy when his wife was alive. How could he be so content here? I hated this place. The weather and the people were always weird to me. How could Bob, given everything he’s been through be so content and happy here?
It was in this moment that I remembered one undeniable fact. Happiness is an independent element all its own. It does not have any prerequisites and does not have any contingencies. It is an emotion, an emotion that feels the exact same no matter what country you stand in, what house you live in, what hobbies you have, what job you work or what people surround you. Happiness can be created anywhere and Bob had figured out how to recreate it, even after such a long and terrible sequence of events. To try to act like I know anymore than Bob would be foolish. Afterall, he is happy and I am the one who is riding around the yard on the tractor cursing at the weather, the firewood and the poison ivy. I never sat down and had a heart to heart or even a conversation of substance with Bob but I didn’t need to. He was the most honest and humble man that I have ever known and I learned from him one day how even in the most awful of circumstances, you can still figure out a way to be happy.