I’ve Looked Down That Road Too

So I work as a reporter at The Sanford Herald in Sanford, N.C., and my world was shaken yesterday.

We were told there was a police-involved shooting in downtown Sanford, a few hundred yards from our office. We were waiting for more information from police. Then the news came in. I’ll copy our report below:

A 28-year-old male from Sanford died Thursday afternoon of a self-inflicted gunshot wound to the head, according to Sanford police.

The incident occurred around 1 p.m. in front of an abandoned business at the corner of Charlotte Avenue and First Street. Police cars blocked off a section of Charlotte Avenue while the man stood outside of the abandoned business. He was armed with a 9mm handgun and shot himself after communicating with police detectives and other civilians for about 90 minutes.

During the 90 minutes, nearby businesses closed down and people eating at La Dolce Vita Pizzeria, just yards away from the incident, were forced to stay inside the restaurant.

After the incident, EMS administered immediate medical assistance and he was transported to the emergency room at Central Carolina Hospital. He was pronounced dead by the medical examiner at the hospital.
The name of the man has not been released yet. Stay with The Herald for more.

I was shaken. Why? I’ve looked down that road before, that road of taking your own life, and it’s a dark one.

I didn’t get too far down that road, but I’ve heard stories of others that didn’t, like this young man. As I saw tributes on my Facebook feed to this guy yesterday, I saw that he was well-loved by people of all races, ages and political perspectives. People came together to remember him. I won’t print his name here out of respect for the fact I never met him, never knew him and had never even heard of him before yesterday.

But I want to believe that I’ve felt part of the pain that he felt. Obviously, something happened in his life or his mind that drove him to this drastic decision, and he felt he couldn’t go on.

I understand the impulse. I’ve struggled with enough in my life to make me think about that path — depression, anxiety, bullying, religious doubt, fear of man, despair over mistakes.

In this time, I struggle to think of what I could say to comfort those who might be hurting or mourning. I’ve never been intimately acquainted with someone who has taken their own life. I’ve known people — a former high school classmate, a distant relative, this man yesterday — that have done so. I’ve known people that have thought about it. Words just aren’t enough in this situation.

What I will recommend, and what I hope to do more of, is this: don’t be afraid to ask, “Are you OK?”

I think we’re nervous to get too invested in others’ lives for several reasons. First, we can be selfish people, and getting too much in others’ lives takes away time and attention to ourselves. Second, we don’t want to pry or make things awkward. And third, sometimes we just don’t know how to.

I’ll suggest it this way: Think about how often you start a conversation with someone and you ask, “How are you?” or in the case of Joey Tribbiani, “How you doin’?” It’s a common conversation starter. How often do you or the person you’re talking to say “fine” or “good”?

I recommend that we start taking the time to dig deeper into that. Obviously not with people you’ve just met or in professional settings, but with friends or relatives, be willing to ask, “How are you good?” or “How are you fine?” If they seem a little unsure, don’t be afraid to ask, “Are you OK? Is there anything I can help you with? Do you need to talk about something?”

The worst that can happen to you is that they say “no” and it’s a little awkward for a while. The best that can happen is that 1) you have a meaningful, productive conversation with another human being (talks that seem few and far between these days) and 2) you might bring a little hope and love into another person’s life.

Yeah, love. There’s not enough of that right now. And I’m not blaming the person’s family or friends or coworkers or whoever for not loving him enough. That’s not the point. I’m asking you who know people to show that love to others. Point them down the path of love.

I want to say one last thing, to send a message to my brother who passed on:

Yes, I know we never met, and you’ve probably never even heard my name. But you’re my brother because we’ve had similar struggles, I imagine. I love you, man. I hope and pray you’re in the arms of a Savior who loves you. I hope your life will spur others on to love. I hope your life will spur me on to love.

— Zach

I’m Not Quite Doing What I Hoped to Do

Back when I arrived at Elon before my freshman year of college, I figured that I’d get some serious time at home during the summers, but after that, I was gone from good old Sanford forever. But then even the summers got taken away. After my freshman year, I worked as a camp counselor at Snowbird Wilderness Outfitters. After my sophomore year, I went to Myrtle Beach as part of Campus Outreach’s Summer Beach Project. After my junior year, I went to South Africa for seven weeks as part of Campus Outreach’s Cross Cultural Project.

After my senior year, I figured, I’d have a job somewhere away from home.

Fairview Dairy Bar in Sanford.

Fairview Dairy Bar in Sanford.

However, things are different in real life.

I’m going home.

There were a couple job options away-from-home that didn’t quite work out. Plus, there’s potential employment at home that could work out. I don’t quite know for sure what that future holds, but whatever it is, Lord-willing, I’m going back to Sanford, N.C., after graduation on May 24 to live in my parents’ house.

This wasn’t what I expected.

This wasn’t what I hoped. I hoped to be “moving on” by this time. I hoped to be “growing up” by this time. I never equated “growing up” or “moving on” with going back home.

However, I’m stoked.

See, God has a funny way of altering our life trajectories, at least in our view.

It was always in his plan that I would be back home after graduation, sleeping in the same bed I slept in during high school (I got a new one around freshman year), in the same room, in the same house, with most of the same people (my brother will be a junior at Elon), going to the same church, driving around the same town. A lot of it will be similar.

But now, I get a do-over in Sanford, almost. Back in high school, so much of my relationship with my city was from a distance, for lack of better words. I didn’t give Sanford much thought, to be honest. I went to school in a different town. The only real serious relationship I had with Sanford was my church.

Now that I’m coming home, I get a chance to approach Sanford in a whole different way. It’s a city that, like every other city, needs the gospel. They need the hope of Jesus, the hope of the gospel, the joy that comes from pursuing God. I’m excited about doing what I can to help there. I’m excited about plugging into my church, Turner’s Chapel, in whatever way possible. I’m excited about developing relationships with guys my age to pursue Christ together. I’m excited about any ministry efforts God throws my way. I’m excited about going to church with my family every Sunday.

I’m excited about eating at the Dairy Bar, Elizabeth’s Pizza, Yamato’s. I’m excited about going on jogs at Kiwanis Park. I’m excited about going grocery shopping at Food Lion. I’m excited about hitting up Belk’s for the dress shirts I’ll probably need for my new job if I get it.

I’m excited about a lot of things. But I wouldn’t have pegged this opportunity that way four years ago. God has a funny way of doing that.

And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose. (Romans 8:28)