THE GUY WHO JUMPED OFF THE BRIDGE
On every newscast yesterday was the account of some Hollywood guy who jumped off a bridge.
He parked his car, he walked to the edge, he leapt to his death.
And that made the news.
It built through the day as we heard about notes here and there, and saw pictures from movie openings and awards shows, and clips from motion pictures he’d made. Mostly they showed him standing next to his young, busty wife, he in a ball cap and she in a gown that made obvious the fact she was young and busty.
And he was dead, in a header off the bridge.
He took the coward’s way out, and he made the news.
Which mystified me. Because he was neither prominent nor noble. His movies were decades old, his significance was minor, his death was selfish and self-centered.
And we don’t cover suicides.
For the near 30 years I’ve been in the news business, we’ve generally looked the other way. We have recognized the contagious aspect of suicide, and the “look at me, look at me” aspect of it, and have ignored it.
In this day, considerations of social responsibility don’t come up in news decisions. It’s not that reporters ignore the rules of their profession, it’s that they don’t know them and don’t care to learn them.
And so some old guy in Los Angeles goes out with a splash and it was all over the news.
Building to the climactic announcement that he had just been diagnosed with inoperable and terminal brain cancer. It was a two-act play in which for a few hours they told us what – he jumped – and then they told us why – he was dying.
There was no verification of the diagnosis, just some anonymous whisperings, but that’s enough these days. The story was told, the tale was done, it all made sense.
Except that it didn’t.
It didn’t yesterday, and it never will.
Suicide is always the selfish coward’s way out, and jumping off a bridge because you’re sick merely underlines and emphasizes that fact.
Sadly, yesterday’s reporting normalized and justified a stupid, cruel act.
So let’s set the record straight.
We have an obligation to live life out.
Biology and theology shout that we must live. It is the obligation and impulse of all who draw breath to draw another breath, to play out the string and walk the path fate lays out.
It is not always easy, it is not always pleasant. It can sometimes be torturously difficult. But it is always our duty.
We are here to learn and serve, and opportunities to do both extend to the very end of our life. Faith teaches that it is sometimes the lessons learned in the last difficult days of life that are the most important in the eternities. Possibly in the face of death do we learn best to rely on the God who promised us eternal life. Possibly in the trial of decline is the preparation for ascendancy.
But even if not, in the reality of mortality, and our graceful departure from it, is a last obligation to teach – particularly for parents.
We teach our children from the first days of their lives, and we continue to teach them with the last days of our lives. We have the obligation to teach our children how to live, and we also have the obligation to teach them how to die.
Because they, like we, will have to pass this way, through mortality’s portal of terror, and they will follow our lead.
And if we meet our death with grace, courage, gratitude and faith, if we can be of good cheer even as we pass into the valley of the shadow of death, we will strengthen our children for their eventual passage into that same place. We will help comfort them in their time of trial, even if it comes decades after we are gone.
On the other hand, if our example is a bad one – if we recoil in fear and sorrow – all we can expect is for their own passing to be similarly miserable. And what a disservice we will have done them.
Worst of all, we can jump off a bridge.
We can deceive them about where the finish line is and how we’re supposed to get there. We can teach them hopelessness and selfishness, to quit in the face of fear and uncertainty. To throw the last portion of their life away because they wrongly think it is too hard for them.
That is not nature, that is narcissism.
And it plants the seeds of its own perpetuation. Because suicide is catching.
For some reason, via means of example and impression we don’t understand, suicides spread and cluster. They run in families, though communities and schools. The terrible example shouts in the ears of those who struggle, and some of them it seduces.
Some of them it kills.
And that, ultimately, is the harm done by yesterday’s foolish reporting. For tens of millions of Americans, the hateful lie was spread that jumping off a bridge because you’re sick or tired or confused is acceptable and reasonable.
We are a monkey-see, monkey-do people, and one jump invites another. And across a population as large as ours, the reporting of one Hollywood guy’s bad decision will, by the power of suggestion, lead to other bad decisions. This fellow killed himself, we put it on the evening news, and as a consequence others will kill themselves.
Because we got it wrong.
Suicide is cruel, selfish and wrong. It is not romantic, it is not justified, it is insane. And it is to be privately mourned, not publicly recounted.
Because the goal is to keep people alive, not chronicle the ones who are dead.
Even if they did make movies years ago.
- by Bob Lonsberry © 2012