I recently read a disturbing news article about a social phenomenon that is tragic beyond words.
The article stated that more people were losing their lives by committing suicide than by car crashes. This conclusion was based on a recent study by the American Journal of Public Health based on data compiled by the National Center for Health Statistics from the years 2000-2009.
The study found that vehicular fatalities during this period had declined by 25%, but deaths from suicides rose 15%. Experts, however, believe that the number is actually closer to 20%, and that many deaths listed as accidental were not. There is a cultural and religious stigma in regards to killing oneself, so some suicides were orchestrated to look unintentional.
Conversely, despite it seeming as if there are more drivers on the road – we are all to often frustrated by traffic congestion that turns highways into parking lots – and the increase in distracted drivers, the decrease in car accidents was attributed to various safety features like front and side air bags, seat belts and stricter penalties for speeding and drinking.
So why are so many people killing themselves, or attempting to, since some try but fail? I can only imagine that they are looking for a way out of lives saturated with abject misery; they feel trapped in a cage of never-ending unhappiness.
Many wake up wishing they hadn’t. Each day is emotionally traumatic and they do not even entertain the possibility of their lives getting better; they have no iota of hope that the situation they find themselves in will ever improve.
In trying to understand the mindset of a suicidal person, I imagine that it is like having your finger stuck in a flame. No matter how hard you try to pull the finger out of the fire, you cannot. You are in such torturous pain, and so desperate for the agony to stop, that you want to kill yourself to get blessed relief. You see no other option.
But their excruciating pain is not physical – it is emotional.
They are enveloped in the flames of relentless despair and hopelessness; some try to dull the pain through alcohol, drugs or unsavory distractions and behaviors. But all they manage to achieve is a temporary respite. Their finger is still in the fire and they face endless years of torment. I believe the fuel feeding this flame is a deep sense of worthlessness, an overwhelming belief that they are perpetual losers; thus they see no point in even trying to strive for success, be it socially, financially or spiritually.
They have given up, believing they have failed and will continue to do so. They feel like caged gerbils on an exercise wheel, running and running and running to no avail – as hard as they try, they get nowhere.
Sadly, the “oxygen” that feeds this extreme sense of inadequacy is often supplied by those who should have been building their egos and fortifying their sense of self, planting and nurturing the seeds of confidence and self-like that would bloom into a happy, optimistic, and emotionally healthy human being. These include mothers and fathers, siblings, spouses, teachers, neighbors, friends, colleagues, employers – even strangers.
Constant, unrelenting criticism, denigration, and belittling – whether unintentional (in a misguided attempt to motivate you to do better academically, improve your job performance, or your looks,) or deliberate – bullies trying to shore up their own low self-esteem by mocking, teasing, and even physically hurting someone they perceive to be a bigger “loser” than themselves – whittles away a person’s belief that he is worthful (as opposed to worthless) and deserving of respect.
Individually, every put down or jab is just a single straw, but thousands of these straws piling up over the years can crush the strongest back and break the sturdiest spirit.
(I remember when I was little and would walk down the street, an elderly neighbor who often sat on his porch, would call out to me, “Hey fatty!” I was a bit chubby, but what did he gain by denigrating me? I was too much of a tomboy to care how I looked, but it was a negative straw nonetheless.)
Those who feel death is a way out from their deep despair and hopelessness and their crippling belief that they are pathetic losers, need to know a universal truth: nobody is a loser. No human being who exists, by definition can be a loser. In fact, each living person is a one-in-a-million winner in the lottery of life.
If you look at a geological chart, you will see that each person has 2 parents, 4 grandparents, 8 great-grandparents, 16 great-great-grandparents, 32 great-great-great-grandparents, 64 great-great-great-great-grandparents, etc. Going back many generations you realize that there are hundreds upon hundreds of individuals over several centuries who are responsible for your existence.
Imagine if any one of those hundreds of men or women had not survived to adulthood, or if they had never met or if they married someone else, you as “you” are would not exist. So many thousands of incidents had to take place in order for the particular, unique you to “be.”
What if your great-great-grandmother had died from the flu she caught as a five year old? Many children did not survive their illnesses. What if your great-grandfather’s family had remained in Russia, instead of making the arduous journey to America 150 years ago? What if one of your ancestors had been delayed coming home for several days due to a storm. Or if something as common and simple as an argument resulted in a separation for a day or two?
Any one change in the millions of details that make up the lives of a person’s many ancestors would have likely resulted in that person’s non-existence. At the very least, you would be a different you.
Obviously you were meant to be the “you” who you are – it was Hashem’s will. How else do you explain why so many hundreds of lives intertwined over hundreds of years “to be in the right place at the right time” and ultimately create “you”?
When you look in the mirror, you should not see a loser or a failure. By virtue of your existence, you are a winner. Your “number” was meant to be – you were divinely designed to be exactly how you are.
You are not a mistake. Every aspect of who and what you are is part of Hashem’s plan for tikun olam. Life without challenge results in stagnation. Life without struggle, with no need to strive and grow is meaningless. There is no sense of achievement, no satisfaction. It is better to have goals, no matter how elusive or daunting.
Famous writers, successful businessmen, scientists, artists, politicians, etc. all experienced frustrating disappointments, setbacks and failures – time after time, before finally succeeding . Many no doubt saw a loser in the mirror and wanted to quit, to give up, and admit defeat. But just as there is a pintele yid in every Jew, I believe there is a pintele winner in every human. After all, we are made in G-d’s image. There is something amazing in every one of us.
Listen to your own inner voice, the one that says you are special, a winner, created by the Master of the Universe, He who never makes mistakes – and live your life knowing that you are indeed special.
Life can be, and often will be, painful. But you will be able to pull your finger out of the flame. You are a winner, and one day, with G-d’s help, you will find the simcha that is your birthright.Cheryl Kupfer
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