By Allison Scanlon
There is a story they tell about a man named Jonah and how he disobeyed God. Jonah was an Israelite and lived during the 7th century. God chose him to be one of his servants.
God ordered Jonah to go to the city of Nineveh and to preach repentance. Nineveh was known for its wickedness and was the capital of the Assyrian empire, one of Israel’s fiercest enemies.
Although one of God’s people, Jonah found God’s command unbearable and he refused God’s request. He knew the Assyrians had committed terrible atrocities against the people of Israel and traveling into their midst would have been both terrifying and dangerous. Jonah also despised the Assyrians and may have wanted to see God punish them. But Jonah also knew of God’s forgiving nature, and Jonah believed that if he warned the Ninevites to repent, they would obey God, and then God would spare them.
Jonah deliberately refused God’s order by walking to the seaport of Joppa where he booked passage on a ship to Tarshish, Spain, heading directly away from Nineveh. Jonah deliberately ran away in hopes of escaping God’s command. God responded to Jonah’s escape by hurling a violent storm on the sea, one that threatened to break the ship apart. The sailors were afraid, and each cried out to his god. They even threw the ship’s cargo into the sea to lighten the load. Meanwhile, Jonah had gone down below and had fallen into a deep sleep.
When the sailors woke Jonah, he confessed his story and instructed them to throw him overboard. This would have meant certain death for Jonah as most non-sailors of this time could not swim. The men on the ship were quite hesitant to throw Jonah into the sea, they even tried rowing him to shore, but the waves grew higher. After doing everything possible to stay afloat, and terrified of Jonah’s God, they reluctantly tossed Jonah overboard. The storm immediately ceased. Jonah was sinking into the sea until a great fish, most say a whale, swallowed and saved him from drowning.
In the belly of the whale for three days, Jonah reconsidered his way of thinking and his behavior. And he asked to be saved. God then commanded the whale to vomit Jonah onto dry land. This time Jonah obeyed God. He walked through Nineveh proclaiming that in forty days the city would be destroyed if the Ninevites did not repent. The people of Nineveh believed Jonah’s message and turned to God. And God showed compassion and spared their lives.
I looked down from the fourth story window. I guessed it was almost sixty feet to the ground. My third period class had just started so it was unlikely anyone would come into the boys’ bathroom or be walking along the concrete sidewalk below. I lifted the window pane higher. Enough so I could straddle the window sill. Then I looked back at the bathroom door and listened. Silence. I turned my head back toward the outside and squinted into the sun. The cool breeze felt good, instantly drying the tears that had streaked my face. Slowly, I lowered my chin until my eyes met the pavement below. I watched some snot from my nose drip and fall to the sidewalk. Then I wiped my nose with the back of my hand.
After a long minute, I rubbed my eyes and took two deep breaths. I softly said to myself, “I’m going to do this,” then closed my eyes and pictured myself climbing out onto the ledge. I knew the ledge was narrow, maybe six inches at best. And once I let go of the window sill, there would be no chance to reconsider, I would fall instantly.
I breathed deeply a couple more times, opened my eyes and then squeezed them shut again, trying to picture my body smacking the pavement. I honestly didn’t give a second thought to how my classmates, teachers, or the rest of my world would react. It wasn’t about them. And as I shook my head, squeezing my eyes tighter, I imagined a peaceful void that meant freedom from suffering. I am done with this misery. I put one leg out the window and sat on the sill.
But then a new image popped into my mind. A flash of my mom and dad. I didn’t want to see them and gritted my teeth, squeezing my eyes tighter. Unable to shake their image, I felt twinges of my own pain, reaching out for them. My parents looked devastated. As they held each other, more people huddled around them. The circle of grief growing. I sighed, relaxing my shut eyes and then finally opening them. I blinked to release more tears and then stared off into the distance. But I saw nothing of the Santa Barbara landscape stretched before me.
The boys’ bathroom door suddenly flew open, loudly whacking against the dirty graffiti-filled wall. It startled me and I quickly looked up, swinging my leg over the sill, back into the bathroom. I relaxed a little when I saw it was Mr. Chipchaw, my art teacher. Mr. Chipchaw looked almost out of breath and stood by the bathroom sinks awkwardly for a moment. He tried to compose himself, shoving his hands inside his pant pockets.
