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The Mockingbird’s Song: In Memory of Ricky

Dedication: To Ricky, My Friend for Life

Writing a book about the dark times of one’s life is difficult. It is in our human nature to shy away from revealing the depths of our soul, especially when the subject matter is painful. This book of essays concerning my struggle with depression has been hard to write. Rather, let me rephrase that: the writing has not been the difficult part, but the revealing has been the difficult aspect. The reason why is because it is very personal and reveals deep emotions that are even now, over six years later, still tender and not easily shared.

The easiest thing to do with these stories would be to store them away and let no one else read them. That is the safe way. But my journey has taught me about the rewards of being a guide for others on this same journey. It is a large responsibility and one that I cannot, and will not, shirk. So share these stories I must!

The great British writer C.S. Lewis, who went through many struggles himself, states this truth of “helpful empathy” so wonderfully well: “Think of me as a fellow-patient in the same hospital who, having been admitted a little earlier, could give some helpful advice.”
However, the real courage to write and then publish The Mockingbird’s Song occurred several years ago. The event was the soul-rending death of my lifelong friend, Ricky Gallien.
Ricky, who died at age 43, was a man loved and admired by his wonderful family and thousands of friends who had been touched by his life as a coach, principal, pastor, and most of all, Godly man. Even now, nearly four years since his death, the shadow of his influence continues to stretch far and wide.

Ricky’s death, at his own hands, will never be fully understood by any of us. Although deep questions remain, we must go on, as well as carry on. Ricky’s rich life and sudden death have both been motivators for all of us to look for, as well as care for, others who are hurting. Being Ricky’s friend and knowing his heart, he would be pleased with that.

Over the years, I heard many excellent sermons by Ricky. He was a tremendous speaker with an intelligent mind and a heart in tune with God. While reading my Bible a few weeks after he died, I came across notes from a sermon Ricky had preached. He had shared an illustration from the 1986 explosion of the space shuttle Challenger. According to his illustration, the last recorded words on the Shuttle before transmissions ceased were the calm voice of the flight commander Francis Scobee saying, “Give me your hand.”
Scobee’s words were spoken calmly and without panic. In my mind, I will always see this man reaching out to his pilot, Michael J. Smith, as they lived the final seconds of their lives.
Simply said, “Give me your hand.” Not with terror or hysteria, but with courage and compassion.

I firmly believe those are the same four words Ricky heard as his life ended. The words of the Savior he served throughout his life – The words of the Son of God who said, “I will never leave you nor forsake you.” The same Jesus who promised,
“I am the resurrection and the life. He who believes in Me, though he may die, he shall live. And whoever lives and believes in Me shall never die” (John 11:25).

As I share my own journey through depression, my prayer is that others will hear this same voice of Jesus saying, “Here I am, give me your hand.”
Jesus said, “Come unto me all you that labor and are heavy-laden, and I will give you rest. . .” (Matthew 11:28). He does not wish that anyone would suffer alone in the dark. He is as close as your next breath and your whispered heart-felt prayer.

One of Ricky’s last requests was that I speak at his funeral. It was the hardest thing I’d ever done. I honestly did not think my legs would work or my mouth speak when it came time to stand and share.

Standing before the huge crowd of friends, family, and students gathered, I simply shared something I’d read concerning another untimely death. I held up a card with 99.99 % on one side and 0.01 % on the other. I shared that we would all be tempted to remember that terrible Saturday morning of September 7, 2002 as the defining moment of Ricky’s life. However, it was important that we remember, and celebrate, the 99.99 % of such a rich and beautiful life.
Ricky’s daughter, Kristi Gallien Watkins, whom he loved so deeply, shared these words:
I for one had no concept of what depression was, or how serious it is, until my dad lost his battle with it. Depression hit my dad out of what seemed like nowhere. He was the strongest and most wonderful man I’ve ever known. So it was a step outside of reality to see him down and depressed to the point of being suicidal. I could have never imagined that I would have lost my dad that way . . .

My prayer is that those who are struggling with depression will know that not only is it OK to ask for help, but it is necessary. God will put people around you that will love, support, and pray for you.

To others I say: Reach out to those around you. Love them and care for them. You never know who is hurting and who needs to see the love and hope of God through you.

. . . There is hope for those with depression. Never ever forget that. Never ever give up.

So I dedicate the words of this book of essays and stories to the memory of Kristi’s dad, my lifelong friend and encourager, Ricky Gallien.
As Kristi shared, may we all be looking for, and reaching out toward, those who are hurting so we can help them. May those who appear so strong, yet are in deep anguish, realize that there is nothing wrong with saying, “I’m hurting. I need help.”
May those without any confidence in their future see the thin red ribbon of hope in front of them. May they come to Jesus who calmly holds out His hand and says, “Give me your hand.”

About Curt Iles

I write to have influence and impact through well-told stories of my Louisiana and African sojourn.

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