Some thought-provoking ideas have been brought to light by the suicides of Kate Spade and Anthony Bourdain and the amazing life affirming and brave letter of Charles Krauthammer a Pulitzer Prize winning commentator, who found
out this week that he is dying.
The first idea is that there might be something foundational hidden somewhere deep in the DNA of individuals that would cause successful people who seem to have everything good going for them and yet want to end their life, and successful people whose life has been a struggle because of grief, sickness, or trials, and yet they not only affirm life, they fight to keep it no matter how difficult that life may be.
Charles Krauthammer was paralyzed in an early age when he by his own admission did something stupid, and didn’t pay attention, and dove into the shallow end of a swimming pool and broke his neck. He recounts knowing what he had done immediately because he had been studying a medical textbook which was found poolside with a page open to the section on the central nervous system. As he sank to the bottom of the pool he knew that he had broken his neck and all he could do was lie on the bottom of the pool holding his breath waiting for someone to come and rescue him. Unable to use his legs, and with limited use of his hands, Krauthammer nevertheless became a physician and a psychiatrist. He moved onto commentary and an amazing career. Always smart and prescient he also exhibited an elegant humor. It is strange to realize that I am speaking in the past tense even though Charles is still alive.
So what is the difference and why has the suicide rate in this country climbed by 30% in the last little while? There are dark murmurings from some about the “culture of death” chickens coming home to roost. There are comments that the general tenor of the country is rancorous and demeaning and it causes the more sensitive among us to despair. It is the snow flake theory brought to its logical conclusion. If you need a safe space and a crying room when people you don’t like are allowed to speak and that creates in you a dread the nest logical step is that in the fractious world that we live in the logical answer to angst is suicide. “To be or not to be?” is an existential question that has been asked for ages and the variable in the equation is what is defined as the “slings and arrows of outrageous fortune”. Getting suicidal over a college exam is a bit different than having literally your whole world seemingly coming undone as was the situation of the melancholy Dane.
Another thought is instructive. A conservative commentator that I know spoke about the media coverage of the suicide of
Robin Williams and said the he thought the pedestalization of a celebrity suicide was a horrible idea because there are enough weak minded people out there who might copy cat the tragedy. Of course the press and the enlightened laughed and impugned him and tried to get folks to boycott his program. Interestingly, it was not long after that the press and the enlightened had to back off and report that many psychologists confirmed what the talk show host said. May weak minded folk will kill themselves to get people to talk about them. I know a suicide that wrote a note to his wife saying that she would think about his death every day of her life. That is evil.
Luther had an idea about suicides and the churches tough stand. The church took the position that a suicide forfeited eternal life and went to hell. Luther said, “I don’t share the opinion that suicides are certainly to be damned. My reason is that they do not wish to kill themselves but are overcome by the power of the devil. They are like a man who is murdered in the woods by a robber. However, this ought not be taught to the common people, lest Satan be given an opportunity to cause slaughter, and I recommend that the popular custom be strictly adhered to according to which it [the suicide’s corpse] is not carried over the threshold, etc. Such persons do not die by free choice or by law, but our Lord God will dispatch them as he executes a person through a robber. Magistrates should treat them quite strictly, although it is not plain that their souls are damned. However, they are examples by which our Lord God wishes to show that the devil is powerful and also that we should be diligent in prayer. But for these examples, we would not fear God. Hence he must teach us in this way.”