There’s a story told about a guy who falls into a deep and dark hole, crying out in vain for hours that turn to days, until finally someone wanders by and hears his plea. But instead of running for help the rescuer jumps into the hole with him. The guy is flabbergasted and mortified at the stupidity of his rescuer and says: “Why did you do that! Now we’re both going to die!” The rescuer says, “No—don’t worry. I’ve been here before. I know the way out.”
I am not an investigative journalist, merely an observer. I can’t list statistics enough to label suicide an epidemic nor offer explanations to help people cope with the gut-wrenching aftermath; I can only offer some observations from thirty years of priesthood: counseling troubled youth, burying far too many suicide victims, and embracing the pain of those who suffer from their loss. In the Kansas City area, in recent months, from Raymore to Rockhurst, Blue Springs to Belton, universities to middle schools, it seems like it’s an epidemic to me. He lost his job; she got labeled a slut; his girlfriend broke up with him; her naked selfie went viral; he got into gambling and smothered in debt; he couldn’t take the bullying any more…
The Netflix Series, 13 Reasons Why, has brought suicide into daily conversation at schools and in homes—I think, in a good way, that helps us talk about what most of us don’t want to discuss. For all of its faults, which critics have cited, the film’s underlying message, to treat each other better, is powerful. Every person deals with their fair share of frustration, depression, anxiety, cyber-targeting, lack of perfection, etc., but most of us can get over it, get through it, get beyond it, because we realize these temporary set-backs will pass with time and our strength of character is enough for us to overcome them. But a portion of our population suffers from clinical depression—far beyond what you and I endure in the day-to-day. Mental illness is a different arena and the complexity of the human brain is beyond comprehension. I am not referring to that in this blog. Yet those who possess logic and reason also have incredible challenges. Young people contend with social media and cyber-bullying in intense ways that we never had to face. Some individuals cannot comprehend that their problems are temporary and only imagine the permanent scars that mark them and will accompany them as long as they walk the earth–a week for me might seem like a lifetime for teens.
When facing problems, we always have options. I instruct our elementary school teachers to make sure that there are problems each day in their classroom because our children need to learn how to become problem-solvers from an early age. Many adults want to shield them from problems and that is not healthy or realistic. Kids need to grapple with difficult problems, not only in math and other academic disciplines but, in relationships and decision-making. Otherwise they will grow up, like many in my generation who oversee churches, schools, families, businesses, governments, etc., and do not solve problems in wholesome ways. Suicide is always an option—but it’s never a good one. Those who are critical thinkers and problem solvers recognize that. Most people probably think about suicide at one time or another but most probably don’t devise a plan. Some who do still possess sense enough to talk with someone that might help them evaluate their options and consider a road to recovery. Many professionals in the fields of psychology believe that most neurosis and psychosis boil down to love, i.e., to know that we are loved, that we are able to receive love, and that loving others is fulfilling. Perhaps this is oversimplification—but religions essentially reach the same conclusion though relying on God rather than human behavior as the chief guiding force for sustaining love.
At one of the first suicide funerals that I presided over, the family played the song, “On The Turning Away,” by Pink Floyd, from their 1987 album, “A Momentary Lapse of Reason.” The haunting lyrics state, in part, “Don’t accept that what’s happening is just a case of others’ suffering or you’ll find that you’re joining in the turning away…It’s a sin that somehow light is changing to shadow and casting it’s shroud over all we have known…we could find that we’re all alone.” The Netflix Series suggests that there is plenty of blame to go around when people feel so alone that their only option is to take their own life, though it also makes clear that individuals are ultimately responsible for our own actions. I can’t help wondering what part of the blame rests in the hands of my church. Are we doing enough to help young people cope with the incredible challenges of maturing in our modern times? Too many people find themselves in deep and dark holes—we’ve got to be willing to hear their cries and jump in with them to help them find a way out.