March 30, 2012
Many Questions, Few Answers
We have had a tragedy in our town this week. On Monday night, a young girl who had just turned sixteen took her own life. I don't know why she did it, and it is not my place to pursue the matter at this point with her devastated family, so all I am sure of is my own sadness and my own questions.
What is it that makes someone take that fatal step to end any possibility of a future for themselves? Most people would say it is despair and utter hopelessness. But further, what makes someone, especially someone so young, get to a place where suicide is even an option? With all the preventative measures and supports in place in our schools, in government, in society at large, why are so many young people, particularly the First Nation young people in this country, deciding to end it all? I have no real answers to that question, only some general thoughts to explore, so please, if you are still reading, bear with me.
Someone recently said that we don't love ourselves enough in this day and age. Sure, we give ourselves every luxury we can afford and seek entertainment in every possible form, but is that love? I heard a phrase the other day that has stayed with me: 'self sabotage'. I think some of us, for a variety of reasons, do that a lot. I think most of us desire the right things, good relationships, self respect and a happy ending. Everyone makes mistakes, but some of us, instead of picking ourselves up again, making amends and carrying on, just dig ourselves a deeper hole. And it is often our children who suffer for it the most.
I knew a married couple with two young girls. One day I was over at their house while our daughters played together. I noticed a brand new kitchen appliance, a KitchenAid stand mixer on the counter. I 'oohed and aahed' appropriately because I'd always wanted one. The girls' mother told me that she had gone out and bought it to get back at her husband for purchasing of a $500 golf club without telling her. Two years later the couple divorced. I know the KitchenAid/golf club battle was only one of, most likely, many incidences of the couple's demise, and perhaps was only a symbol, but I did think at the time that it seemed something like sabotage to do that to each other, and that the situation would end badly. The couple's youngest was in my daughter's class when her parents split up and it was painful to see how upset she was each and every day of that year. My daughter and I did our best to comfort her, but I know we could not have done much. The couple's girls are much older now and seem to be doing well, but no honest person would say they aren't scarred from the experience.
Socrates said, "An unexamined life is not worth living." I suppose I could expand on that to say that if we do not continually examine our lives and those of our children, life may soon seem unliveable. Many teenagers demand their privacy. They go in their rooms with their computers and cell phones and lock the door, only to reappear for food. As a child with five siblings and three adults in the house, privacy was not something I was allowed much of. Our telephone was smack in the middle of the house by the kitchen, we were never allowed to lock the door even of the one bathroom (which, in any case, was unlockable) in case someone needed to pee while one of us were bathing -shocking in this day and age, I know. An adult or older sibling was always home after school to talk over the day with, and while we had the usual scraps and scrapes, we were a healthy, communicative family for the most part. Mom was continually 'checking in' with us to assess our state of mind, and was generally on top of what was going into our heads via books, movies, television, and friendships. I wouldn't dare to say that parents today do not love their children as equally as their parents loved them, but I do wonder sometimes if they are really, truly listening and examining the whole lives of their children, ever watchful for gaps in their understanding, ever coaching them in their youthful, sometimes erring philosophies. I also wonder if parents are truly examining themselves and the example they are giving their children. I know this may all sound terribly idealistic, but I would argue that it shouldn't, and further, that it should sound like the norm.
My fifteen year old daughter, who reads a variety of genres from Jane Eyre and Pride and Prejudice to futuristic fiction and Harry Potter, was discussing with me the new teen phenomenon, The Hunger Games, the premise of which I am less than thrilled and a novel I will not allow her ten year old sister to read. "Have you ever noticed that the entire teen section of the book store is dark?" she asked. "All the covers are mostly black. It's depressing." I have noticed, and have worked hard to expose her to a good cross-section of novels to choose from. I don't approve of censorship but I do approve of giving her my opinion, because that's what I'm here for - to guide and help her interpret the popular culture that surrounds her. Do I not have that right as a parent? Do I not have that responsibility? A few vampires and ghouls are not harmful to her psyche if they are properly mixed up with a lot of bright fictional characters like Elizabeth Bennet and Hermione Granger to keep them in their place.
There is an ad on TV for Kids' Help Phone. The graphics of the ad contain several speech bubbles while the voices of fictional callers make their pleas. "Everyone's too busy. Everyone's too busy. Everyone's too busy," are the first three pleas we hear, and it breaks my heart to hear them, but at least that child thought to ask for help. I don't know why the young girl in our community full of caring teachers, community support and youth workers, felt so alone and so despairing. Perhaps those supports were not enough to show her how to love herself and to love life enough to seek out the light when all seemed dark.
As for the rest of us, life must and will go on. Somehow we have to do better by our children.
Our fifteen year old daughter, Emma took the photo above.