In a truly tragic turn of events, former Miss USA Cheslie Kryst jumped from a building in New York City and ended her life. This event reminded me of two things I have written, both of which involved poetry, because important things deserve some poetry. But it also made me want to respond, which I do at the end.
The first thing it reminded me of is this post titled “Serious Christian Talk about Depression and Suicide,” which includes the following lines about why people desire to end their life:
So let me pray again and hear my hope and heart’s request:
Please let me set the terms by which you’ll let me die and rest.
I do not want a soul that’s saved.
I do not even want a grave.
This body, spirit, soul, and mind:
Let no one ever come to find
A speck of flesh or hair or nerve.
Let no one see, recall, observe
A single second of my life,
And let there be no afterlife.
My hope is nothing – zero – naught:
Not a cell, and not a thought.
I do not want this grace you give, no matter what it’s worth.
I want my blissful ign’rance back. Please let me leave this Earth.
So God, I beg, please hide your face,
And block the light. Remove your grace.
I want to disappear from all
The universe. Let me withdraw.
I want to be erased, a void,
And comprehensively destroyed.
I pray, requesting this reprieve.
Oh God, my God, please let me leave.
You should read the whole thing to get the full perspective, because that poem is a true story. Why do people want to kill themselves? To rest from a pain that resides either in the body or in the mind. That’s why. I can’t help but think about it when I see the story about Cheslie Kryst
But the second thing it reminded me of was this poem called “Sticks and Stones.” In particular, it reminded me of this line:
Sticks and stones may break my bones, but words will never hurt me?
Sticks and stones do shatter bones, but I cannot agree.
Who says these tools made equally
Accessible to you and me
Are harmless, never causing strife—
That never do they take a life?
. . .
A stick may break a body’s bone,
But words can hurt more than a stone.
The bruise is seen more than the lie,
But I know some who hope to die
Beneath the strain of verbal jest
That strikes the heart within the chest.
These banal words need not be true,
To hold the power that they do—
A power that can kill the soul.
Each verbal arrow takes its toll.
Sticks and stones may break my bones, but words can truly harm me.
. . .
These words bring passions of the soul,
These passions grip and have control.
These passions in our hearts supply
Ideas for which men live and die.
Sticks and stones may break my bones, but words are filled with power.
Words can gather and divide;
Words encourage and deride;
Words reveal as well as light
The truthful things beyond our sight.
Words create great lies as well
That send their hearers into hell
Not merely in some life to come,
But in this world, where we’ve become
So flippant with our words and speech,
Ignoring just how far they reach.
I learned that last year, Cheslie Kryst wrote an essay in Allure magazine about turning 30 as the oldest winner of the Miss USA pageant at age 28. It paints a very complicated picture of what may have been going on in her head, and as many have reported, it is quite sad in retrospect.
She explains how certain comments from people where were quite flippant with their words and speech, ignoring just how far they reach:
Pageant girls are supposed to be model-tall and slender, don bouffant hair, and have a killer walk. But my five-foot-six frame won with six-pack abs, earned after years of competing in Division I Track and Field, and a head of natural curls in a time when generations of Black women have been taught that being “too Black” would cost them wins in the boardroom and on pageant stages. My challenge of the status quo certainly caught the attention of the trolls, and I can’t tell you how many times I have deleted comments on my social media pages that had vomit emojis and insults telling me I wasn’t pretty enough to be Miss USA or that my muscular build was actually a “man body.”
Those banal words need not be true to have the power that they do. I don’t know if these words killed her soul, but I do know that they took their toll.
She also describes her opinions and “passions,” which I said in our hearts supply ideas for which we live and die:
Women who compete in pageants are supposed to have a middle-of-the-road opinion — if any — so as not to offend. I talked candidly about my views on the legalization of marijuana, the Trump administration’s immigration policies, anti-abortion laws, the confirmation of Justice Amy Coney Barrett, and the successes and failures of criminal justice reform. I openly supported the resurgence of the Black Lives Matter movement and marched in protests over the summer. I wasn’t searching to collect more awards or recognition during my reign. Rather, I fed the passion that made waking up each morning feel worthwhile: speaking out against injustice.
But she also describes what happens when that passion goes away:
I discovered that the world’s most important question, especially when asked repeatedly and answered frankly, is: why? Why earn more achievements just to collect another win? Why pursue another plaque or medal or line item on my résumé if it’s for vanity’s sake, rather than out of passion? Why work so hard to capture the dreams I’ve been taught by society to want when I continue to find only emptiness?
