TW: Suicide, sexual abuse, trauma
There are four different types of love mentioned in the Bible: Agapé, Philia, Eros, Storge’.
For those not aware, here’s how these forms of love break down:
· Agapé is a principled love. Think of it as not knowing someone and loving them anyway because you live by a certain set of principles. I call it loving you because I’m compelled to.
· Philia is a love based in friendship or among friends. I call it a chosen love. I love you because I want to not because I have to.
· Eros is a romantic love, as between spouses.
· Storge’ is a natural love that generally occurs between close family members like parents and children.
All though I have practiced each of these in various forms, last night one of these was tested most. The one I thought I lacked or didn’t have enough of because it’s not always an “active” form of love. What I mean is that doing something because it’s right and doing something because you genuinely care are two different things. The love that was challenged was agapé. As you read on, you’ll think, Hmmm…. wouldn’t this be storge’? I guess. But when you see the entire situation, you’ll better understand why it was my principled love that was tested and came to the forefront.
It started with me overhearing a conversation.
Not one where I made out specific words, but where I could tell a difference in tone and urgency. (To protect those involved I will not reveal specific identifying details, only enough for you to understand the situation.) The conversation was between two relatives. One who called the one I was overhearing. I heard the tone go from a loud over-talking form (not in a rude way, but in a “please hear me” way). Suddenly, within a manner of seconds, it switched to a lower tone, a pleading one, begging for the person on the other end to just talk to them. Then I hear the conversation abruptly end.
Out of concern, I go to the person I was listening to and simply asked if they were okay. The answer was a painfully curt and honest “No.” With some mild reluctance and hesitation, I was told about the conversation and the mental state of the person on the other end. Without hesitation, I walked out of the room, grabbed my computer and cell phone, and came back to get to work.
Now, here’s some context behind the hesitation of the person I was listening to. The person they were speaking to and I have a long history. I’ll even tell you it is familial, although not one remembered with much love and fondness. The fact of the matter is this person’s children sexually abused me when I was child. They left indelible scars on my psyche, my soul, and my heart. Wounds I have yet to heal from over 40 years later. The person I was listening to knew that by telling me who they were talking to and what was said could trigger me into have a PTSD and depression spiral. Nonetheless, they were brave enough to share because they needed to help this person who was clearly despondent.
Coming back into the room, I advised the person I was listening to that I will try to find the address of our mutual family member so we could call the police and get help. Since we live out of state, I had to call my local 911 to get a phone number to emergency services in that person’s area to get help. I did a quick internet search while the person I was helping called others to get an address. We got part of an address from one person and the full address from a paid online search. I figured, I could at least spend ten bucks to try and help save someone’s life.
After calling the police and imploring them to send someone for an emergency mental health and wellness check, we tried to contact my family caller back. The person who was originally speaking with them got no answer. My husband tried, no answer. I called, and they picked up by the third ring.
Okay, time for more context. I have not seen or spoken to this person in 20 years. In fact, not since my actual wedding day, and barely spoke to them then. This person, in all my adult life, never knew where I lived, had my phone number, or anything. The only thing they knew was I was no longer living in my home state and, possibly, the state I now currently reside. That’s it. We’ve had no contact and I have had no contact with their children. So, it was a big deal for me to call them without blocking my phone number knowing that they would now have it via caller i.d.
I will not go into all the details of the conversations, as I do want to respect the privacy of all involved as much as I can. I will say this, when you are talking to a despondent, hurt, overwhelmed, anxious, and depressed person who is threatening suicide, it ain’t easy. By any means. I’m not a trained suicide prevention volunteer. I’m not a trained therapist. I’m an average woman who voluntarily entered an anything-but-average situation.
The first call last about 18 minutes. It started with the person yelling at me that I shouldn’t have called the police. To not call the police on them. This refrain went on for what felt like an eternity. Through their desperate tears, anger, hurt, confusion, and more, I sat and listened. Only interjected apologies for not knowing their wishes and reinforcing the thought that I needed to make sure they were safe and that was all.
Sidebar: I did fear calling the police.
As a Black person in this country, I don’t take calling the police lightly, and generally never have. I know how quickly things can escalate for Black men and women. I also know that with mental health situations, especially when someone is extremely distressed, that matters can end up with fatal consequences for the one that is in distress. I did not want that for this person, no matter how I felt about them.
As I stayed calm and kept reinforcing my desire to make sure the person was safe, that I was there to listen (because they felt nobody listened to them), and that I wouldn’t have done all of this if I didn’t love them (although I wasn’t feeling the emotion in the moment, but was certainly doing what I could to save someone’s life), eventually the person got to a point where I could talk without interruption. I convinced them to wash their face with some cool water….and then they hung up saying they’ll call back. I begged them not to hang up…they did anyway. ((sigh)) My next call was to the police. I advised them I did not want them calling the person back but to send someone out to do a 72 hours hold, to check on them. (I’ll leave my commentary on how helpful I thought the person I was dealing with at the police department was for another time…let’s say their condescending and pat answer performance was less than stellar. BTW, when all was said and I done, I did more in one hour than my three calls to the police ever did.)
To my surprise, the despondent person called back less than five minutes later. This next call lasted some 30 minutes. They were calmer, drinking a cold glass of water, had washed their face. The first thing they said to me was, “I told you I was going to call you back. So, I’m calling you back.” Whew! Their tears still flowed. The pain was still evident. We were just on a different wavelength now.
We talked, and I learned that they had called the police themselves (a few times) for help and felt they had not gotten any genuine help (even the mental health services people). There were other situations that were triggering for this person, which they didn’t go into a lot of detail about, but I already knew about. Unfortunately, the police couldn’t or wouldn’t help with those. So, this person was carrying a huge burden that added to their load of years of guilt over life decisions that impacted them, their immediate family, and their extended family. In addition to that, they struggled to work through the stress and abusive situation they were currently living and dealing with in their immediate family.
But I persevered determined to do what I could. I shared encouraging scriptural thoughts that I knew they’d appreciate. Even more, I shared my own experiences of darkness and depression. I talked about what I did to help me through those moments, how I’m here to help them through theirs. By the time the call was finished, I was able to get an agreement for them to try therapy with a new therapist I’d help them find. The person was calmer, although still crying, but not as much. And I had their reassurance they were mentally in a much better space. I could tell they were because they sounded different, completely different.
It’s morning now. I can’t say I had a very restful night and that I am okay…yet. I know I will be; I just need some time…which is one reason I wrote this piece. To verbally get it out and help me to start clearing mental space and moving forward.
One thing I have been mulling over and working through is the fact that as much as last night wasn’t about me, it was. I already knew that my love rooted in storge’ was minimal at best. But it was my principled love, agapé, which drove my actions. The one feeling I thought I don’t demonstrate enough of, that was lacking, that may have been virtually non-existent does exist and does get used. (I tend to do right by people because they are the right things to do…. well, I guess that’s agape in a nutshell…hmmm). When I took myself out of the equation, agapé flowed freely. It reached someone else’s heart, at least to the point it saved their life, even for just one night.
I’m going to take more time to examine and look for opportunities where I have shown and demonstrated this love, which will help me to actively feel it within myself more. Because it’s there. Last night proved that. And while it wasn’t the first time I helped save someone’s life, by letting agapé flow, and taking the time to act on it, it just might have helped to save a part of mine.
Update: I received a phone call this morning from the person I helped to save. They thanked me for taking the time to listen to them last night and provide help. They are looking forward to speaking with the therapist I find for them and were in a brighter mood this morning. For those that believe, know the meaning of the word, and for those that know me, they’ll appreciate when I say, “Hallelujah!”