Sitting in a lecture hall at Virginia Theological Seminary, I was reminded yesterday that our word "apocalypse" comes from the Greek word apokalypsis, to tear back the veil. The association is fitting, for issues of tragedy and seeing reality as it is have come into the lives of so many at the death of a beloved friend, Brittney Kittrell.
Brittney was full of life. I loved working alongside her as an Orientation Leader-- her engagement with living was a blessing for all of us that summer, and to the people who had known her before and since. I loved running into her-- it didn't happen as often as I would have liked, but she and her fiance Mutsa always had kinds words to give. If I could, I would transmit the memory of the sound of her voice, its lilting and humor and softness and gravity. She was a dancer, delicate and quick. She was--she is, in the eternally-present tense of faith-- a beloved child of God. But last Saturday I received a note from Mutsa that Brittney was gone. After a long struggle with depression, she decided to end her life. She decided to commit suicide.
I stared dumbly at the computer screen. Emotions flooded through me: numbness, anger (how could you?), regret (if only...), confusion (depression? but...), and a desire to grab a hold of life-- to grab a hold of a person and keep them from slipping away down that dark river. I made pancakes. I talked with close friends from high school. I posted a prayer on facebook. But when people called, I didn't tell them the truth. When people asked, I avoided the answer. I didn't say that she had struggled with depression, that she had killed herself. To my mind those facts were embarrassing, both to her memory and to the family and Mutsa.
I repent. As in the Greek word metanoia, I changed my mind. My silence was a dishonor to Brittney and to her friends, and I ask forgiveness for my arrogance.
The change came yesterday afternoon when a close friend from Mason asked me on the verge of tears what had happened. And I knew that I needed to tell the truth that I had been given. She had pieced together from different sources that Brittney had died, but there was no confirmation of how. Silence prevented the closure for which she longed. What emerged from our conversation was the true embarrassment: that we in our society cover up depression as a difficult struggle and a serious illness; that we attach stigma to that word, "illness"; and that we cast shame on suicide. The result of this oppressive silence is that so many who fight the encroaching darkness cannot vocalize their struggle even when they are at their most vulnerable.
It is time to pull back the veil, to throw back the curtains and let the light come in. In honor of Brittney, I will resist the temptation to cover up death, depression, and suicide. The writer of the book of Revelation has a similar agenda. The letter reminds the people listening to it that God is the One who will come down to earth and establish God's home among them, and that it is possible for them to bear witness--both through actions and by words--to this incredible promise of restoration now, even when coercion and destruction seem to hold sway. The world as it is, unveiled and as God sees it, is one that calls out for healing and will be healed.
For Brittney, let's pull back the curtains and let the light in.