One of T.S. Eliot’s most over-quoted poems starts out with, “April is the cruellest month.” And, yes, the spelling is correct if you’re quoting “The Waste Land,” according to Schmoop and the Poetry Foundation website. As an English teacher, I can tell you that Eliot is twisting our expectations around – April is spring, life is returning from death, etc. But here, Eliot points out that the flowers spring up out of the dead land. I heard it described like feeling coming back after a long numbness.
You can argue the literary merit of “The Waste Land” all you want. I probably just gave you a negative flashback to high school English. I apologize. I understand why people hate teachers and want to rob them of their pay, pensions, etc. We make you read stuff you don’t want to read. And I’m sure one of us made you read “The Waste Land.”
But did that teacher ever make you think about it?
A quick Google search of “April is the cruelest month” – no mater how you spell the fourth word – brings up information about “The Waste Land,” of course. It also brings up suicide prevention tips and stats on spring-related suicides.
Apparently, Eliot wasn’t too far off.
Why am I writing about this? It’s spring! It’s Easter! Happy chocolate bunnies!
Well, I want you to go check on your friends and neighbors. That’s why. Yes, we’re out of the dark that was winter, but that may not be a comfort to some people. Some people may not see this as a time of celebration. Some people may need our help.
This thought was triggered originally, not by Eliot, but by a text from an old friend.
Before moving back here, I lived in the Lancaster area and worked at a charter school. The people I worked with were great, wonderful people who genuinely wanted to make a difference in the world. The people I worked for wanted to make money in the world, as I believe all charter school founders do, no matter what they say to you. At our charter, there were a few of us who, as the school closed, were left as a skeleton crew without other jobs. We went on to get other jobs, of course, but while the ranks around us thinned, this group slugged it out to the end.
Not for lack of trying to join the others. I applied to something like 100 school districts before getting my current job.
In that group, and perhaps the hardest hit by the closure and the realization that the people we worked for weren’t as altruistic as they said they were, was a school psychologist. He helped me out during the six years I worked there. He allayed my fears of being a terrible parent when Timmy came along. He gave me some of the best advice on life and parenting I had ever gotten.
When I moved away five years ago, we fell out of touch. Then, a year or so ago, I got a text from another school friend, this one a math teacher, asking if I had heard about the psychologist. I hadn’t. She sent me a link to a local news story. This psychologist had taken his own life after a standoff with police.
The math teacher and I texted a bit more at the time, but that was the last time I talked to her until she texted me out of the blue the other day to talk about hew new job. She moved from an urban district to a school district not unlike the one I now teach and live in. She sounded as happy as I am now.
The juxtaposition of her current happiness and the last conversation we had struck me. I had dealt with the death, or so I thought. I dealt with trying to reconcile the good advice with the death of the man who gave it. I dealt with my sense of betrayal, oddly enough, that the man who seemed to have it all figured out was just faking it like we all are. He had his own inner demons that no one knew about.
Not even his family.
Until the police were called to his house.
Now, yes, I’ve lost contact with a good amount of the people I worked with four hours away and a lifetime ago, which is natural. But there are people I know now, here, in my current life, that I haven’t checked on in a while. I have some phone calls to make.
April may be the cruelest month, but maybe we can remind some people that the flowers spring forth into life, not break through out of death.
q q q
Andrew Bundy is a husband, father, teacher, writer, columnist, nerd, and millennial. The Poetry Foundation has T.S. Eliot’s full poem. If you are experiencing any thoughts of suicide this April, please call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255.