Regarding Children: Hello and Good-Bye

By  Audrey Ward   April 2023

Those words—Hello and Good-bye—are hard to say with grace and
promise. We stumble in learning them well. As a parent I made it a habit to
insist that my three offspring always look people in the eye, speak with
clarity and be as pleasant as possible.

That’s the way European children comported themselves when we lived in
France in the 1980’s. Young ones of the most modest circumstances–sod
floors in their farmhouse, shared walls with cows, goats, and a donkey–
always made sure each child greeted the adults who arrived and departed
with respect, courtesy. No exceptions.

But sometimes we have no chance to say Good-bye and never again to say
Hello. A most remarkable young man who grew up in Atlanta recently left
without a word.

Now a senior at an Ivy League school, football star and scholar as a double
major in computer science and economics, perpetually on the Dean’s List, he
left by way of a flight off a high residence hall. The beauty and mischievous
fun he brought with every Hello went with him.

My longtime friend taught choral arts to McLeod (sounds like “McCloud”)
throughout his middle and high school years. Besides the other stellar
accomplishments, his voice was clear and sweet as he sang the solos of
Godspell in 6 th grade plus years of Lessons and Carols for Christmas in the
choral ensemble and many other events.

He made singing cool. Plus, those feet were perpetually creating new dance
steps as he went from class to class, gliding down the hall and in the door.
As his former teacher rehearsed the singing ensemble for his memorial this
week at Peachtree Presbyterian in downtown Atlanta, she also put together a
video of clips from his performances. She wept as she worked of course.

Anyone who hears him does the same. His beatific countenance, dark curls
tumbling, eyes raised as if seeing beyond us, invites us to look with him
rather than simply behold his beauty.

I did not know McLeod. And yet I’m entirely arrested by his life.
His parents are people of high values and great heart. Their son and his
younger sister are cherished and honored, and, by all reports, not pushed or
intimidated by their own success. You know, that constant reminder about
“potential” which can be discouraging.

When I asked a 22-year-old, “What do you fear?” a few weeks ago, she
responded, “The future. It’s so long. And even when I do well there’s a good
chance I won’t in the next project or job search or whatever…”

At my advanced age I must confess that I had never considered an answer
like that and the daunting challenge it represents.

One writer puts it this way: “The Baby Boomer generation self medicated
their pain with alcohol. The Gen X’ers and Millennials medicated their pain
with anti-depressants. This generation is doing something different. They’re
killing themselves in record numbers.”

According to a report from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention,
the suicide rate among people ages 10 to 24 years climbed 56% between
2007 and 2017. The pandemic brought on even heavier numbers due to
depression, anxiety and social isolation: now, suicide is the second leading
cause of death for those aged 5 to 24. Almost 80% of those are young men.
Here’s the account from McLeod’s mother at his memorial, “We have no
shame. There is often hesitation in seeking psychiatric help when there is
mental illness. We had no hesitation; we have no shame.”

She then recounted what happened when McLeod had to return home for the
18 months of shutdown during his freshman year in college: he began to
smoke cannabis. He said it made him feel like a character in a video game.
While this may seem harmless, one out of 100 are susceptible to psychosis.
McLeod was one. They sought help for him; counseling and medical
attention as well.

This January when he returned to campus after winter break, he told his
father, “Don’t worry dad, I’ve got this.”

Then came the night when his video game character flew off the roof.

The family is setting up a foundation to help others in need of mental health
information and assistance.

What I’ve been saying is this: Talk to us dear and treasured young ones. Tell
us not what we want to hear but what you need for us to know. We want to
hear from you. And, perhaps most of all, we want to hear you: your voice,
your call, your affirmations and damnations. All of it.

Train us, please. Teach us what our Hello sounds like to you and how our
Good-bye needs tuning.

Then we’ll do our best to sort it out. You make our world more beautiful
simply by your presence and we intend to do the same for yours.