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Authentic Eagles: Ryan Santacrose on Perspective

As Boston College students, it can be tempting to hide our true selves. Embracing our individuality  can help us to understand ourselves and experience the world around us as genuinely as possible. Authentic Eagles is a series that gives a voice to the people who have experienced firsthand the trials, tribulations, and triumphs of being one’s authentic self at BC. We hope that readers are inspired to have conversations and reflections of their own, working towards being more authentic.

Ryan Santacrose, A&S ’15

At my internship this past summer, I came across a quote that really resonated with me: “Life is 10% what happens to you, 90% how you react to it.” The more I think about it, the more I realize just how true this is. The quote is getting at the importance of perspective in life. By perspective, I essentially mean attitude, but not only the attitude that we present to others, but also the attitude that exists in our mind. I’m talking about how we think of things, because that deeply affects who we are and how we experience life.

Different experiences and people throughout my life have taught me the importance of perspective, but nothing has more beautifully conveyed it to me as my experience working at suicide helpline during my sophomore year as part of PULSE. Throughout that year, I would take the T into the city twice a week to spend time at my rather unusual PULSE placement: a phone center. I was very skeptical at the beginning of the experience. I thought that PULSE was going to be this program that transformed my worldview through powerful experiences in social justice – how could this happen sitting in a cubicle and talking on the phone? I soon realized just how much could happen in a phone conversation.

Every time I picked up the phone that year, it was different. A different story. A different challenge. A different person. Most of what volunteers do at a suicide helpline is listen. We don’t offer advice, but rather listen and validate. And not everyone who calls a helpline is suicidal. Our essential goal is simply to make people feel heard, to let them know that there is someone in this world who cares enough to listen to what they are going through. As I was listening to these stories, I was in awe at how much people were willing to share over the phone. But I was also heartbroken. Call after call I heard stories of depression, loss, grief, anxiety, despair and self-doubt. I struggled with this immensely.

I found it extremely difficult to return to daily life at BC and pretend that everything was fine. This is something that many PULSE students struggle with: the disconnect. It was becoming harder and harder to find joy in my daily routine. I could not get these stories out of my head. I wondered, who am I, to be here at this amazing school, with a loving family supporting me back home, while so many people struggle? My initial reaction to my PULSE experience was damaging. I learned of so much pain in other people’s lives that I found it hard to enjoy my own.

One particular call, on an overnight shift in the wee hours of the morning, transformed my experience. I received a call from a man who was deeply distressed and told me that he was going to hang himself, and had the means to do it with him. At this point in my experience, I had received intense calls, but nothing like this. Nothing so imminent. The call itself lasted over an hour. There were moments when I felt helpless and thought that this man was going to harm himself while on the phone with me, but eventually things settled down. I asked him questions about his life and we talked at length about the events that had led him to that point. This conversation seemed to calm him down, and ultimately he agreed to have emergency services come to his residence. The call ended.

That call changed things for me. I was shaken up initially, but in time I came to view my experience at the helpline in a different light. I have no doubt that the struggle continued for that man, but in that moment and on that call I was able to provide emotional support. He shared and I listened. That is an inherently good thing, and inherently good things should not cause me to feel as if I can’t experience joy in my daily life. My perspective changed. I chose not to see my experience at the helpline as something that should cause me guilt in regards to own my own life, but rather as a blessing.

This experience was an opportunity for me to connect with other human beings, to hear their stories, and to listen in solidarity with them. When I chose to approach the experience with that attitude, it became vastly more enriching. I was able to be the best version of myself while on the phone with callers, as well as when I was back at BC. I was no longer crippled by the stories I heard, but rather profoundly aware of how blessed I was. I was inspired to make the most of everything in my life.

This change in perspective was crucial. It turned my PULSE experience into something I am extremely proud of and eager to share with others. Perspective has changed how I view impactful experiences like this, but it has also proved vital in my everyday life. I try to maintain perspective every day when I walk out of beautiful Edmonds Hall. I can look at my day as an endless to-do list of assignments, meetings, work, and obligations, or I can look at it as another gift from God, in which I will have the opportunity to be the around the people I love, enjoy all that BC has to offer, and become a better person.

I’m not saying this is easy, and in fact sometimes it’s really hard. Sometimes things are not going my way, and it sucks. But the point is it’s a choice. I’ve realized that I only see what I choose to look at. I can choose to see the downsides, or I can choose to see the beauty and the opportunity.

When I choose the latter, it makes a world of difference.

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