'The Old Guitarist' by Artist Pablo Picasso via Flickr

The Challenge of Sam

In a high school, an eighteen year old committed suicide the day before graduation. His gesture shook Jeffrey and his classmates deeply, and they wrote a flyer about what enables them to "fall in love" even with their own need.
Linda Stroppa

In the gym, everything is ready for the graduation ceremony; microphones on and folding chairs set up. The members of the graduating class are lined up, hats balanced on heads, waiting to receive their diplomas. Parents, more emotional than their children, await with cameras poised. As it is for all high schools across America, this is a big day for John Marshall High School in Rochester, a city of about a hundred thousand. But at the June 11th celebration, Sam is missing.

Samuel, who had just turned eighteen, a "bright young man, a model student," according to those who knew him, who should have given the valedictory speech that afternoon, did not show up. He had done a trial run the day before. Full of emotion, he had gotten up on stage to practice speaking before a crowd. But not even the praise of his teachers and companions were enough to compensate for the sadness that was suffocating him. After the rehearsal, he drove to his mother's home and closed himself in his room. Then he took a pistol in hand.

"His death ripped me up," recounts Jeffrey, a Rochester student involved in the CL GS (Student Youth) group. "Right away, I needed to know why–the meaning of his gesture; the meaning of my life, now
. Sam was a great guy, admired and respected by everybody. But not even this was able to save him. Before this tragedy, I continue to ask myself: what fulfills man? What makes me truly happy?" Quid animo satis? Jeffrey still remembers that line, written on the t-shirt from a GS vacation. "When I heard what had happened, I immediately thought of the words of Saint Francis, and I understood that I couldn't reduce what was happening to me."

The next day, when Jeffrey and his friends gathered to pray, Sebastian, one of the GS leaders, challenged them: "And you, we, what can we say before what has happened?" This provocation did not leave them indifferent, opening the wound even more. "I didn't want to stop at a sentimental reaction," says Sebastian. "A lot of people wanted to cushion what had happened, because looking full in the face the drama of an eighteen year old who kills himself is uncomfortable. These days, there's the increasing tendency to 'anesthetize.' Many attempts are made to reduce the drama of freedom to a psychological–or even biological–problem: longing, sadness, even the insuppressible desire to be loved are reduced to psychological dynamics."

Digging Into Our Heart
"But I am a need for infinity," continues Sebastian, "even if the whole world tells me the opposite, trying to satisfy me with 'disposable' answers. They've even invented happy pills, the chemical prescription for happiness. "Without much effort, you call a psychiatrist and get a prescription for the right antidepressant. This is the solution." But thinking of Sam sends a chill down your spine: no pill enables you to cope. His death digs into your heart, and you can't cheat. "We thought of writing a flyer," explains Jeffrey, "to learn to judge reality and to explain the reason for the hope we have encountered: a Presence that overwhelms your life and makes things new." As it says in the flyer they distributed to their friends: "Only one who has encountered death and defeated it can give us a true and lasting hope." "Now, I am more certain," he says, moved. "I'm learning to look at my needs without shame, to fall in love even with my weaknesses, because there is a place where my questions find an answer."


We are left speechless in front of the death of Sam, a bright graduating high school senior with a promising future. It makes us want to cry out "why?" Who cannot feel such a reaction in the face of this event? One would have to be made of stone not to feel some stirring inside, demanding an answer to such sadness.

In front of this tragedy, we notice a tendency to try to distract ourselves with the "right words" or clichés. However, when such an event impacts us, our greatest needs become clear. As Fr. Julián Carrón put it, "It is impossible not to feel within you the need for happiness, beauty, justice, love and truth, to feel it vibrate and boil in every fiber of your being." To ignore or distract ourselves from these needs would be unreasonable, since denying their existence would be to deny part of our nature. These needs show us what we are made for.

We see the drama of Sam's life in all of us: as a biography of St. Francis put it, Quid animo satis? (What can satisfy the soul?) In the face of this question, we have met a Presence that embraces all of our existence, a Man who defeated death 2,000 years ago, and is still present among us today. We have verified this news with our own present experience. We have found a new life (an intensity of affection, of love, a liberation and fulfillment of our need for companionship) that we could have never created by ourselves. We have been impacted by a Presence that makes us look at our lives and needs in a new way: our needs are not inconveniences to overcome, but rather show us that we are made to be fulfilled. In this way, we find ourselves companions of each other. This is why the Bible says, "He who finds a friend, finds a treasure."

Only one who has encountered death and defeated it can give us a true and lasting hope. The experience of Him in the present makes us look at Sam's death with sadness but not with fear, because we are certain that Christ's Resurrection triumphs.

GS Community of Rochester, MN - June 17, 2011