My Psalm 70
Recently a man described as “an American icon” died, apparently by his own hands. Thus, the cause of death, the official cause on his death certificate filed with authorities, will most likely be suicide. These two statements, while true, are very misleading. First of all, this man who died was just that – a man. His stature in his industry, his fame, the delight he brought to audiences mask the most basic of truths about this man: He was simply a man. Secondly, he died most certainly due to mental illness which led him to lose belief in himself, his fellow men, and the importance of his life.
People unsuccessfully attempt suicide every day. The diabetic who has a large piece of cake, the smoker who thinks trying to stop smoking just isn’t worth the effort or sees it as a control issue, the alcoholic who is certain they don’t have a problem, the mentally stressed person who would rather be a victim than a survivor, the spoiled child who grows into an adult and persists in living a very unhealthy lifestyle….All are forms of killing themselves. Then there are those whose soul slowly dies because they don’t take that first step out of an abusive situation because they like their perceived status or bank account. There are many, many ways to covertly commit suicide.
Living is messy. It takes strength and it takes courage. We develop those things from infancy. Parenting is not an exact science; I have taught it for over thirty years and that is one of only three things I can definitively say about parenting. [The other two are that parents are vital to a child’s well-being and that parenting is the only job you do even when you are not doing it.]
The man I referenced above who died this week spoke of being bullied as a child. He was quirky, he was different and that made him a target of ridicule as a child. The voices we hear as children remain in our psyche forever. Bullying is a form of murder not yet recognized by the courts and should be prevented. It can also be covert, seen as sarcastic humor. If everyone is laughing, it can’t hurt, right? Thing is, not everyone is laughing and sometimes, even when people laugh on the outside, they cry inside.
A few people with a public voice called this man’s death selfish. Suicide is often seen as selfish because it leaves many victims behind. We forget, in this “ME” centered society, that the real victim is the person that died. The rest of us are merely bystanders, awash in a sea of grief. Anger becomes our life preserver for floating through the tides of grief and pain as we deal with the loss but we are only victims if we fail to move forward. And allowing ourselves to become victims in this manner is also a form of suicide.
The bystander effect is a psychological theory, a theory held to be true but based upon a fallacy. IN 1964 a bar manager was stabbed to death in New York City. It was reported that thirty-eight people witnessed her murder and did nothing. Later investigations proved she was not killed in sight of all those people but rather in a stairwell and only one person actually witnessed the killing. The Bystander Effect, however, has been proven in numerous studies. The presence of other people during an incident requiring assistance reduces one’s sense of responsibility. People seem willing to let someone else be the hero, resolve the situation. The result is often that everyone stands around waiting for someone to do something and no one ends up doing anything.
Multiple people have come forward since the death of this man to say they knew he was “having a hard time”. For someone with mental problems, there is no such thing as “having a hard time”. There is only handling things, trying, and crisis. For these people to come forward and criticize a man who cannot answer their criticisms is the cowardly deed. I would wager it is their own guilt, the result of their own Bystander Effect, which has caused their utterances. Sometimes we should just stay quiet and pray. The old adage, “If you can’t say anything nice, don’t say anything at all” is really true.
Attribution is a great word that simply means trying to figure out why things happen. Another psychological theory is one called Fundamental Attribution Error. Think of it this way: When you are late, is it your fault? Usually it is not; it is because of various events, such as traffic, a car accident, someone set the clock wrong, the dog got out, the cat left cat hair on the jacket you planned to wear, there was a line at the coffee shop, maybe even the dog ate my watch. In other words, we can always find a reason, a valid excuse for our action of not being on time.
But what happens when someone else is late? We blame them. Short and sweet – we blame them. They are rude; they don’t care; they meant to inconvenience others; they are selfish. In other words, they are late because of their personality. Intentions and circumstances of their situation are unknown to us and thus we end up judging them on the overt behavior of being late. We over-emphasize our own circumstances when we explain our own tardiness because we are trying to compensate and avoid someone else thinking it is our personality.
I did not live the deceased man’s life. I do not know the mitigating circumstances which led him to take this action. I am not living the lives of his family nor friends, although his talent was such that we all felt like his friend. We need, therefore, to act like his friends and not his jury. We need to do that every day to everyone we meet.
Living is messy, sloppy, an on-the-job training. None of us is guaranteed tomorrow and if we have it, it will be a gift. We need to unwrap it slowly, savor it, and use it to the best of our advantages. We need to let today hush those voices of the past and sing about the hopes of tomorrow. After all, suicide is not painless and while it may seem like an answer, it is not. It might, though, just be the truest test of friendship and maturity the survivors face.
My Psalm 70
Lord, deliver me.
From my enemies,
From my world,
From the present,
From my past,
Prepare me for tomorrow.
Show the joy, Lord,
Give me strength to hope.
Lord, deliver me.