Recently, my wife and I had a fairly rousing debate over the true meaning of the popular Netflix show “13 Reasons Why” based on the popular novel of the same name by Jay Asher. (Although the novel spells out the word “Thirteen” while the Netflix series simply uses the numbers, which maybe says something about the attention spans of those who choose to consume the multimedia version). The premise of the show is that a young girl has committed suicide and recorded a cassette tape (Yes, honestly, cassette tapes in 2017) to 13 people who had somehow either wronged her or been given the opportunity to help “right” her and didn’t. It is a subject that we know somewhat too well in our household. Both of our children had close friends who did not survive High School and another family from just a few blocks away formed an organization named Solomon’s Song after losing their son a little over a year ago. It is a nonprofit organization dedicated to creating conversations that promote healthy living, celebrating diversity and stomping out stigma. (And it is one you can donate to!) Our son wrote a song based on his friend from High School.
The recent death of Soundgarden frontman Chris Cornell has stimulated a bevy of articles about his life, his death, his music (which often touched on topics of grief and depression ), and his lifelong struggle with fame and the anxiety medications that some say would certainly have been among his own personal “13 Reasons”. Others have noted that the last song he performed on stage, A Led Zeppelin cover, included the lines:
“In my time of dying, I want nobody to mourn
All I want for you to do is take my body home”
But all of this leads to a thought provoking Facebook post that gets to the crux of our aforementioned matrimonial misalignment. The gist of the Facebook post is that someone experiencing a difficult time may not have it within themselves to reach out for help, and we must make every effort to go to them. That’s a wonderful sentiment for everyone all the time. Reach out to people. Let them know you care. The thing is, the issues that may lead a person to consider taking their own life are complicated, sometimes not within the realm of mere reaching and touching. The family we know did everything a person could reasonably be expected to do. They talked. They listened. They sought professional advice. They went far beyond simple reaching to a strong, constant, loving embrace. They did absolutely everything they could do, but save their child’s life.
Because at the same time that we are showing our kids the 1,001 ways that we love them, we are also teaching them to count to 1,002. It is comforting to think that just a little more time and interest will make all the difference, that just a little more love will solve everything. But what about those things that are simply beyond the power of our love to solve. Certainly, no one would expect that just a little more care might save someone from Cancer. Saying that everything will be OK if we just do a little more just perpetuates the myth that mental health issues are somehow less serious than other health issues. Reaching out, touching, showing people that we care, those are all things that people should do every day but they aren’t surgery. They aren’t a replacement for any of the things we might do for any other health issue. The real warning in “13 reasons” is not about the 13 reasons she found, but that she was looking for them at all.