Within days of each other, Kate Spade and Anthony Bourdain took their own lives, and the world responded as the world always does, by trying to find the simplest answer as to why people commit suicide (“Depression” is the number one guess) and then finding the fastest and most practical way to address it so they can stop thinking about it, because suicide is scary. We don’t understand it. We know we don’t want to ever experience it in our own families, and perhaps some of us feel like “there but for the grace of God, go I…”
So in the aftermath of Spade’s and Bourdain’s deaths, lots of people, feeling like they had to throw some sort of advice into our collective aching void of understanding, put suicide hotline numbers out into social media. Some offered prayers. A few voices — and sadly some were Catholic — thought the best thing they could do was say, “If only they’d had faith, they wouldn’t have killed themselves.” As though faith is a psychic bandage.
As I write today in my column at Word on Fire, “[If they’d only been Catholic] is a terrible charge to make against another; it’s right up there with saying that if only one had enough faith, one would never become ill. You might as well say that if only one had enough faith, one would never sin—something said by no saint, ever.”
Still, I don’t want to be too hard on people, because suicide makes all of us feel helpless, and when we feel helpless we babble incomplete thoughts, particularly when we encounter the bruising statistics about it. In our culture homicides get the headlines, but in 2016 there were 26,000 more suicides than homicides. Yes, it is a crisis, and so we must try to complete our thinking on this matter.
But where to start?
Yes, religion can help, but it’s not the “easy answer” some might think.
At Word on Fire, I’m suggesting that we start by recognizing that not every suicide is due to depression. I’m also suggesting that perhaps we need to focus less on “having it all” and give a little thought to the fact that everyone suffers, or will suffer, and what suffering means when it resides right next to love.
Sometimes we are so full of self-loathing that the idea of anyone else loving us, much less the Almighty God who is All Good, seems frankly unimaginable because we’ve become convinced that we are All-Bad. This is a dark lie, of course, but when the feeling becomes ingrained within us the battle against it can be lifelong. It is usually in the weakest of our moments—moments that will pass, but while we are in them we cannot see how—that the fight is lost. We throw ourselves away, and the people we leave behind are left to agonize over why it was we did not believe in their love, call on their love, depend on their love, trust their love.
The thing is, we often don’t call on love because we do not understand love—few of us do, really. “Love is patient, love is kind,” wrote Saint Paul, and yes, it is that. But love is also complicated, as any child who has been molested by a family member or abandoned by a parent can tell you. Love means being vulnerable; love brings the pain, and the deeper the love (or the sense of having lost it, somehow, either through our own actions or the actions of another), the deeper the pain.
That’s why, even though we crave love and want to give love, we so rarely fully trust love.
I don’t have any answers. But you can read the rest of my thoughts here.
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