“Words with a Friend” by T. Thomas
One night a few years ago, I was laying by my little daughter on her bed as she drifted off to sleep. Plagued by restlessness and wanting to wait up for my husband who was returning home after a work trip, I downloaded the Words with Friends application on my iPhone and started playing with random players matched by the app.
Halfway into one of the games I got a message via the app: “Do you really have 9 kids?” referring to my screen name Catholic Mom of 9. I’m not one to chat with strangers on social media so I ignored the message, but the person was persistent.
“????” came another message from him, a player named Jeremy.
Ok, well what was the harm in acknowledging one simple question?
“Yes,” I typed. Then I played my word.
“9 kids. Wow. You must be some kind of hero or something.”
I didn’t answer.
The player named Jeremy typed, “?????”
I really don’t know what possessed me to answer. I had never engaged in conversation with a stranger before and I haven’t since, but something that night nudged me.
“No hero….” I answered, “I just like kids.”
He played his turn: FUTILE.
I played my next word.
He played his.
And so it went for a few turns.
Over the course of the turns, I noticed the words he played were really negative. HOSTILE, STING, HOPELESS, SINKING, AWRY, DEATH…
This was so unlike me, but I did it.
“Are you ok?” I typed.
It was a few minutes before he typed back, “Not really.”
And then, the gates opened up. This complete stranger, this challenger by chance, told me he intended on killing himself this night but that he thought he might play one more game and think about it because he wasn’t quite sure. And he typed this out just like that, as though he were simply recounting the day’s events or deciding what to have for dinner.
Of course I had no idea whether this stranger was telling the truth or not. Maybe it was a sick joke. But the more he typed more to me I became convinced he wasn’t joking at all.
Jeremy wrote that he was a loner. He didn’t have many friends. He felt he didn’t fit in. He was “too quiet,” he said. He dropped out of college. He said his dad wanted him to be an accountant but that he hated math. His dad didn’t understand that he wanted to write, maybe even screenplays. But he didn’t have the motivation and he didn’t even know how to accomplish his goals and he spent a lot of time mostly alone, online. “And life sucks. And people are mean,” he wrote.
“You can’t be online all the time,” I typed, “This is not life. And not all people are mean.”
“It doesn’t matter,” he typed back. “I won’t be here long any way. Maybe tonight, maybe not, but sooner or later I’m going to check out…”
That’s when a sense of urgency hit me. Oh my gosh, this kid is seriously thinking of killing himself.
I felt such empathy and sorrow for this young man, this human soul crying to be understood. Did the people around him know this? Did they have a clue what he was considering tonight?
“I can recommend a book on screenplays,” I typed quickly. “One of my college kids read one and liked it. I think it’ll help you figure things out.”
I quickly Googled the name of the book and sent it in the next message.
“Look,” I typed next, “You have so many gifts and talents that this world will not know without you. There has been no one like you made since the beginning of time and no one like you will come after. Your life is a gift, not just to you, but to others around you.”
“How do you know?” he typed. “You don’t even know me.”
“I know God doesn’t make mistakes,” I typed, “and I know you are here for a reason. Life is hard but you have to stick with it. It’ll get better. I promise.” I continued, “You need to sit your parents down and tell them your dreams. It wouldn’t hurt to see a counselor; you know? You can start with a guidance counselor if that’s all you’re comfortable with. Get that book and start reading it, ok?”
“I don’t know…”
“Look,” I typed, “don’t you dare give up. I promise there is a wonderful life waiting out there. You just have to get through this time now. You hear me? Life is hard. You have to trudge through. It’ll get better. You have to start working toward a goal. Get that screenplay book and start reading it.”
“I don’t know, maybe.”
We messaged back and forth for more than an hour. I was praying fervently for the right words to type to Jeremy because at this point I was truly convinced he was really considering ending his life. Oh God, help me reach him, I prayed over and over.
Then came a message I will never forget.
“Why are you so nice to me? You don’t even know me. Yet you are kinder to me than anyone has ever been in my life.”
This was painful to hear. Was this really true? Did this young man feel so rejected that he felt no one had ever been kind to him? Even if it weren’t true, this was his true perception. My heart broke for this stranger, for Jeremy.
And then another message came, “You are like an angel. I came on here not knowing if I could go on tonight. You were an angel to me tonight. My guardian angel”
I was stunned. Oh my goodness, I felt so humbled by these words. I am no angel but there was certainly one present that night. Maybe there was even a choir of angels there, at that moment, urging Jeremy to hang on. One thing I know for sure, at least one angel had nudged me to answer a message that I would not ordinarily answer, and gave me the words to give Jeremy some hope.
We messaged back and forth, Jeremy and I, but it was getting late and the time between the messages, sent between Words with Friends turns being played was getting longer. I tried to pay attention. I tried to answer each message immediately, but I had had a long day and while my will was strong, my body was weak. I got tired…
I am sad to say that I don’t know how this story ends. The texted conversation was drawn out, with longer spaces between messages as I grew sleepy, and I must have dozed off because next I knew my husband was gently tapping me, saying he was home and to come to bed. I looked at the clock. 1:30 a.m.
My first thought at being startled awake was: What about Jeremy?
David went downstairs. I checked the message bubble on the Words with Friends app. Nothing. Jeremy had said something an hour before and I had not responded. So I did then, and then I washed my face and put on my nightgown. I checked again, but there was no answer. What if I played my turn? I tried that. Nothing. I ‘nudged’ him on the app. The message bubble remained empty. Well, maybe he went to sleep.
Finally, I turned it over to God. I said a little prayer for Jeremy and I went to bed, uneasy but thinking that there would be a reply from him in the morning. When I awoke and checked first thing, however, there was still nothing in the message bubble from Jeremy.
Every day for two weeks…three weeks…was it four? I checked for Jeremy’s reply or a play of a word on our game, and I “nudged” him every so often. Jeremy never messaged me back. I will never know if he took my advice to get off the internet games and get that book…and help, or if he succumbed to his original intent.
I am haunted by the words of this young man, and resolved to pay more attention to the people around me. I am sorry that I fell asleep that night, but I trust that God will fill in where I was weak. I pray for Jeremy every time I recall this event, and I have to trust that God will use my best intent to help Jeremy overcome his temptation to despair, but of course, until heaven, I will never know.
How many people that we come across daily are on the brink of giving up? In this crazy world, how many we meet each day feel hopeless and despair? We cannot save the world. Only Jesus did that, but we can ask God to use our best intents to bless those around us. And then we must trust in Him.
If you could spare a prayer for Jeremy, out there somewhere I hope and pray, I’m pretty sure he could use it. Please pray that he (and others like him) know that they are loved by a God who knows their pain and feels their sorrow and wants to bring them joy and hope. Please pray they have the courage to press on for another day.
And let’s pray also to be intuitive, perceptive in our everyday lives. Let’s pray that we will have the awareness and strength to listen to that still small voice that urges us to reach out. Let’s be inspired to have words, words with an old or new friend, which might, maybe, hopefully, in the presence of a loving God, we trust, make a difference.
“Therefore encourage one another and build each other up, just as in fact you are doing” (1 Thessalonians 5:11).
In a world that constantly brings you down, be a force to bring others up. And let others bring you up. There is no shame in accepting help. We need one another.
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Theresa Thomas is a Catholic mother of nine children. She lives in Indiana.