I stood in the middle of Westlake Mall looking for anything uniquely Seattle. I had traveled to the mall to waste time, not necessarily to shop, not because I was hungry, not because I intended to see a movie. Escaping to watch, learning about a city by studying her characters from a strategic observation post. My memory assures me I had hours to waste, having completed a speech to the Legal Aid Society with the next speech, to the State Bar of Washington, the following day. I begged out of dinner with my hosts, instead electing isolation, sitting and watching, taking mental notes, adjusting my position periodically, smiling when they smiled, wondering from afar when they wiped, not knowing the source of their anguish.
Years had passed since Jill’s harrowing call, telling me of her discovery. I listened. Her tears and anger dominated the call – laden with her plea. A call which now flooded back – revisiting, lingering, remaining with me, as if sitting next to me. The sun reflected off the glass, a reminder of the promise made years before, now far removed in time and place.
People flowed to and from, oblivious; eyes affixed elsewhere, at least not meeting others’ eyes. Objects affixed to their faces, as if glued, engaged in conversations afar, even if a companion stood within inches; seldom touching, looking, or interacting as they travelled. I didn’t record the number of those acting contrary, their number was too small. The vast majority were preoccupied, otherwise engaged, traipsing a disengaged path. Our phones were not as smart then, however they foretold a transition, a fixation with an inanimate form of communication; years before texts, eons before Facebook, a Messenger then was a Messenger – someone who picked up a package at point A and delivered the package to point B.
The smell, sights and stores were not different from any other mall – Houston, Memphis, New Orleans, Portland, Detroit, – anywhere U.S.A. The names of familiar stores – the blending of cultures – uniformed services, chained stores, the destruction of regional differences. Glass and steel structures serving as hosts to different hues and genders, moving about in isolated bubbles, laughing, talking to others unseen, located elsewhere. I had seen these faces in other cities – Nashville, Madison, Little Rock, Chicago – preoccupied; for the most part orderly, sometimes chaotic, manner and mode mattered not. Their similarity involved caring little about their surroundings, interacting little, never engaging.
As our world has grown smaller, the crevices between us have grown wider, dividing us, threatening to consume us. Not talking; not interacting; failing to look for signs of changes. I could hear Jill’s voice. I could see her face. The pattern continued – connected but not connected – passing from port to port, never conversing; somewhat akin to a daily surreal exercise. Chatter … Chatter … Chatter.
Recently the National Center for Health Statistics issued Report No. 241 [Increase in Suicide in the United States, 1999–2014. 8 pp. (PHS) 2016-1209. April 2016]. The Center’s report serves as a reminder of the disjointed chatter.
- From 1999 through 2014, the age-adjusted suicide rate in the United States increased 24%, from 10.5 to 13.0 per 100,000 population; the pace of increase greater after 2006.
- Suicide rates increased from 1999 through 2014 for both males and females and for all ages 10–74.
- The percent increase in suicide rates for females was greatest for those aged 10–14, and for males, those aged 45–64.
- The most frequent suicide method in 2014 for males involved the use of firearms (55.4%), while poisoning was the most frequent method for females (34.1%).
- Percentages of suicides attributable to suffocation increased for both sexes between 1999 and 2014.
In 2014, the age-adjusted rate for males (20.7) was more than three times that for females (5.8); from 1999 through 2014, the percent increase in the age-adjusted suicide rate was greater for females (45% increase) than males (16% increase), resulting in a narrowing of the gender gap. Suicide rates for females were highest for those aged 45–64 in both 1999 (6.0 per 100,000) and 2014 (9.8). This age group also had the second-largest percent increase (63%) since 1999. Although based on a small number of suicides compared with other age groups, the suicide rate for females aged 10–14 had the largest percent increase (200%) during the time period, tripling from 0.5 per 100,000 in 1999 to 1.5 in 2014. Percent increases in suicide rates since 1999 for females aged 15–24, 25–44, and 65–74 ranged between 31% and 53%.
Broken down in terms of race and ethnicity the chatter is just as telling. White females have seen a 60% increase in suicides; White males 28%. Black females have seen a 2.1% increase; Hispanic females a 2.5% increase. American Indian and Alaska Natives have seen a startling 89% increase among women and 38% among men. As to the latter group, the Huffington Post, October 2015 [Native American Youth Suicide Rates Are At Crisis Levels] explained: “Native American suicide rates look very different in Native communities than it does in the general population. Nationally, suicide tends to skew middle-aged (and white); but among Native Americans, 40 percent of those who die by suicide are between the ages of 15 and 24. And among young adults ages 18 to 24, Native American have higher rates of suicide than any other ethnicity, and higher than the general population.” Chatter … Chatter … Chatter.
