Do not wait to have that conversation.

You know how some memories stay in your mind?  I still remember the handshake. The very physical, nearly-break-your-knuckles grip the solidly built young man put on me. And the comment,  “Esch, I am nothin!!”   He was loud and gregarious.  Also, a drinker.  We were in the seminary together at the University of Notre Dame, both planning to become Catholic priests.

One of my first sermons was titled “We are nothing, without God.”  There were about 110 of us living in the seminary back then, in the mid-80s, and I felt like one of the least smart, least talented of them all.  Many had attended elite universities.  Some were lawyers or engineers.  Others had run successful businesses or achieved high rank in the military.  So, it made sense to me to preach on the idea that though we were all well-educated, and gifted in various ways, we were “nothing” without the grace of God.

Many seemed to appreciate the sermon.  Around that same time my strong-armed friend got another DUI.  This was his second DUI that Fall.  He was told that if he got another DUI he would be kicked out of the seminary.  And so, after returning to the seminary that night—maybe still under the influence, he took a rope, went to the basement, near the racquetball courts and ended his life.

Shock. Horror. Trauma. The rector found him. It stunned the entire community.

I recalled how many times he shook my hand so fiercely in the two weeks following my sermon and said “Esch, I am nothin!!”  And I remember laughing each time he said it, but also feeling this tinge of wonder.  Why was he so loudly proclaiming that he was nothing?  And more immediately, why was he gripping my hand so hard?  I wish I had asked him some questions.  I wish I had engaged him in conversation.  Could I have prevented his suicide?  Perhaps.  Perhaps not.  I will never know.

Now I now make my living helping others have uncomfortable conversations about all kinds of issues.  Some of those conversations improve safety.  Many improve relationships.  Often, they benefit the bottom line.  And no doubt some save lives.

This week, is National Suicide Awareness Week.  I do not know if you believe in God or not. I do know if you consider yourself highly gifted or not.  I want you to know: you are not nothing!  You are not alone.  You are something.  You are someone and worthy of love, affection and happiness.  And capable of having conscious, powerful conversations.

National Suicide Hotline, open 24 hours:  800-273-8255.

Tom Esch, President and Founder of Esch Consulting, LLC