• Penultima - Essay 2

    The rate of suicide among young people ages 10 to 24 has tripled since 1952. Suicide is the now fourth major cause of death among children between 10 to 14. In the last decade alone, the suicide rate in this age group has risen by over half. 

    This stark reality stands alone to indict contemporary American society as antithetical to the human pursuit of happiness. Articulate discussion and funded studies continue to seek causes for this critical disfunction and its exponential growth. The contributing factors that emerge range from cyberbullying to absent, distracted, or overwhelmed parents to a lack of substantive guiding values earlier in life.

    Whatever its root causes, the nature and the resonance of this problem is undeniable. The impressive advances in technology and personal freedoms over the past sixty years cannot counterbalance the progression of this dangerous and virulent trend. A shadow with this size and weight cannot simply be placed on one end of a measuring scale. By itself, it provides an identity to the society we have created over the past half century.

    Children and young adults willfully killing themselves is far more that a disruption in the fabric of American life. It is foundational to a misdirected way of being. It is a clear indication that the roots of our existence in this place in time is being quietly fed by toxic and unconscious attachment. Is it an overattachment to the material? Perhaps too many misplaced values? This is not to judge individuals or situations. The implications of our societal choices surround us every day. We are receiving clear indications that the ground in which we've been planted is significantly comprimised, severely stunting the growth of the seedlings.

    There is profound tragedy in the infant who thirty years later winds up homeless and despairing on the street. There is ageless damage being done to ecosystems from pollutants and emissions. There is understandable concern that the loss of family farms, local food sources, and the introduction of genetically modified crops into our diets may effect the health of this and future generations. There is speculation on the effect that walking outdoors while wearing earbuds or staring at a smartphone may have on the human ability to connect meaningfully with our senses and our natural surroundings.

    But the amount of disassociation and devastation that resonates from a child's decision to choose death over life can never be accurately gauged or adequately analyzed. The exponential growth in its frequency in our recent past must be treated as a profound lethal force that targets the human spirit. Core ice samples taken in the Arctic regions of our planet indicate both the steady progression of global warming over time and the necessity of an immediate response. This dire sixty year trend in American society provides us a similar alert for our future.

    The requirement to address this directly through changes in behavior and the lifestyles we are accustomed to is also a consideration. Past a certain point, our response must transcend discussion and study into action. A collective solution would require the will to eliminate and restrict our daily lives in ways that a free and prosperous nation with an advanced consumer society might not easily allow.

    Prohibit the access of dehumanizing and violent interactive video games for those under age 18? Continually monitor bullying on social media? Require that every high school and middle school employ a child psychologist to counsel students, parents, and teachers? Placed in this context, 2,000 annual deaths by individuals at the dawn of their lives might be seen as small enough to be considered collateral damage. Not enough money. Not enough proof. These are commonly the excuses used to reveal there's simply not enough will.

    In the absence of collective action, another available option is to understand individually that the spectre of children killing themselves at home, children killing other children at school and in the process extinguishing the vast opportunities that await them are unmistakable signs that many of the choices we've made to support ourselves and our children diminish the very purpose of our existence. 

    As individuals, we do have the capability and capacity to reject certain trends and choices that have accompanied this profound shift and now have produced this encompassing shadow. This decision is similar to a response to any dangerous powerful force that would cause your own destruction. Remain calm. Maintain eye contact. Back away slowly.

    Increasingly, this personal response becomes a matter of protection and survival far more than a quality of life issue. It may be seen as acting to protect and sustain a light amidst growing darkness. A light that may provide welcome guidance, attracting those in search simply by its presence.