And she concluded her essay with a tragic description of what it was like having her birthday in 2020 in the middle of the COVID lock-downs, which is something we could all probably recognize in ourself, minus the crown:
My 29th birthday felt very emblematic of the season I’m looking forward to entering. In a time when extravagant birthday bashes are the gold standard of celebrations, I was happily stuck in my apartment, parading around in a black silk top, matching shorts, and a floor-length robe while scarfing down banana pudding and screening birthday calls. I even wore my crown around the apartment for most of the day knowing I’d have to give it back at the end of my reign as Miss USA. I did what I wanted rather than the expected.
Now, I enter year 30 searching for joy and purpose on my own terms — and that feels like my own sweet victory.
And that last line is the worst, because I know what it feels like to say something like “that feels like my own sweet victory” or “I am going to get over this” or “it will be better next time” or “I’m actually feeling okay” — hoping it will be true, while denying the feeling that it is not.
And this brings me to the last part of the poems I wrote, and the reason I wanted to write this. In “The Wind of My Own Breath,” the poem has a plot. The plot is of me wanting to see the things God has given me, but being unexpectedly surprised by the answer to the prayer:
I wished to know what I’d received apart from what I’d earned
I wished to gain some hope and help from what I might have learned.
A fool was I to ask to see
The full accounting rendered me
Of grace from God, in heav’n above,
Bestowed through some mistaken love.
For God displayed his grace to me, but this is how I saw:
The things He gave me, one by one, He started to withdraw.
Though many dangers, toils, and snares I thought I’d overcome
I was naïve, because to every snare I have succumb.
With wisdom, plans, designs, and thought
I hoped to do the things I ought,
Accumulating through the years
What’s needed for respect from peers.
Not vanity or pride or fame –
But humble honor to my name.
But years have passed and now I see
A shell of what I hoped to be.
The people giving their respect
Sure wouldn’t see what they’d expect
If they would see the thing I see:
The wretch I realize is me.
I go on to describe what it is like to “see” what God shows you. The picture I was trying to create is the difference between standing in the middle of a chandelier, and being able to see beams of light reflected out, and then asking to see the chandelier so you can admire it. But instead of seeing the chandelier, you are shocked to find that it is a mirror that gives a clear reflection:
Amazing grace from God to me, more fine than gold or gem,
But since this grace came into view, I don’t want it from him.
God’s grace, like purest glass displays
His glory, spread in splendid rays.
But stand beside that purest gift,
And let the light’s direction shift,
You will not see your sovereign Lord;
You will not see what you adored;
You will not see your hopes renewed.
Instead, you’ll see what Heaven views.
Reflected in the grace was shown
Myself. Myself. Myself, alone.
But the poem also ends in hope, because God does show what he has given me, and the answer is hidden in the title:
Amazing Grace still comes through Christ, and even now, it’s clear:
No matter what I’ve done or said or hope or wish – He’s here.
My soul is wounded, slayed, and bare.
My strength is gone in my despair.
I have brought on my affliction.
I achieved my crucifixion.
Help me, God! My spirit’s shaken!
Why, my God, am I forsaken?
Lord! Eloi! My God on high!
Eloi, lema sabachthani.
God! My God! Please answer me!
What have you brought down on me?
And here I sit in silence – not a thing or soul around.
The wind within my breath becomes the only present sound.
As people who read by blog know, there is a double-meaning to the words I used. The word “wind” in Greek is the word pneuma (πνεῦμα) and in Hebrew is the word ruach (רוּחַ). The word “breath” in Greek is the word psyche (ψυχή) and in Hebrew is the word nephesh (נֶפֶשׁ). The word “wind” means spirit, and the word “breath” means soul. That’s what those words mean in the Bibile, even though we lose it in English.
In other words, when I ask God what will give me the strength to go on, there is absolute silence in the room, except for the SPIRIT within my SOUL. That is God’s answer.
So in response to this public tragedy about Cheslie Kryst — and many other private tragedies of less-famous people — learn about the problem, as well as the solution.
And calling the crowd to him with his disciples, he said to them, “If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me. For whoever would save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake and the gospel’s will save it. For what does it profit a man to gain the whole world and forfeit his soul? For what can a man give in return for his soul? (Mark 8:34-36)