Today is the 35th anniversary of my friend Beth Allen’s death by suicide. June 20, 1978. I was 25 years old and living in Ardmore, PA when I learned of her death.
She was 25 years old, too. We were both November babies, born @ 3 weeks apart in 1952. She was way too young to die by her own hand on June 20, 1978. Indeed, she should be alive today, but she didn’t make it through this day in 1978 … and so, I think of her on June 20, 2013.
We were classmates, starting in second grade, all the way through high school. Beth was an amazing athlete and an especially wonderful lacrosse player, swift and graceful, with seemingly endless stamina. Her lacrosse skills eventually took her to the US National Lacrosse Team … not as sexy in those days (or now) as the US Soccer Team … but an amazing accomplishment. We’d occasionally cross paths at lacrosse tournaments in college and after … but for the most part I had lost touch with her.
I majored in Religion in college … and was decidedly less religious when I graduated than I had been when I started. Beth, as I remember, was more so … moving deeper into a strain of Christianity that I was moving far, far away from. That certainly contributed to our losing touch.
I had embraced feminism and was grappling with my sexuality. And back then Beth was involved with a fairly conservative, fundamentalist strain of Christianity, and was teaching at a Christian School – Delaware County Christian School to be precise.
I don’t really know why she felt that she needed to take her own life, but I have my suspicions. And I often wonder why she could find no help or support at her place of work or within her community. Did the brand of Christianity that she called home back then offer solace or push her toward despair? I’ll never know but, as I said, I have my suspicions.
So here I am in 2013. It was an excruciatingly beautiful day here in New Hampshire yesterday. The sky was blue, the sun warm, the air clear … with the smell of just-mown grass, Sweet William and new budding Roses on the June breeze.
I took my 60-year old legs for a long walk through the Canterbury afternoon and thought about Beth, whose walk ended so long ago.
What loss. What waste. What a sad, sad, sad thing. June 20, 1978.
I remember sitting at the dining room table in the house I was living in on Church Road in Ardmore. Beth was dead. I was alive.
It didn’t make sense then – and it still doesn’t.