My favourite film of all time is Fiddler on the Roof starring Israeli actor Chaim Topol in the role of Tevye the milkman. The story itself, as you will remember, is set in the Shtetls, or villages, in the areas where the Jews where allowed to live in Tsarist Russia.
Who can forget that scene where Tevye celebrates the marriage agreement of his daughter and the song LíChaim is sung, but afterwards as Tevye heads home, the village policeman warns Tevye about just a little pogrom that has been organized?
Life seems like that at times doesnít it? One moment, finally, everyone seems to be going great and just when you seem to be at the peak of happiness Ė bang! The floor drops out on you and down the depths you tumble.
Let me tell you of an old friend that I met about six weeks ago that I had not seen in a number of years.
You know what is like; we both looked at each other and thought, I know him - and then the name on the tip of your tongue and finally, recognition.
We talked about how long ago it was when we last met and the usual making up of time.
Glen had moved to Queensland about six weeks ago and was sharing accommodation with another joint acquaintance in a nearby suburb and it seemed that he would be a frequent visitor to my area.
Glen was single and had looked after his elderly mother for a number of years while he was younger and I guess just didnít find the right circumstances that would have had him with his own family.
Even as a teenager Glen was one of the quieter ones of our group although he did fit in very well. He was what you would say, having a nervous disposition and was sometimes not as confident as some of us were at the time.
The last time my wife and I ran into Glen before this was during a visit to our national capital, Canberra, early in our marriage and we literally did run into him in one of the shopping malls not knowing that he had moved there. We went to his place for dinner and had a great time reminiscing about things.
A week ago, I had a phone call from my daughter while I was at work as she had just received a phone call from friends in Sydney that Glen had been found dead and did I know anything about it. After making some phone calls when I got home, I was shocked to find that he had been found dead by the son of the friend he was staying with when the son had come home.
Because he had only been in the state for a few weeks, the police were treating it as a suspicious circumstance and had cordoned off the area until they could determine what had happened.
It was determined two days ago that he had killed himself and that he had been depressed for some time.
I was asked to say something at his funeral I am one of the few people up here that know him.
At first I was not sure what to say Ė because how many people there will really understand what it feels like to see suicide as the only acceptable way out of what seems to be an a no-win situation. Where there is only the grayness of a small part of life to lift you out of the blackness of the rest of it.
In the end I focused on his being a devoted son who cared for an elderly sick mother for many years. On his ability to help others despite his inner pain and anguish and the number of his friends in Sydney who had rang me to pass on their condolences.
I am not normally too lost for words, as you will have probably guessed, but this time, because of the circumstances, I just couldnít say the things that I knew Glen would have been feeling for this to be his option on life. To do so would not have helped those attending so I concentrated on the fact that the circumstances of Glenís passing were not important, what was important was the happy memories of his life that those of his family and friends shared.
But incredibly I feel a strange sense of guilt. Why him and not me? Why was I blessed with survival when I was at my witís end and he was not? What makes the difference between those who are saved and those who arenít?
Why have I managed to keep a grip on life and he didnít?
Then it struck me that it didnít matter! What did matter was that I was here and could do what I could to make my life the best I can under my personal roller coaster and help those that I can when I am able, and to hang on when lifeís little pogroms arrive for me.
LíChaim Glen. Even in your passing you have helped me. May your name be remembered.
26 February 2004
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