David Gandy – Mr. Gandy to all of us students – was the coolest official working for the St. Joe’s High School Administration. Day in and day out, he was always there for us, cracking jokes, putting together ski trips and the annual outing to Dorney Park and helping us with literally any problem we could possibly come to him with. One time he even made up a class – “independent study” with Brother Matt – for two friends and me when we had a schedule conflict going into our senior year. He was always quick to assuage parents’ concerns and quicker to push students to better themselves. He had a perpetual smile on his face and it seemed like there wasn’t a second when he didn’t embody the ideals our school stood for.
In early February of my senior year, my school was greeted with the heartbreaking news that our beloved Dean of Students had taken his own life just three days earlier. I – along with the rest of the St. Joe’s community, was utterly floored, devastated and, most of all, confused.
How could the man who seemed to know everyone and who everyone certainly knew and respected do such a thing? How could the man who never seemed to frown have been so unimaginably unhappy, so innerly tortured that he could not bear the pain past the still-young age of 40? These answers I will never know.
Life is tough. It can be cruel and merciless. Each one of our lives has been filled with emotionally and psychologically scarring experiences. Some of us were abused as kids, verbally, physically and emotionally. Some have dealt with divorce or a parent who decided to pack up and leave town without warning. Even parents who have been physically present but emotionally neglectful can be extremely damaging to some.
We have seen loved ones – friends and family alike – leave this world. We have been heartbroken and have felt the ego-crushing force of rejection and we’ve been betrayed and lied to. Even something as seemingly benign as being bullied as a child can have a profoundly negative impact on how we look at ourselves and others. The list of these painful and life-shaping experiences is as numerous as there are individuals in the world.
Who we are today has largely come as a result of how we have learned to cope – consciously and subconsciously – with these experiences throughout life. Whether we are aware of it or not, we all have developed ways to protect ourselves from many, many dangers of the world, and some of us have found healthier ways of doing so than others. While some are able to find humor in almost any situation others may only see pain and meaninglessness in everything around them; some are strong and able to carry on in life, while others find themselves with an unbearable weight on their shoulders.
So what does any of this have to do with my story about Mr. Gandy committing suicide? Behind every face lies a unique personal history, and this tale may be much different than the one that we see tells. Mr. Gandy wore a mask of gregariousness, humor and genuine concern for others, but he did not let many see the torn individual dwelling behind the well-intentioned faÃ§ade. While his story is tragic, it can teach us invaluable lessons.
On a personal level, it is imperative that we take the time to understand ourselves and process the events in our lives and the effects they’ve had. We’re all screwed up. We all have defense mechanisms – some healthy and some not – that influence our actions and our reactions to situations. Often times, these mechanisms are so ingrained into our character that they seem like irrevocable aspects of who we are, but nothing is impossible.
We all need ways to cope with the struggles of life, but – for the sake of our sanity and personal well being – we must also be critical of how we find ourselves doing so.
We must not be afraid to find fault in our usual habits and forgive ourselves for straying from our ideals. After all, we’re only human.
In regards to other people, we must keep in mind how insufferable life can be and how little we know about that person behind the mask upon first, second or even third glance. We must avoid judging and instead try to understand, even if the individual lashes out in response.
Each of us has become the person we are today for a reason, and we must remember this basic fact. We need to recognize how infinitely complex each of us is and recognize that everyone is flawed. In other words, we all need to cut each other a little slack.
Only through humbling ourselves in such a manner can we begin to see the real person behind the weathered face. Through judging, we will only reinforce the bad habits that are in place. Through humbly reaching out, however, we can help others confront their demons while conquering our own.
Tom Barrett is a senior philosophy major from Colonia, N.J. He can be reached at [email protected]