The community school carol service concluded with a word of thanks from the principal and then a plea. He took hold of the lectern and looked at the hundreds of teenage faces. Choosing his words hesitantly and with great care, he said that everyone had heard the story of the tragic death of a young girl in Donegal and that many were familiar with stories in our own community.
‘The pain may come from the bully sitting in the row behind you in class; it may come from somewhere completely different, but there is always someone who cares about you – phone any of us, phone your friends – talk. There’s no problem that can’t be solved; no situation that won’t pass’.
There was a deep silence among those gathered. Who knew what was being thought?
Being a school principal demands a huge degree of pastoral skill.
We never had training in coping with suicide; we never had training in coping with much. The best insight was an attempt at empathy with young people, and it came not from any lecturer, but from Inspector Morse:
Morse: She didn’t do anything special against me. It was just the steady accumulation; the drip, drip, drip of humiliations . . . hatreds, when you’re that age.
So I suddenly thought, ‘Sod this. I’m getting out of this; it’s not worth it’.
Lewis: You ran away?
Morse: I decided to kill myself. I thought of all the ways of doing it, then I put them in order: one, two, three . . . all the way down to about fifteen; which would hurt me the most; which would hurt dad; which would Gwen. I even thought of which would hurt little Joycey the least. I liked Joyce.
Then I thought, ‘That’s pretty bloody clever what you’ve done’, because I’m vain. I was vain even then!
And then I thought, ‘If you’re clever enough to have done all that: well, it’s the waste of a good mind’.
Lewis: I can just imagine you saying that.
Morse: No-one can imagine someone else’s pain, Robbie. It’s the human tragedy.
But I made a vow, I wouldn’t forget. I would never forget how awful it is to be fifteen.
I’ve forgotten, of course, everyone does. But I’ve been trying to remember.
The words of a television character in 1992 have been of more help than anything coming from the church – perhaps that’s my own fault.
The school principal would have understood Morse – he attempts to understand what it is like being fifteen.