As I prepare for my return to Chicago, I’m packing lots of boxes in Fort Lauderdale; the project is an opportunity to declutter; laugh at old family photos; and read some of my writings, which date back to childhood. Today, I found an article I wrote in 1986 for The Golden Trumpet, published by Bishop Dwenger, my Catholic high school in Fort Wayne, Ind. As the city grappled with a series of teen suicides, a group of us decided to write stories and essays to discourage our peers from taking that path. In addition, I was grieving the loss of my best friend, who succumbed to leukemia in 1984. Writing helped me heal. While it’s impossible to be objective, I do sense these themes are timeless and welcome my readers’ thoughts. 

Here’s the text of “Remember your first smiley face”:

Sometimes life can be exciting and gratifying, and sometimes the mere act of living leaves you feeling confused and depressed. Some people attempt suicide when they feel life is not good to them. But you do not need to end your life when you undergo difficult situations. Reflect on your life and experiences and decide you want to live.

When you want to end your life, reflect on your past, your childhood. You might remember your favorite toy and how many hours of enjoyment it gave you. Maybe you remember your first friend and the many times he or she “spent the night.”

Perhaps you remember your first smiley face or star on a spelling test in the first grade. Don’t these memories make you smile?

Losers and winners: a concept we all grapple with, no matter our age.

Your life has not been so bad. You’ve had some fun, some accomplishments.

Now, evaluate your present. Most likely, this is the time of your life that is causing problems for you. Maybe the boy or girl you want to date does not want to date you. Big deal, you have many years ahead of you to develop personal relationships. Maybe your grades are bad, and you feel like a real “loser”. Study a little more, and your grades will get better. Maybe you think your parents are too strict, and they don’t understand what it is like being a teenager. They were young once. Ask them about their youth. Communicate with them, and they will be supportive.

You have many challenges to face as a young adult. We all do. During high school, we all have tests to study for and papers to write. We all worry whether our classmates like us. We all are a little apprehensive about growing up. You are no different if you have insecurities. They are to be expected.

When you feel overworked and over-stressed with the problems you face, you have to realize your talents. God has given you unique abilities, so if you are not an “A” student, of if you have problems making friends, you have other strong points that make you “you”. You are not a loser because you sometimes fail; you are a “winner” because you try. Find strength within yourself that says, “I am a neat person,” and keep trying.

An excerpt from my essay suggesting a new perspective amidst dark thoughts, published January 31, 1986. I was 17.

Now, look to your future. You have dreams and goals that you have made for yourself. If your life now is unhappy, your future will be better. You don’t want to end your life just as you are beginning to develop. You are young and you have so much waiting for you. Don’t you want to know what job you will have, the new friends you will meet, and whom you will marry?

You don’t want to take your life; there are too many questions to be answered. If you don’t have the desire to live, live out of curiosity. Live to look out your window each morning. Live so you can experience new people and new places. Live, because you know that no one else is like you. Live because you have thoughts to express and jobs to complete. Find within you a positive attitude, a driving force, and reach for the stars. Look to a star, your goal, and “go for it!”