In 30 years of ministry I've witnessed people demonstrate great resilience and choose to live through some of their darkest days, and I've seen people choose to
take their lives due to great perceived pain. Some have been close friends, others have come to me looking for a chaplain, but all of them have been important to me.

I truly wish I had the answer to what separates life and death for some people. What some see as a hand-hold for living, others don't find. Outside analysis is not helpful in that dark moment of the soul when color and form all blend into one. What is needed is personal insight and strength.

So I wonder ...

What would have happened to Gary if he would have put his hunting rifle down instead of shooting himself after he failed to break-up a fight between his father and brother by firing a warning shot in the air that struck his brother's girlfriend' Would he have seen that she was OK' Would he have been like Steve and stood up at his brother's wedding and become "uncle" to their children' Would he have lived to see his dad get help, and work out the differences with his brother'

What would have happened if Pfc. Ryan chose to wait through the threatened Article 15 instead of shooting himself following a personal decision that went bad' Would he have been like Spc. Wilma who witnessed her squad and platoon sergeant rally to protect her' Would he have trusted the process and his chain of command and walked across the stage one day as Command Sgt. Maj. Wilma'

What would have happened if 1st Sgt. Jeff chose to clear his weapon in the clearing barrel after a combat patrol that went bad' Would he have recovered from the overwhelming burdens of an unending war'

Would he have been like 1st Sgt. Bill talking about his wife and grandkids while marveling at the positive events that grew out of the tragedies that he and his unit experienced 50 years after their war ended' What would have happened to Sgt. Sharon if she chose to go through the divorce instead of taking an overdose of her medication' Would she have been like Maj. Pat and experienced her children and community supporting her' Would she one day have heard affirming words and had love from a spouse who deeply cares about her'

Of course I don't know what would have happened, and like the survivors I grieve what could have been. But I also daily know what has happened to those who have clung to the hand-holds that they had. Jack Nicholson once played a character that spoke the line, "Here I am drowning and you're describing the temperature of the water." People in distress borrow energy and safety from those around them. In 30 years I've seen this as the truest measure of the distance between life and death.

In this time of rising suicide rates, we know that for every attempt there are many more gestures and thoughts. We also know that converging, multiple stresses are what overwhelm a person and turns their focus from life to death.

As this balance tips, a help line can become a lifeline, a leader can show the way, but a friend is in the unique position of supplying the energy, comfort and compassion that makes life possible. As a pastor I believe that God is that friend, but as my daughter reminds me, "Sometimes we need someone with skin." For Steve, Bill, Pat, and Wilma, friends made life possible, but widening chains of support allowed life to grow.

So, I wonder ... who will be the next Gary, Ryan, Jeff, or Sharon' But I also wonder, who is willing to be the next friend, available to "tip the balance" in favor of life'