As if you haven't figured out by now, I work at a newspaper for a living. Actually, I'm a columnist and editor. The recent suicide of Tyler Clementi sparked something within me that all but demanded a piece on it. After taking time over the weekend to write about it, I decided that I want to share that particular column with you, a column that will appear in my newspaper's Friday edition this week. There are no cute photos - no cute videos. Just writing here (I know - I'm sorry. I just didn't think any bells and whistles were appropriate). Any comments are encouraged, and I promise that we will pick business up again later with today's Ride. I sincerely hope you enjoy the following andm if nothing else, remember to always take into consideration the seriousness of your words when interacting with others.
No matter how bad you think you have it, somebody else in this world always has it worse.
That’s what my near and dear friend Ryan told me during a late night walk when I was a freshman in college. He would know. He lost both of his parents within a three-year stretch, and the toll that it took on him both mentally and physically ultimately led him to give up on a one-time promising basketball career, eventually forcing him to withdraw from school all together because he was unable to juggle both sports and academics while his personal life was taking such a hit.
It helped me. In fact, it still helps me. As someone who has struggled with depression for over 26 years now, those words have proven to be valuable on more than one occasion. Yes, particularly difficult stretches of days still occur from time to time, and sure, I have let myself sink so far below sea level that I’ve been the cause of concern for those who love me, but I ultimately flash back to that spring night whenever I’m confronted with those feelings anymore. It’s not a full-proof mechanism, but it certainly adds enough to help me see things through.
Someone who could have used that advice was Tyler Clementi, a freshman at Rutgers University who killed himself a couple weeks ago by jumping off the George Washington bridge. The suicide occurred after his college roommate, Dharan Ravi, posted a live feed of Clementi participating in a sexual encounter with another male student, thus leading to an outcry from activists around the globe concerning acceptance, bullying, bigotry and tolerance.
“Things will get easier. People’s minds will change and you should be alive to see it,” talk show host Ellen DeGeneres said in a video last week.
“I wished I could talk to him for five minutes,” Washington Post columnist Dan Savage added. “I wished I could tell him that things change – that things get better.”
What’s missing from these statements is levity – a sense of gravity that is most always ignored whenever hindsight is added to the equation. Sometimes five minutes isn’t enough. Sometimes things don’t get easier. And sometimes, people’s minds really never end up changing. And then what do you do? How do you react? How do you deal?
It’s much easier to look back on such a tragic action with rose colored glasses that formulate an idealistic world that could have been. But what those who may have never been exposed to such emotions aren’t taking into consideration is the complete and utter feeling of hopelessness, and the tight grip it has on someone who finds him or herself confronted with feelings of despair, loneliness, failure or misery.
The experience is crippling. Actually, it’s irrational. This is proven when these irrational acts can result in an outcome that impacts other people’s futures. I’m sure Clementi didn’t do what he did to spite the people he loved. He did it because he saw it as a way out. He never had any ill will or vindictive intention by doing what he did. He was just unable to see his emotions through. At that moment in time, he was unable to consider the lasting affect his death would have on his friends and family, let alone an entire nation.
For a few minutes or hours, the entire notion of suicide seemed rational, and that’s when we as individuals are at our most dangerous: When irrationality blurs into rationality and the two are mistaken for one another. In fact, I’d be willing to bet Clementi was able to convince himself before he jumped off that bridge that what he was about to do was the most rational thing he could have possibly done in his position.
Unfortunately, though, he was wrong. Suicide is never – and will never – be the answer to anybody’s problems. What truly sets these actions off are enablers that surround us on a daily basis. Our personal reactions to these enablers become the most important factor when trying to dissect the mind of someone who has sunk so low, he or she feels such an action is the only reasonable outcome. They can be the biggest of things. They can be the smallest of things. They all have different affects and spark different emotions in each and every one of us.
For Clementi, it was an act of despicable nature from a guy he probably knew almost nothing about during one of the hardest times anyone can go through: A freshman year in college. For Seth Walsh, a Tehachapi, Calif., 13-year-old, it was being forced to endure the taunting his classmates put him through because of his sexual orientation. He died days after trying to hang himself from a tree in his backyard. For Asher Brown, a Texas teen who shot himself to death, it was comment after comment from his classmates that drove him to end his life prematurely. Insults regarding his small stature, religion and suspected sexual orientation simply proved to be too much.
And that’s my point: We as a society can be utterly ignorant of the impact we truly have on other people’s personal lives. One meaningless joke to you may keep someone else up for five straight nights, stressing over the intention of such a comment. One off-hand statement that may slip from your mouth could easily force someone else to spend an entire evening crying, locked in a bedroom. One act of rudeness can be magnified, and one insult or act of invasive disrespect – we have now learned - can literally be deadly.
Your irrational statements may be the driving force behind another’s irrational actions.
It’s a shame. These teenagers were cheated out of lives. They were cheated out of futures. Out of happiness. Out of potential. Out of an entire world filled with beautiful, loving people - people they were unable to consider when they should have, and people they were unable to find when they needed them the most.
I thank God I was able to find one of those beautiful people. And now, in the wake of these incredulous tragedies, it’s up to us to spread that beauty as far and wide as we possibly can.
Because no matter how bad you may think you have it, it’s true: Someone else always has it worse.