“I wish I could have done something to save her,”
It is rare to hear this come out of a journalist’s mouth. I know some may think it but would never volunteer it out loud. Today I had the pleasure of working with one journalist who was deeply touched by the “assignment” of the day and wasn’t afraid to show it. I appreciate and respect a journalist who allows this type of demonstration of humanity. It speaks loudly about the type of journalist and human being he/she is. I’m lucky to know and have worked with more than a few in Houston.
The assignment was the story about a young woman who tweeted about her history of abuse for more than 6 hours before taking her own life. I knew this wasn’t just an assignment the minute I heard the reporter’s voicemail. I felt so much compassion in his voice. He wanted to take the opportunity of a “teachable moment.” The connection was instant.
He connected with the young woman not only as a journalist but also most importantly as a father, a human being who felt for her. He connected with her through her tweets and photos posted on her MySpace. He felt the responsibility to share her story. He listened to her in a way she may have wished someone had listened. He did something about it just as she hoped someone would have. He wishes to have done more for her while she was still alive.
Ashley Billasana story happens behind closed doors far too often. Suicide is the third leading cause of death for youth between the ages of 15 and 24. There are so many out there feeling exactly how she was feeling. Just imagine sitting in a dark room, hopeless of the life ahead and completely powerless to move forward. Imagine thinking there is no other way to cope with the pain but to end it. Imagine crying for help and no one listening. Imagine for one single second, there is no other option but to no longer be.
While you read this someone is contemplating ending everything with one single act with no one around to stop him or her.
This is suicide; it is real, present and living among us.
I fell in love with journalism long before I decided to major in it. I always admired a journalist’s ability to touch people and do something impactful. I was reminded about this when I listened and watched the reporter speak about this story. I’m so thankful for him and al the other journalists who do this in every story. I’ve told journalism students to always find the human connection in every story and to never detach from it. The minute you lose or stop looking for that human connection you lose compassion and the opportunity to touch someone.
Another great journalist and good friend describes this as “finding the moment.” I believe a good journalist finds a moment, makes a connection, and takes the advantage of the teachable moment.
Ashley Billasana is gone but her story will remain in the minds and hearts of so many people. Her story resembles the life of so many others hidden behind closed doors, silenced in the darkness. I’m confident someone will read her story and will try to find another option. The loss of someone else’s life may have been prevented thanks to Ashley and the journalist who took this moment to educate others about the tragedy behind suicide.
We all have these moments. We just have to learn how to recognize them and be able to do something about it. The difference between doing something or not may be a lifetime. It only takes one person, one moment, one life.
I thank every journalist who understands this and takes every opportunity to help. And I thank beautiful Ashley for speaking up, sharing her story and making a difference in my life.