Appearing on NPR's On Being with Krista Tippet yesterday, Jennifer Michael Hecht, author and poet on suicide, resilience, and community says, "We have secret web-like connections to each other. Sometimes when you can't see what's important about you other people can."
In her attempt to answer the single truly important question, "Is life worth living?" Ms Hecht considers the goal of "man's search for meaning" (from Victor Frankl) is not exclusively an individual search, that in fact all people assist in each individual's pursuit of meaning. Knowing and acknowledging that each of us do, from time to time, fall into deep pockets of sadness and depression, Hecht exhorts us all to resist letting those times remove all memory and consciousness of periods when we did not experience sadness and depression. She urges us to write from one "mood" to another, in order to remind ourselves that a single mood does not define us, no matter its strength or duration.
She also, (and this I found most intriguing!) believes that individuals, all human beings, "believe one another into being"....given that only others can and will, at times, be able to notice and to acknowledge our worth and value as human beings, even and perhaps especially if and when we are unable to do that for ourselves. And if her observations and nuances reflections have any validity at all, then we are all much more "connected" to each other, in more intimate and intricate and engaging ways than most previous sociological and even religious perceptions held. And if that is true, then Hecht's observations could lead us to a state of mind/heart/being in which true community could become something we could envision, and gradually incarnate. Here is a brief quotation from her latest book, Stay: A History of Suicide and the Philosophies Against It:
“None of us can truly know what we mean to other people and none of us can now what our future self will experience. History and philosophy ask us to remember these mysteries, to look around at friends, family, humanity, at the surprises life brings — the endless possibilities that living offers — and to persevere. There is love and insight to live for, bright moments to cherish, and even the possibility of happiness, and the chance of helping someone else through his or her own troubles. Know that people, through history and today, understand how much courage it takes to stay.
Bear witness to the night side of being human and the bravery it entails, and wait for the sun. If we meditate on the record of human wisdom we may find there reason enough to persist and find our way back to happiness. The first step is to consider the arguments and evidence and choose to stay. After that, anything may happen. First, choose to stay.”
~Jennifer Michael Hecht, Stay: A History of Suicide and the Philosophies Against It
There is clearly a Jungian flavour to this perception, in that the dark side of being human (Jung's Shadow) holds all of those memories and experiences and reflections that were unbearable at the time of their original existence, and had to be buried in order for us to continue without becoming overcome by their negative power. Holding on to the belief and the perception that we each can bear witness to that dark side, especially when we also hold that others can and do see us very differently from how we see ourselves, and that life continually surprises us with experiences, not only dark but also of 'light' when we least expect it, can and will make it more likely that we can persevere, or as Hecht puts it "stay" and not resort to suicide.
According to Hecht, suicide is the single most frequent cause of death among college-age students, trumping even drugs. It has become statistically more frequent that death on the battlefields for American soldiers in both of the recent conflicts in Iraq and in Afghanistan. We are also learning that suicide deaths, resulting from heroine addiction, are growing among the middle and upper class particularly in New England.
So far, most attempts to develop community have been so tepid and so fleeting and so "task-oriented" that the individuals comprising community take a back seat to the over-riding purpose of the "group" the performance of the task or goal. Sharing a common set of dogma, among religious communities, seems to provide more opportunity for division, difference, friction and even factions, certainly not community. And while most argue that the spiritual life is one primarily of private reflection, contemplation, prayer, reading, meditation, the manner in which we are all connected has often been omitted from those collective and individual perceptions, attitudes and the potential for their full flowering in authentic community.
Hecht's views, by the way, are not based on some religious principles, but rather on her deep conviction that we are all, indeed, mysteriously and meaningfully and empirically connected to each other, no matter how separated, alone, worthless and depressed we might and will become. And the confidence that the over-arching connection through belief into being can sustain us when life darkens, as it inevitably will, inspires at least this single scribe, more than most of the theological and religious insights I have encountered. And for that I thank Ms Hecht most profoundly!