I love teaching at the community college. I have a course on a critical study of the Bible. I focus on the literature of scripture and I love showing the brilliance and eloquence of passages to fresh ears. Most of them have never read a Bible, even if they went to church, but they have a superstitious regard for it. I like to pierce through that superstition to give them some true understanding.
Often students stay after class to tell me about themselves: atheist, lesbian, ex-military, nursing students, retired people, young kids out of high school, truck drivers, a motorcycle rider. They’re all fascinating.
One student has gotten to me this semester. He’s young and very quiet. He wears ragged jeans and a T-shirt, the standard garb of the college student. Also like many of the students, he looks exhausted most of the time. He stammers when he talks, but he is the clearest writer in the class.
The other night, he came to turn in his paper but then asked me if it would be okay to skip class so he could go home. He hadn’t missed all semester so I told him he was in good shape.
Except, he was not in good shape. He was trembling.
“What’s wrong?” I ask.
“I just tried to kill myself but the gun misfired,” he whispered.
I took him out to the hallway. He shared his list of problems: finances, a sick mother, his own sickness, and he was just coming to realize he had been molested as a child.
But something was missing.
“Do you have a girlfriend?” I ask.
“She left me this morning,” he said.
This would be what we call the triggering event.
He promised he wouldn’t try to harm himself again that night. Later, I called him and listened to him for over an hour. The next day, I checked on him after he came out of class. I will talk to him again today.
He’s not out of danger but he’s willing to talk and that’s a good sign and I’m not the only one he’s talking to.
When he was standing out in the hall way that night, I asked his permission and then put my arm around his shoulders and I didn’t want to loosen my hold of him until I thought he’d be okay.
I have two sons who are very much like him: smart, slender, with a quiet turbulence. My older boy is the same age as this young man. He’s in college several hundred miles away. I remember how I didn’t want to let go of him so he could go leave home.
Late that night, at bedtime I went to my younger son who is still home and I did what I hadn’t done in a while. I put my arms around him and kissed his cheek—he’s going to have to get used to it again.
I’ll be calling the young man again today.