It’s pretty hard to un-hear something, I know. How do you un-think a thought? It’s a trick of the mind to force your brain cells to do this. Take, for example, that favorite childhood song, Puff the Magic Dragon. When we were little we loved that song even though we didn’t really understand it. Somehow we knew it was about growing up and leaving things behind, and when we sang it we felt sad without really knowing why. I have vivid memories of my brother and me aboard the old red fire engine at Fort George Park, pretending it was an ancient wooden ship, pretending we were sailing into the raging sea holding out for the dragon we knew would come, Jimmy singing out every word and me chiming in with the only part I could remember: Puff the Magic Dragon lived by the Sea, and frolicked in the autumn mist in a land called Honalee… We didn’t know then, how much we would need a magic dragon in the years ahead.
Then when I was an adult someone said the song was actually about drugs. I was crushed! That was our song! How could anyone say that?? But from then on I couldn’t think of the song any other way. It was as if someone had vandalized that song with spray paint. For a long time I couldn’t even hear the song, all I could see was the spray paint.
So here’s what I decided to do: I decided to un-paint the graffiti. I decided to un-hear what people said about the song and remember it as it once was in our lives: a gentle, playful song about growing up. I decided to rescue the goodness, to remember Puff as a magic dragon that lived by the sea.
When bad things happen in our lives they tend to spill over, staining everything else, spoiling our memories, so that what was once real and beautiful is no longer visible. You should know here, that I lost my brother in 1992. When my brother, Jimmy, took his own life, it was terrible and tragic; it was as if the world itself had come to an end.
And here we are. August 7, 2015. Today is Jimmy’s birthday. He would have turned 50 years old today. Gosh, I would have liked to spend today with him. So for a few moments I hope to un-hear the tragic ending of Jim’s life and remember the boy, kind and gentle. I hope to remember his life without remembering first his death. I hope you have a few minutes to enjoy this video honoring that great kid. Happy Birthday, Jim.
Heather Gordon-Young is the author of the new book Fireflies: Finding Light in a Dark World that tells this story. Ask your local bookstore to order it or buy it online through Amazon or Indigo. Available in Kindle and Kobo.
If you or someone you know is having thoughts of suicide, please call 1-800-784-2433 (1-800-SUICIDE), or call your local crisis centre.