The American Society of Suicide Prevention draws further distinctions. “In 2014, the highest U.S. suicide rate (14.7) [per 100,000] was among Whites and the second highest rate (10.9) was among American Indians and Alaska Natives. Much lower and roughly similar rates were found among Hispanics (6.3), Asians and Pacific Islanders (5.9), and Blacks (5.5).” The study revealed that the only sub-group which saw a decrease in suicide rates was the African American males. As to the latter group, or stated differently, for those of you who are one, don’t glow too bright. Your numbers for untimely deaths are enhanced by homicide, disease, and drugs – leading to a much lower life expectancy than other groups. “Some studies have found suicide can be considered a ‘white thing’, among African Americans, ‘anathema to a culture noted for its resiliency in the face of racial discrimination and oppression’ – but suicide is not an insignificant issue for black Americans. A recent study found that black children aged five to 11 are twice as likely to kill themselves as white children, and suicide is the third leading cause of death of young black men ages 15 to 24.” My point, celebrate not my brother, if our government under-reports on everything else, don’t you believe our suicide rate is also underreported.
If fact, none of us are immune. Moving around each other, never looking, checking, or realizing our love ones have become less connected. When we do notice, somehow justifying the differing behavior, rationalizing and then putting aside contact for another day. We have a problem, a problem which will become worst as our cultures become more reliant on technology, manipulating our new toys, tools of avoidance.
A text, a message, an email are not akin to an actual conversation. A digital picture transmitted instantly surely provides instant gratification. Your friend, parent, love one would readily forfeit the picture to hear your voice, even if just briefly. For every text, email, message – promise, promise, promise – a call, a visit, a touch, reminding your child, friend, love one, parent, how important they are to yours, theirs and others worlds. Reach across the bed and remind him/her. Intrude in your child’s world, even if they tell you they don’t want you to intrude … silence, silence, silence, surely follows …turning, turning, turning away … attempting to hide their smile of appreciation.
No, please don’t accuse me of believing depression, hopelessness, and act of giving up can be conquered by pulling oneself up by one’s bootstrap. Some can, I guess, but most of us need more. Also, please don’t assume that my musing on the need for human interaction in anyway equates and substitutes for the work of health professionals. No, the actions I suggest only constitute the act of being human, sharing, watching, talking, listening, helping those we care for, and ourselves, exist and survive in an oft-times hostile world. And finally, there is no hidden religious message contained in this muse. I am surely not qualified. You need not believe and should not believe I consider myself an expert on anything – yes, you read right – on anything. My advice and observations are more life’s truths than anything else.
Wondering whether you can take another step has been experienced by most, even those who will never admit to experiencing such a human emotion. Crying outwardly, then inwardly, grabbing at the seen – then the unseen – feeling isolated while moving inward to a place in which others are not invited. Remembering you smiled once, mimicking the smile to mask your true feelings, not the same smile however; eyes venturing elsewhere, not dancing, laughing, not celebrating life, serving its purpose however, to mask the pain. Watching others pass, rationalizing that no one cares; convincing yourself that no one cares. And we all must agree, no matter how much we protest to the contrary, life has no meaning if no one cares; whether the belief is real or imagined.
Oh, surely, the manly/big girl thing to do is to declare, “Not I”, turn, and walk in an opposite direction, rationalizing the numbers apply to others. However, they don’t, they reach and touch us all.
So care. Listen. Talk. Watch. Write a letter. Make a call. Take a little time to say that you care, so that their, ours, your world actually becomes a little less hostile. Remember, even if we ignore those inanimate appendages attached to our ears, fingers, sides – even if only for one memento – it – they – that – thing, will still love you, not needing any reinforcement, touching, reminders. We are not things, we need more.
I watched that night in Seattle for an hour, never venturing into any stores. Still hearing Jill’s voice, mentally charting my course through the streets of Galveston, wondering what I could I have done differently, worrying what to say to Jill when she opened the door, asking the question why? Jill’s anguish stayed with me that night moving from the mall, to hotel, intruding into the speech the next day. A voice which has followed me in my life’s path, accompanied by the voices of others, asking the same question, when their love ones unexpectedly took flight, leaving them.
So I muse …