It’s been a painful week, hasn’t it? Wow. Kate Spade. Anthony Bourdain. A general glut of cruelty and lack of kindness. I told myself I wouldn’t write another piece about suicide, but then I made the mistake of looking on social media, and what I saw upset me so, well, I can’t help myself.
I begin with a long quote by David Foster Wallace:
“The so-called ‘psychotically depressed’ person who tries to kill herself doesn’t do so out of quote ‘hopelessness’ or any abstract conviction that life’s assets and debits do not square. And surely not because death seems suddenly appealing. The person in whom Its invisible agony reaches a certain unendurable level will kill herself the same way a trapped person will eventually jump from the window of a burning high-rise. Make no mistake about people who leap from burning windows. Their terror of falling from a great height is still just as great as it would be for you or me standing speculatively at the same window just checking out the view; i.e. the fear of falling remains a constant. The variable here is the other terror, the fire’s flames: when the flames get close enough, falling to death becomes the slightly less terrible of two terrors. It’s not desiring the fall; it’s terror of the flames. And yet nobody down on the sidewalk, looking up and yelling ‘Don’t!’ and ‘Hang on!’, can understand the jump. Not really. You’d have to have personally been trapped and felt flames to really understand a terror way beyond falling.”
Wallace, of course, ended his own life. That jump. Those flames. I totally get it. No one’s ever said it better.
I was watching a television program today on which someone asked the watching audience how many were affected by suicide. 84% answered they were. I have to sit down and count the number of people I know who’ve died at their own hands.
Like so many of you, I adored Anthony Bourdain, even when he was preparing food in a way that made me wince, and eating things that made me queasy. It was his lust for life that I admired, and not just life, but for the “Other”, the other point of view, the other way of life, the other belief, framed around the dinner plate. I inspired me.
My favorite “Parts Unknown” (how ironic) was a fairly recent one. It was about West Virginia. You can
watch it here. It wasn’t exotic. It wasn’t far from where I live. But West Virginia is Trump country (by and large) and I have opinions about that, which aren’t particularly kind. Well, after watching that show, I saw how wrong I was. Kind people. Hilariously funny. Proud. Loving. Smart as hell. Well read and educated. Community-minded. Ethnically diverse (yeah, didn’t see that coming). Bourdain was passionate about ushering us behind the curtains of our own prejudices and blind spots. Iran. Mexico. Newfoundland (?). I’m going to miss that immensely. God knows we need. it. (W. Kamau Bell, I’m counting on you!)
Anyway. Then I got on Twitter. Just to look. I no longer post anything, and rarely pop on, but every once in a while there will be something in the news about someone I know, or an acquaintance, or a subject that interests me, and like an idiot I want to see what the temperature is out there.
So I looked up a subject that interests me, more for the human toll than the politics. I’m not going to go into it because I don’t want to give it any more air, but I found long threads from people who believe they KNOW THE TRUTH, THE WHOLE TRUTH AND NOTHING BUT THE TRUTH. Ouch. As it turns out, part of that subject is also suicide and the possibility of suicide due to extreme depression and cruelty and injustice. There is a real concern certain people might jump to avoid the flames. No one’s listening anymore, on either side, if ever they were. They’re just being really, really, nasty.
Aack. I feel like I shouldn’t be writing this, but I can’t help it. I dream of a world where people would behave on social media as they would at my dinner table, by which I mean with open hearts, with civility, with respect, with humor, with compassion and a desire to understand. Does this mean we should do nothing when we see abuse and injustice? OF COURSE NOT. But when we discuss it, could we do so with hopeful anticipation? Could we ask the other person what’s led to their beliefs? What’s caused this pain? What the world looks like from their side of the street? Must we snipe and brutalize and accuse and bully someone, even unto the window ledge?
Sarah Silverman, the wonderful comic, was set upon by a sexist troll on Twitter. She responded with kindness and has made a friend, helped an individual and made the world a far better place. The brilliant academic Mary Beard has had a similar experience.
Since social media doesn’t seem to be working the way it is now, so may I suggest a movement? Hashtags are out there: #randomKindness or #radicalKindness or #AreYouOkay or #HelpMeUnderstand.
Or maybe no more social media. Maybe just dinner tables. I think Bourdain would approve.