“Hey there kiddo…what’s going on?” he said to me, sounding more concerned than casual.
He turned to examine himself in the mirror, pretended to fix his hair, and then began to wash his hands. I looked away from him and continued to stare out the window. Mr. Chipchaw dried his hands with a recycled brown paper towel. I knew he was thinking about how to approach the situation. He slowly took a few steps closer. I took a deep breath and held it for a few seconds, thinking it would somehow help me read his mind. He must have been thinking, Jonah Duffy, the nerdy little shrimp who just can’t fit in. I exhaled.
Mr. Chipchaw looked down at his worn shoes then said in a soft voice, “So Jonah, do you want to come back to class with me…or perhaps you would rather take a helicopter ride to the nearest trauma center?”
I spun my head around quickly. “You can’t survive a four-story jump!” I snapped.
Mr. Chipchaw shrugged. “Well, I guess not. But imagine if you did. You could wind up permanently busted. Maybe even a vegetable. And that would be worse than the hell you’re going through now.”
I shook my head no. Mr. Chipchaw made another attempt.
“So Jonah, what’s going on? Did something happen today? Or are you just feeling…really low? Like it’s all piling up on you.”
Now I shrugged and continued looking down. Mr. Chipchaw moved even closer, reached out and rested his hand on my shoulder.
“Let me help you. Please.”
I hated his pity. And I wanted to hate him for always checking up on me and never minding his own business. But I couldn’t. He cared. So, I finally looked up at my teacher, allowing him to see my swollen eyes, filled with tears. My throat tightened up. I opened my mouth, but no words came out. Mr. Chipchaw got down on a knee so he could meet my eyes. And then I fell apart. I leaned in and buried my face into his shirt and cried uncontrollably. After a couple of minutes, I calmed myself down.
“Look, Jonah,” he began, “I know you probably aren’t up to attending class today, but I really need to get back to the art room. I’ve left those delinquents on their own in there, God only knows what they’re up to. The art studio could be engulfed in flames by now.”
I sniffed a little then softly added, “My classmates aren’t exactly chemistry wizards. I doubt they know that paint contains flammable substances.”
Mr. Chipchaw grinned slightly. “Exactly. And since we’re using the spray paints this week on our projects, I can just picture one of those geniuses lighting a match.”
As we hurried down the hallway toward the art room, Mr. Chipchaw said quietly, “After this period, Jonah, we’re going to see the school counselor together. She will have to arrange a meeting with your parents and the principal. It could happen right away or later today, maybe even after school, but I am going to be there. And I can make sure that you can hang with me for the rest of the day, right by my side, so you don’t have to wait in the nurse’s office. Alright?”
A panicky feeling started in my stomach and surged through my body. I slowed my step. “Mr. Chipchaw, no. Please don't do this. I’m fine, really. Please, don’t call my parents. I’ll meet with the school counselor, every week if I have to, but I don’t want to get the principal and my parents involved. Please.”
He stopped in his tracks and turned to me. “We can’t put this off anymore, Jonah. There’s no way around this…not after I found you on the window ledge. I’ve let this go on far too long.”
“No!” I said too loudly. “I wasn’t going to jump. I just…needed to think…I was upset. I’m okay now.” I grabbed his arm. I must have looked pretty desperate.
“I’m sorry, Jonah, we need to involve the people above me and your family. This is in your highest good. Really.”
I swallowed hard and looked down. Tears began to stream down my cheeks again. This was it. It was all about to come out.
“Hey, look at me. Hey, kiddo, you need to trust me on this. It’s going to be okay.”
I kept looking down but I nodded my head slightly. I sniffed and wiped away my tears.
“Jonah, look at me.”
I glanced up at him for just a second.
“Take a couple of deep breaths. Okay?”
I took a small one. Then two bigger breaths.
“Good. A few more.”
I stood there and just breathed, trying to clear my head so I could avoid the hideous meltdown that was about to take over.
He winked and patted my shoulder. “Roger that.”