Prevent Suicide But Don’t Miss The Point

You might not know it — I didn’t, until a couple days ago — but September is National Suicide Prevention Month.

It’s a good cause, but focusing on suicide risks missing the point.

The suicide is only the final act of the tragedy.

The greatest tragedy comes earlier, when someone reaches a point in his or her life where suicide seems like the best option.

Despair is the real enemy: the belief that life is intolerably bad and there’s no chance it can get better. That is almost never true.

Everyone, without exception, sometimes encounters suffering and sorrow. The only question is how we are going to respond. If we respond with faith and courage, we can almost always survive our sorrows.

In my family, the only suicide I know about is Vachel Lindsay (1879-1931). He was a popular American poet who toured the country performing his poetry on stage. He spent most of his life in Springfield, Illinois, where a street bears his name. He took his life because of financial problems that overwhelmed him.

I get it. I really do. Sometimes, we feel hopeless and the world seems determined to crush us as painfully as possible. That’s what ultimately killed Vachel Lindsay.

If I could go back in time and talk to him, I’d ask him to tell me about his worries. Just talking with a friend or family member can help put our worries into perspective.

And I’d encourage him to think. Each person has a unique contribution to make to the world: in that sense, we are all irreplaceable. Nobody else can substitute for us.

That also applies to how we treat other people. We are made to help each other. If we aren’t there for them when we should be, they suffer because of it. Our lives aren’t just about us as individuals.

It helps to believe that the world makes sense and that life has a purpose. As the Rebbe Menachem Mendel Schneerson (1902-1994) said:

“Even in deepest despair, faith in G-d gives us the capacity to reconcile and deal with our grief. In a world without G-d, pain and suffering would be fruitless. But with G-d at the helm, even though the pain may not subside, we can accept it as a challenge of life; it motivates us to seek answers, to explore our relationship with G-d, and to grow from the experience.”

About N.S. Palmer

N.S. Palmer is an American mathematician.
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