"All this time you’ve been a flower growing in the darkness. Perhaps the least I could do is offer some light.” -Westworld, Episode 8 'Kiksuya'
Today I made it. Out of bed, downstairs to make coffee, then into the shower, though I skipped washing my hair, again, and finally, onto the back of a motorcycle. Now I’m here, writing. Honestly, nothing short of a miracle, except I don’t believe in miracles. But, more on that another time.
I’ve been watching the discussion on suicide from the edges. Has anyone else noticed that we only pick up these topics pursuant to national tragedy? It’s going to cycle through until the next catastrophe has us talking about something else we’ve already addressed before. Maybe we should start wondering if it’s not them, it’s us, and the current trend of events gives our humanity a constant stream of narratives to pretend we resist, at least, here in the Western world. Maybe there’s a cause and effect we have yet to notice by those of us who perceive our hearts to be well meaning, when they really aren’t after all.
It’s dangerous, because if your reason to live is to oppose a darker force, you haven’t considered that the very thing you’re against may actually be where you’re deriving life.
Just a thought.
The articles and sentiments I see floating around the web from experts and survivors are offering sound advice. Please do check in on one another. Learn to know what is needed in someone’s life and offer it without being asked. Help hold the inevitable presence of shame in relationships so that you and others can really talk about how you both are and ask and answer questions with kindness and curiosity. These are all good things.
Trouble is. We aren’t trustworthy. We’re voyeurs. There’s a hungry, destructive curiosity in all of us to know how others are in ways we know we won’t honor or protect. The main cause of this, I believe, is that we are afraid of our own stories. We won’t know our history and how it’s harmed us, so we let the drive out in other ways. If we can be pleasant enough, kind enough, vulnerable enough—on most days of the week, we can think that our consumerism is allocated to the tabloids or sympathizing with news that was never our business to know.
People like Anthony Bourdain, Kate Spade, and Robin Williams are the product of our social experiment. We can brush it off as the pressures of fame, and pretend we never wondered or wanted justification for the moments of discontent in our small unknown life. Now we use that information to keep us alive and make our provincial existence more meaningful. We say, “It’s so sad, it’s so tragic.” And it’s not really different when the loss is your distant relative or the kid down the street. We say the same thing and always find a way to utilize their circumstances to our advantage, never ever considering we were part of the same reality all along. Did anyone read the story of the father who died in a jail cell at the border because his wife and child were separated from him? They said he just “lost it”, that he “suffered a breakdown” and died “despite being checked on by officers every half an hour and the presence of a cell camera.” Do you see the construct being built?
This is the problem.
We want people to die of shame. We want them to die of loneliness. We want them to die of heartbreak, of misunderstanding. Why? Because then we don’t have to. They go into the desert where no one will touch them and we are safe because they will never touch us. Someone is going to experience loss and we carefully manage society to make sure it is only a select few. We’ve even structured the entire discussion so that they are the fulcrum. We’ll be grieved for sure, but even in the statement, “please stay” there’s a deliberate ignorance, or better said, a subtle arrogance, that will not ask the question, “how have I failed such that you feel the need to leave?” or if one was courageous enough, “I see how I have failed and caused you harm to the point of believing death is better.”
I know our demons are our own. I know that suicide is a tender topic. No one can bear the weight of that guilt. This is not to place guilt or blame on anyone. This also isn’t about people who manipulate others with threat of suicide. That’s abuse and another form of evil entirely. This is something I’m saying about how we have chosen to do life together here in this country. If we belong to each other, this is the other side of that coin.
The conversation on mental illness needs to shift to restitution and restoration for the impact cruel words and cowardly choices have had on us individually and collectively as a human race. I don’t think Jesus was being dramatic when he said our little quips over dinner are murder. We are killing people with our words, as well as our self-guarding silences. Perhaps we should do away with the word suicide altogether. Knowing what I know now and surviving what I have survived, if I did not make it, there’s a list of actions/inactions that could be read at my funeral as cause of death. If the first things you want to jump to when you read that are the words bitterness and forgiveness, you’re part of the problem. Jesus forgave people on the cross. He was supposedly God (and planned his own death). They still killed him. Those things don’t guarantee mental health, healing, and recovery. We can continue to encourage people all we want, tell them how much they mean to us, ask them to be here, but as long as we won’t look over our shoulder to address the harm in our own past we’re going to be afraid of the harm we’ve caused others.
Better than asking others to trust you before you’ve earned that trust, better than expressing kind sentiments towards those in your life you love and know are struggling, start showing up with real confession to those you’ve brought harm. Start showing up in your own story so that you stop reenacting your past hurts on others and you stop needing others to be hurt via emotional surrogacy. We are not scapegoats.
Suicide is more reflective of the community than it is of the person who lost their life. A community has the power to kill or to heal, to sustain or to starve. Nothing is neutral.
Listen to the absence and notice how loud you’ve had to sing your hymns to drown it out.
"Take my heart when you go."
"Take mine in its place" -Westworld, Episode 8 'Kiksuya'