With the front page title, “Death and Resurrection”, the April issue of L’Osservatore di Strada was entirely dedicated to Easter. In addition to the “Stations of the Cross of the Discarded” with meditations written by our ‘street’ authors, the edition features a selection of articles under the heading, “Stories of resurrection”, in which the authors recount their own personal stories of transformation. The following article is a contribution from Toronto Canada.
If Canada had had its current euthanasia law when I was 26 years old I might not be here today. In fact I remember a day when I had nowhere to go, begging a cold psychopharmacologist to give me a lethal injection. My dear friend A., who shared just as ferocious a desire to end her life as I did at the time, would not be alive either. I did not know her then, but when we did meet a couple of years after my longest stay in a psychiatric hospital we found we had too much in common not to find in one another a unique and special kinship that nothing could shatter.
Both she and I suffered abuse and neglect as little girls. Both of us endured lives with abusive men. Both of us tried to numb our pain with alcohol and drugs. Both of us would starve ourselves skeletal. Both of us knew what it was like to stare at yellow green walls while tied to a bed and given strong sedatives. Both of us knew what it was like to have no home, and no money and no food and nobody.
I made a serious suicide attempt about five years ago. I woke up tied to a hospital gurney and in a diaper. That was humiliating. I could remember the vodka and the pills but nothing after that — and nobody would tell me what had happened, just that I was found by a neighbour, they found my note in my bag, and that I was “Waiting for a bed upstairs in psychiatry.”
So many times I tried. And so many times they locked me up and punished me.
My first encounter with Orthodoxy was when I wandered into a Greek Orthodox church in Montreal and I swooned because of the beauty of the icons and the fragrance of the incense and the crowd of people standing right up to the doorway.
I was drawn in. But I was not a Christian and I never went back. I could not speak Greek, and I was more interested in crystals and tarot cards.
I was baptized Lutheran when I was 5 years old. But my mother stopped taking me to that church when they kept asking for money for a new roof, a newly paved parking lot, etc., money she did not have.
I remember fervently praying to God when I was 11 that I would get into the Royal Winnipeg Ballet School, but after my prayers were not answered, I fell silent to God.
Years would pass before I would ever pray again.
I left an abusive alcoholic when I was 32, carrying bags of clothes, beloved books and childhood stuffed animals, and a quarter in my pocket.
I ended up in a shelter that was more like a prison than a safe haven and again I wanted to die.
I spent my days in the park near the shelter writing in my notebook. One day my last pen ran out of ink and I had no money to buy even one more at the variety store.
I started walking down the street and saw a twenty dollar bill in the middle of the sidewalk. I could have bought pens and coffees for days with that, but, assuming the guy walking away from me had dropped it I ran after him and gave it to him. I walked back the way I came and there, exactly in the same place as the twenty dollar bill had been was a brand new bic pen.
And then, I knew God was looking out for me. He blessed me with a nice little apartment where I have been ever since, but I was his ungrateful child. I starved myself. I was in and out of treatment for my eating disorder. I went back to the crystals. I became suicidal yet again. In and out of the hospital. On and off different meds.
I met someone who was Greek Orthodox, and became very interested in the faith, in its ritual and beauty. I googled “Orthodox church services in English in Toronto” and stumbled upon St. John’s. I visited the little chapel one early morning and thought, “How do I pray?”
And then faces appeared to me, family and friends and strangers in need. And I talked to God. I kept going back. I was still close with A. At this time, she was still living in Montreal, but she was highly critical of my newly found faith and challenged me on it. Her abusive ex husband was Greek Orthodox so her view of the church was coloured by her past bruises.
One night she called me, obviously intoxicated, and told me she was lying in bed and her sheets were covered in blood. She wanted to die then and there. I called the Montreal police and they took her to the hospital, stitched up her wrists, and sent her home, to remain suicidal.
I have been hospitalized since coming to St. John’s for depression and for treatment of my eating disorder. But being chrismated last year purified me. I may still be in great pain some days, but I also know now the joy found in the Resurrection. I will never again be in any danger of asking a doctor for a lethal injection.
I spoke to A. the other day and she too is doing better. But I am terrified for her fragility and her being an atheist in our society as it is now. Because the next time something goes wrong for her and she decides she can’t face another day the option to end her life is there for her.
Let us pray for those who are forgotten on the streets, for the women being beaten by their husbands, for the young, who are carving words into their skin with razor blades, for those who are hungry, for those purposely depriving themselves of nourishment, for those who are alone, for those who are, at this very moment, staring at the pills, the gun, the rope, or the edge of a bridge.
Let us pray for every Canadian considering now the option of ending their life, that the Light of Christ will shine upon them, that their hearts will become unhardened, as mine was.
I am grateful to be alive and walking with Christ, and I am grateful to be a part of the warm St. John’s community.
I am alive and tomorrow is beautiful.
(The author of this article is the
protagonist of the story)