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Pauline Lerner

November 17, 2004 at 8:16 AM

I’m feeling much better than I was a few days ago. My struggle is certainly not over, but I’m resting between bouts. My state of mind has improved largely because so many people have been good to me. I sent a two sentence email to a whole bunch of people telling them that I lost my job and felt rotten. Many of them wrote back with sympathy and encouragement. I asked a few people I know to read my blog and give me feedback, and I got good responses. I was especially moved by people I’ve never met who read my blog and wrote to me. Then I got a phone call from Peter Ferriara of, who told me about the thread “Bach for Pauline.” The people who have been playing Bach on their violins for me have given me one of the greatest gifts of all. I would not be able to explain to anyone who is not a classical musician what is so wonderful about Bach’s violin music. It is one of the high points of human existence. To think that so many people I’ve never met have been playing for me! Peter told me that the people who hang out on are a real community and they listen to each other. I am certainly blessed. I’ve asked members of the community to keep playing Bach for me, maybe once every week or two, to nourish and sustain me through the long struggle ahead. I’m not religious and I can’t relate to praying, but playing for me is just great. I can’t say thank you enough.

Sunday, when people at church spoke of their Joys and Concerns, I spoke about my problems. I told them everything I’ve written about in this blog except for the tragedies in my personal life. My feelings about these were just too strong for me to handle. I was really scared before I spoke. My worst fear was that I would cry out for help and no one would respond. I asked for people’s help and support, including hugs. I got a lot of hugs. I love hugs. I also got offers to help me in my job search and in other ways.

People’s responses to my confession about my suicidal thoughts varied from totally off the mark, as I see it, to the expected, to the unexpected and miraculously good. A lot of people told me that I’m a good, kind person who has helped many people. I like to think that I’ve helped people, but I don’t really know. Almost nobody has ever said, “Thanks. You really helped” or something similar. Why? I make a special effort to express my appreciation to other people for lots of things and I almost always get the same response: a surprised look. Why don’t people say, “Thanks”? What would it cost? Are people afraid that they would be bound and obligated to someone if they express appreciation? I asked myself, “When was the last time that someone said ‘thank you’ to me or praised my work?” I had to think for quite a while before I could answer my own question. There is a traditional American song called, “Give Me the Roses While I Live,” which says, in part:

Kind words are useless when folks lie cold in a narrow bed
Don't wait till death to speak kind words, now should the words be said.

We often don’t realize how much power we have over each other. One friend pointed out to me that committing suicide can set an example to others who have flirted with the idea. I know that suicide, like many forms of mental illness, can be contagious. “No man is an island separate unto himself…Each man’s death diminishes me.” (John Donne) The people who implored me most intensely not to kill myself were those who had been suicidal in the past or who had experienced the suicide or near-suicide of someone close to them. What these people said to me had especially strong effects on me. We are all members of the same community.

As always, some of my brightest moments in the last couple of days involved playing violin. On Sunday, I taught two students, both aged seven, whom I like very much. The little girl was so excited about coming for a lesson that she couldn’t contain herself. She was jumping up and down with excitement when she came into my home. That little girl has a beautiful smile and she smiles a lot. Monday night I went to my orchestra rehearsal. Just before I left home, I had a panic attack. I was scared to face my friends because I’ve screwed up again. The person who gave me a ride to rehearsal is a dedicated amateur photographer, like me. He showed me some of his photographs, which were awfully good, and talked about photography. The rehearsal took me out of myself. I just floated on the music. When the friend gave me a ride home, we listened to a CD I had copied from him. We didn’t talk while we were listening to the CD. I felt content, a feeling I haven’t had in a long time.

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