In a city where the adolescent suicide rate is five times the national average, a standing-room only crowd gathers to figure out why, after years of effort, there hasn’t been any let up in the number of high school kids choosing to take their own lives.
“I know there’s an urge to blame,” says Palo Alto school superintendent Glenn McGee. “I know there’s an urge to jump to solutions. We all want to solve this problem now. But it will require multifaceted solutions.”
Parents, teachers, students and school administrators chime in, suggesting everything from smaller class sizes to reducing the stigma surrounding mental illness to redefining the meaning of success. “We need to make it OK for students to receive a ‘C,'” says one student. “A letter on a piece of paper should not determine who we are as individuals.”
Good ideas, one and all. Too often, though, the more spiritually oriented strategies that might ultimately have the greatest impact are left out of such meetings and studies – either because they’re difficult to define in practical terms or they cross some perceived line of propriety.
While there are those who feel that simply getting kids to show up at their local church, synagogue, or mosque each week would do the trick, a more reasonable starting point might be for us to consider ourselves the lessons contained in any number of spiritual and religious texts. These lessons have, after all, have inspired answers to the world’s most significant and intransigent problems, including suicide.
Take for instance the Bible story of the Prodigal Son, a young man who decided to leave home at an early age and blow his inheritance on “riotous living.” (We can only imagine what that might look like today.) Clearly this kid didn’t turn out how his father had hoped. Even so, when he decided he’d had enough of that lifestyle, his father welcomed him back with open arms.
Metaphorically speaking, this story illustrates the nature of God’s love for His creation. Literally speaking, it provides us with a clear-cut illustration of how to love our own children – in a word, unconditionally. No matter what choices they make, no matter what grades they get, no matter which college they choose, it is our job – and joy – to love them. Unconditionally.
Another illustration can be found in the story of Jairus, a man who was at a loss as to what he should do about his dying daughter. In his desperation he went to see Jesus. A short while later, one of this man’s friends came and told him that his daughter was already dead and that it was a waste of time to ask for Jesus’ help.
What was Jesus’ response? He said, “Fear not: believe only, and she shall be made whole.” The man did, and she was; that is, the man did believe and the young woman’s life was restored.
Have any of us ever felt at a loss as to what we should do about a child facing some dire situation, maybe even on the verge of taking his or her own life? According to this account, the simplest and most obvious option is to appeal to the one divine Mind or God for some help, to get down on our mental knees and say, “Tell me what to do. Show me what I need to see. Give me the ability to be what I need to be for this individual.”
There are plenty of other stories of course, both in the Bible as well as other sacred writings; stories that don’t require affiliation with a particular religion or devotion to a particular deity in order for us to benefit from their lessons. They’re also stories that needn’t be excluded from public discourse, especially when something as serious as a teen’s life is literally on the line. Some will agree with their message, some won’t, but this isn’t any different from agreeing or disagreeing to any other course of action.
According to Christian Science Church founder Mary Baker Eddy, it’s our willingness to give up a limited outlook on life, to look at old problems from a new perspective, that enables the Bible to become “the chart of life, where the buoys and healing currents of Truth are pointed out” – for anyone, under any circumstance, regardless of faith. Indeed, giving up a sense of limitation in our ability to love, our ability to rely on a power outside ourselves for guidance, just may be the key to wiping out this problem of teen suicide once and for all.