From France, a story as sad as it is horrible, courtesy of the Guardian: French police are investigating the suicide of two teenage girls who tied themselves together and leapt from the 17th storey of a tower block while their horrified boyfriends watched.
... The girls, named only as Marion and Virginie, had apparently carefully prepared their deaths and had intended their boyfriends, Ben and Julien, to witness the event. The two friends had gone to a relative's flat and told the two boys to wait in the living room while they prepared a "surprise".
One of them called out from the bedroom: "OK, come in." Ben opened the door. Marion and Virginie were standing on the window sill, their hands tied together. They smiled. And jumped.
"They dressed the same, always black, lots of make-up, and they liked the same music, Marilyn Manson, goth rock, metal ..."
The handwritten note found in her pocket said: "Life is not worth living."
This story has level upon level of horror. For a young teenager to choose to kill herself is terrible enough, for two friendly youngsters to plot to kill each other is worse still, and for them to strain their youthful ingenuity to abandon life through a ritualized finale calculated to cause as much pain and despair as possible for their family and friends, such is a nightmare sufficient to shatter the mind of those who once loved them. What future now for the two boys who witnessed the girls' leap off that window ledge... what kind of lives will they choose to lead, in the shadow of this memory?
What does it teach the soul of those left behind, to remember their loved one choosing to die, not with an apology on their lips, but with a smile?
One suspects that all of us have, in one form or another, stood at crossroads as real or figurative as the ledge which these teenage girls found themselves poised to leap from, on that fateful September day. Every such crossroads suggests two paths, one leading to an immediate end, the other a deferment to an uncertain end at an uncertain time. To choose the path to an immediate end requires a strong and committed faith that such a choice is the lesser of evils, indeed a better choice than the unknown one hidden behind an unclear horizon.
For those who climbed down from such immediate ends, swallowing their pride and admitting that their initial choice may have been the wrong one, there may come the blessing of humility, born of memory, nurtured through gratitude, and culminating in long-term, big-picture thinking, seeing one’s life as a single thread woven inside a wider tapestry. To climb down and embrace life is to painfully admit you don’t know everything; to leap out the window is to presume that you do.
In our narrow conceit we like to pretend that none have ever suffered as we might be suffering, we deny that anyone living before us could have ever endured hardship as we have been made to endure it. Our blinding arrogance and willful ignorance push us step by step onto the ledge, lending us the necessary strength of will to walk that last mile, and the endurance to persevere to that last step, the smallest in physical space yet the largest leap of faith. For it's as much an act of faith to jump off as it is to step back, each choice ultimately derived from belief without proof, just conviction.
There does come a time in our lives, seemingly in our teenage years, when we grow to recognize that life ends in death. Like a smug theater patron seeing a film for the second time amidst an audience of "newbies", there comes a temptation for teens to rub this grim foreknowledge in the faces of those older fellows who, seemingly, live unaware of the reality discovered by the younger teenager. Like mourners in any culture, the teenagers ritually clad themselves in black to mourn the loss of the innocence they leave behind in their youth, and face the decision we all must make, as we learn of death waiting for us at the end of the trail. If all paths only serve to lead to the same destination, then why make the sacrificial effort to live a good life at all? If all physical things die soon anyway, what difference does the extra time make? When earnestly followed, such thoughts naturally lead to a blind faith in nihilism, the cynical brand of wisdom, which, if honestly adhered to, can only lead to suicide.
What, then, would make someone turn from the ledge, taking an equally small step in material space, to climb down and find a reason to live? This other “leap” of faith, straining to find positive meaning in life, is the much harder choice of the two options... no wonder the cynical nihilists mock it with such ferocity; who likes to admit they're a coward? It is not natural to be optimistic, knowing as we do full well that everybody we share our lives with will someday die, that every thing we make will someday rot into dust, our physical shells often the first to go. Where in nature would the imagination to have faith in a meaningful, and even joyful, existence come from? The faith to see one’s life as a precious gift, not as a curse?
Such faith is second nature... learned behavior. Learned most effectively through experiencing the humbling covenant of Family.
An expression I heard all too often when I was young was to "act your age!", which to my young mind always seemed an admonition to act older than I actually was, to demand of us a little more than you felt prepared to give... making us reach above and out of ourselves, teaching the mind to discipline the body as it struggles to negotiate with needs besides its own.
We used to teach that the covenant of Family was the grappling hook that you could toss into a distant cloud and it might, it should, carry you along into the future. Your individual present was rooted in memory of the family's past, through the presence in your life of parents and grandparents, a lineage leaving you more able to penetrate a clouded horizon to imagine your own self eventually growing as a parent and grandparent in your own turn, learning from their example.
Near its conclusion the path to that distant horizon may be cloudy, but not nearly as much as the one step closer at hand. A step away, one can create a new target to aim for, and progress towards. As we progress the fog ahead shifts, new objectives emerge, forcing our plans to adapt once more, as we renew our search for reasons to choose to survive. One never “knows” whether the march will pay off, one can only believe that it will, and act on that belief.
The knowledge awaiting the teenager is that the path never concludes, for at the end of our line we, hopefully, leave behind lives that help others come down off their ledge, take up where we leave off, and set out from the point at which our faith brought us… God willing, a point far enough along to save their lights from extinguishing themselves through the blind faith of nihilism.