Last night as I boarded a flight I walked down the isle toward my seat. Off in distance about ten rows up I noticed a single young man sitting with obvious anxiousness and I had that odd feeling I would be seated next him. Sure enough the intuition didn’t fail and as I pointed to my window seat he quickly jumped up and pronounced with authority, “Yes Sir, excuse me Sir.”, I squeezed into my seat and settled into the flight. In politeness I gave my usually pleasantry, “How’s it going dude?”… His response is where things turned from a hopefully easy flight into an important one.
Young man- “Just left Bootcamp, going home.”
Me- “Wow, congrats man!”
Young man- “Yeah well thanks, but I was given an offensive discharge. Apparently depression is discharge-able.”
Me (now completely thrown off)- “Oh man, sorry.”
I was a bit stunned that he just threw that out there and was so eager to tell me something like that. I sheepishly turned to window and stared blankly as the young man pulled his hood over his head and leaned into the seat in front of him. I sat there for about fifteen minutes feeling like I should have said more. A condolence of some type, a word of encouragement, maybe a lighthearted verbal pat-on-the-back for his effort. But instead I just looked at the pages of my book without reading a word. It weighed on me, this young man was eager to speak because he needed to talk. Those pages in my book weren’t giving me any answers as to what to say, and as desperately as I wanted to just close my eyes an ignore the situation I couldn’t. I had been in a taxi, a bus ride through Mexico, flights, a 4 hour layover, and finally 14 hours later was on my final leg of travel. I was tired. But for some reason this young man landed in the seat next to me. A man who makes a living talking to young people about the importance of climbing out of dark places. A man who just spent a month campaigning for suicide awareness and mental health. Here is a young man, who just dropped a giant cry for help in my lap and I sat there silent.
After a few minutes I closed my book. Looked at him as we took off and simply said, “Where ya from?”… I knew I had just opened the flood gates and this flight was going to be a long one. And open the flood gates I did…
He starting telling me his life story, his struggles with addictions, his accomplishments, his desire to serve his country, and his determination to get back into the military. He had a baby on the way. He had attempted suicides in his past. He had a story that he was obviously dying to tell and I was his audience for 2 & ½ hours. I said very little, just occasionally trying to pepper in perspective and bigger picture advice where I could. He just wanted to talk. When he finally slowed down, I told him about my own struggles in finding a life I was contempt in, with depression and experiences with suicide. I used the obvious things-happen-for-a-reason cliches. I talked to him about how admirable his efforts were, and how much I’m sure his girlfriend appreciated him. How having his baby would change the way he see’s the world. We talked at length about everything. He told me about the day he asked his girl out and we laughed at the awkwardness. We talked about suicide. We talked about ADHD and mental illness’. He told me more about the military routines than I had ever known. He told me he was embarrassed about the discharge.
He had been away from home for three months and clearly had never left. He wasn’t a well versed traveler by any means and as we flew together I showed him different landmarks from the air, “That’s Cleveland and the south end of Lake Michigan. That’s Milwaukee down there..” When we finally landed he instantly called his girlfriend as we taxied to the gate. I could her excitement on the other end of the line, and I could here her worry. I felt there was more to the story than even he indulged but I simply let him tell me his version. And then he said into line the words that told me what I already knew when I stared blankly into my book some 2 & ½ hours earlier, “Yeah, I had someone to talk to.”…
When we were in baggage claim I shook his hand and got his name for the first time. I told him to take care and went on my way. I told him depression wasn’t an offense it was a condition and that it was completely normal. And that was it for me…
If that young man ever reads this hope you’re doing well bud.