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Please Stay: A Plea for Healing, May 5 2020

 Please Stay: A Plea for Healing 

Rev. Yme Woensdregt 

I have two introductions to this column, and I’m going to use them both. 

The first has to do with my journey into and through depression. I’ve written about it before. Over 20 years ago, I made a suicide plan. Thankfully, someone found me before I could carry through with it. I had come to believe that I was worthless, that the world would be better off without me. It took a lot of hard and patient work for me to deal with some of the issues underlying that depression. 

Mostly, these days, I’m okay again, although there have been days during this pandemic when it’s been more challenging. But even though my depression comes back to haunt me from time to time, it’s not nearly as severe as it was back then. I’ve learned some strategies to cope with it. 

Here comes the second introduction. Many of you will know that I’m a huge fan of choral music. I conducted Sun Valley Song, a very good community choir, for over 10 years. I love choral music, and I am always on the search for new choral composers. I believe that musicians and artists of all kinds (painters, movie makers, sculptors, authors, and others) help us see something that otherwise we might miss. They help us get in touch with something deep within the human experience. 

A few weeks ago, I searched youtube for some choral music while I was working on something else. I came across Jake Runestad, a 33–year–old composer from Minnesota. I had heard a few of his pieces before and enjoyed them. 

The first song was a piece called “Please Stay”. I thought it would be a love song, and my mind went on autopilot as I returned to writing something for my work. I suddenly found myself bawling out loud. I quit writing and listened more intently to the piece of music which was playing. I had heard something which resonated in my unconscious. The choir was singing these words: “Hope is real. Help is real. You are breath. You are life. You are beauty. You are light. Your story is not over. You are not a burden to anyone.” 

I let my emotions wash over me as I sat back and listened. I started to research this piece and discovered that Runestad wrote this song as an anthem of hope to help destigmatize mental illness, and to challenge all of us to support those who battling depression and thoughts of suicide. 

What made this performance particularly poignant is that while they were preparing this anthem of hope, the Capitol University Chapel Choir (Columbus, Ohio) lost two members to suicide. 

The piece begins with an agonizing outburst: “No! Don’t go! Don’t go!” The choir sings more and more quietly, “Don’t go.” From that point on, much of the piece features the choir singing softly, “Please stay. Just stay.” in beautiful and quiet harmonies. Over and above the choir, several members step forward to speak words which are taken from tweets which have been posted to #IKeptLiving, a platform for individuals to share why they chose life. 

“My happiness is no longer in the hands of someone else.” 

“I realized that what other people say about me reflects who they are, not who I am.” 

“Suicide does not get rid of your pain, it passes it on to other people.” 

“it is okay to be a work–in–progress.” 

“Sharing your feelings doesn’t make you weak.” 

“Some days are still such a struggle.” 

“All I can think about is Nathan. I wish he kept living.” 

“I decided to ask for help instead of going through it alone.” 

“It was hard as hell, but I kept living.” 

“One person took the time to listen and understand. Sometimes that’s all it takes.” 

Underneath it all, the choir contains to sing a single word: “Stay.” 

It’s a powerful piece of music. It’s an anthem of hope. Thousands, millions, of people struggle with depression and thoughts of suicide, and we must do all we can to say to them, “Please stay. You are infinitely precious in the sight of us all. You are infinitely valuable, and to lose you would be more than many could bear.” 

It is particularly pertinent for this time in which we are living. I don’t know about you, but I’ve found that my emotions are nearer the surface during this time. I have a friend whose mother died in upstate New York a few weeks ago, and I have wept over the phone with him. Other moments cause me to tear up. 

It’s a little uncomfortable … but at the same time, I can’t help but think that if this pandemic makes us all a little bit more tender towards each other and ourselves, it would be a good thing. If this puts us in touch with our emotional side, it would be a good thing. If this causes us to reach out to each other and say “Please stay …” it would be a very good thing. We need all the healing we can get.