The theme of violence, especially against women and children, has really taken hold on these pages as a subject of conversation since, unfortunately, women in great numbers continue to suffer from violence or be exposed to it around the world. And if we don’t continue to raise our voices and point out incident after incident after incident after incident then surely there will never be a cessation of hostilities. But since I tend to be a micro person, seeing everything through the lens of my life, and trying to understand the big picture through the daily comings and goings of my life, I have to bring up another type of violence that we see far too often, a self-inflicted form of violence—suicide—that has “visited” my life in the past week. A boy at the high school where I teach committed suicide. For what is suicide if not violence against the self, and, perhaps, against society too? And the thoughts that have swirled around my head, though different than when contemplating violence inflicted on another, cause me to pause and contemplate how commonplace violence has become in our world.
The horror of a young man deciding to cut short his life was exacerbated, for me, when I heard my 12-year old daughter’s response to my telling her what had happened. I was going to use his tragic death as a segue to give her the “suicide is wrong and there is always a resolution to any problem” speech, but after I told her about what had happened, she looked at me and told me that a boy in her class this year had committed suicide. A seventh grade boy had committed suicide and a seventh grade girl hadn’t been upset enough about it to tell her mother that day when she got home from school. I was stunned. Stunned by the implicit acceptance of such a tragic act. Stunned by the non-stun factor this news was to her. Stunned from how sad it is that this is the world my daughter lives in. Every adult to whom I had told about this young man’s death had chills when I told him or her. But here, my sensitive daughter accepted it as part of the flow of life. It was not an aberration to her. And when I had my classes do a free write in the days following the suicide, only a few students commented on it—and those were generally children who had known him or knew someone who had known him. The others had either forgotten about it or it had never really entered their consciousness—both equally upsetting responses. (Granted, the school hadn’t stressed how he had died, but word gets around—if it did to the teachers, surely it did to the students.) So I guess the stun factor is the non-stun factor itself.
The American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry says that “suicide is the third leading cause of death (behind accidents and homicides) for teenagers. Each year more than 5,000 U.S. teenagers commit suicide.” And that doesn’t even touch on the number who attempt suicide or contemplate it, which apparently are highest in middle adolescence.
Which brought me to thinking about the meaning and purpose of life. Do too many of our children have none? (Do too many of us have none to transfer to them?) Do they not take life seriously since it is so often treated slightly in movies and TV and games? What is the point—a point—that will get them to see a point? I had seen middle age (admission here) as a time when I would be confronted with illness and death and sorrow, why are tweens and teens dealing each other—and themselves—these cards?