The painful riddle of suicide
When a man who appears to be experiencing so much joy, living his days in a way that from the outside looks like an endless vacation, takes his own life, how can we make sense of it?
CNN’s Anthony Bourdain, 61, committed suicide Friday, hanging himself in a hotel room in France. The news stunned his friends and family, and fans around the world. Bourdain, first a New York City chef and then an author and TV star, swashbuckled across the globe, exploring food and culture and partaking of all the world has to offer, with style, a touch of spirituality and an unflinchingly rebellious air.
When a woman whose name has become synonymous with a certain elegance and style, whose legacy is assured and whose husband and daughter are adoring, takes her own life, how can we make sense of it? Kate Spade, 55, committed suicide Tuesday, hanging herself in the bedroom of her New York City apartment.
We often can’t make sense of it, not when they’re famous and not when they’re faceless.
Suicide is always a permanent response to what may be a temporary problem. Given treatment or time, the circumstances that drive people to take their own lives often relent. Depression can subside. Mental illness frequently responds to treatment and medication, as does substance abuse. For the living, financial disasters, loneliness, the sting of tragedy and the fog of despair might lift.
We are conditioned to believe that the main human struggle is for food and shelter and security, but suicide often shows us a different truth. The United States is as prosperous a place as has ever existed, yet more than 45,000 of its residents took their own lives in 2016.
Suicide in this nation has jumped 30 percent since 1999.
Something is wrong. Too many of us are losing our moorings, coming undone. And there is no easy fix. But we can connect today. We can love each other today, and be respectful when love is impossible. We can reach out instead of pulling back. We can be “we,” a community, rather than just “I,” struggling alone.
Helping each other mourn, we come together beautifully. Can we not do as well helping each other live?
The lessons we can learn from Charles Krauthammer
Charles Krauthammer, a syndicated columnist with The Washington Post, was a popular presence on The San Diego Union-Tribune’s opinion pages for years. His brave, emotional note to readers, published Friday morning, explains his absence and describes his terminal cancer with typical brevity and grace. As a 22-year-old freshman at Harvard Medical School, he severed his spinal cord in a diving accident, leaving him paralyzed from the neck down. But he persevered, first getting his M.D. in psychiatry and then emerging as one of journalism’s most lucid, powerful, insightful writers.
In 2007, Krauthammer wrote movingly about Rick Ankiel, a pitching phenom who suffered an emotional breakdown before enjoying redemption years later as an outfielder. He described the vicissitudes of fate — “the catastrophe that awaits everyone from a single false move, wrong turn, fatal encounter” — and wrote, “What distinguishes us is whether — and how — we ever come back.” His own comeback was distinguished. And how.
Yet the lessons to be learned from Krauthammer go beyond his resolve in overcoming personal catastrophe. Unlike many pundits who settle into intellectual ruts, he was open to changing his mind — evolving from a liberal who wrote speeches for Walter Mondale to a neoconservative admirer of hawkish Ronald Reagan to an iconoclast with no use for Donald Trump, hot-button social conservatism or stunts like government shutdowns.
Journalism could use more people with his courage and thoughtfulness. And so could the world in general.
— San Diego Union-Tribune