Saturday, October 24, 2009

Columbine and The Savage God

Is an art, like everything else.
I do it exceptionally well.

I do it so it feels like hell.
I do it so it feels real.
I guess you could say I’ve a call.
~Sylvia Plath

I just read this week that the number one cause of death amongst women 18-24 in China is suicide. Before we gloat about how bad it is over there, let’s consider our own numbers.

In the U.S. suicide is the third leading cause of death amongst young people 15-24, just behind accidents and homicide. And how many accidents are also suicides? Amongst children 10-14 suicide is the fourth leading cause of death.

It hasn’t always been this way.

I’d been thinking about a blog entry on A. Alvarez’s The Savage God, a book about suicide in our modern age. The title comes from a poem by Yeats. The author's was a friend of Sylvia Plath, whose poem opens today's blog theme, and includes an account of her last days. He uses this insider info as a starting point for an exploration of the history of suicide and a context for seeking an understanding of its presence in our time. Whereas most books on suicide are probably written by sociologists and psychiatrists, Alvarez is a poet.

My intentions this morning were diverted, however, by the following L.A. Times opinion piece about an article in Oprah's mag titled "Columbine, O Magazine and suicide." The opening sentences of Meghan Daum's Oct 22 editorial hit you like a shotgun blast.

The November issue of O Magazine (that's the Oprah Magazine) features a series of articles about how to be "your true self," a guide to do-it-yourself hair coloring and -- thud -- an essay by Susan Klebold. In April 1999, her son, Dylan, along with his classmate, Eric Harris, killed 12 students, a teacher and themselves in a massacre that would thereafter be known simply as Columbine, the deadliest high school shooting in the nation's history.

Daum pulls no punches as she dissects the myths that have grown around this tragic event, and criticizes the manner in which the article placed into the public arena.

And it's hard not to see Susan Klebold's essay as, if not a continuation of the myths, an extension of the impulse that causes people to repeat them. Though she comes across as a sincere and thoughtful woman, the net effect of the whole endeavor seems like a form of pandering -- to readers' sympathies and, more important, to the American obsession with "closure." We are not, after all, a culture that is particularly adept at accepting the more irrational aspects of tragedy, the randomness of death, the unknowability of a criminal's motives. Instead, we like to make sense of it all, to learn from mistakes, to erect memorials, observe anniversaries and offer up platitudes about finding peace.

I think it's true that we like the idea of easy answers and closure for everything so we can keep on smiling. Daum's commentary on the Klebold article suggests that real life isn't always so neatly packaged.

Sources of suicide stats:



Christella said...

Well, both of our blogs today have a similar theme, death, a subject not easy to talk about. Suicide is of course very touch. Well done.

ENNYMAN said...

Hi... I read your blog entry, and it is interesting that we do the same thing, noticing the obituaries of people who are younger than us.

Your questions at the end, and many more like them, are often something people bear alone and continually strive to bury. But these are the stuff of life, these questions are what deepen us, and enrich our days as they help remind us that what we have is but a gift and only temporary.

May your continue to be blessed, and may you continue to be a blessing.