STOP and think for a second… have I ever felt the fire raging uncontrollably in me or have I lived life never experiencing a set of circumstances that could seemingly force someone to believe that suicide is the only option.
A Day We Will Never Forget
On September 11, 2001, photographer Richard Drew rushed to the scene of the twin towers burning in lower Manhattan and a “ground zero” that would mark him forever. Camera in hand through the ash and chaos he began to capture images that led his eye to the sky above where he would then realize was mothers and fathers and sisters and brothers seemingly choosing to leap to their death and take their own life.
One image in particular was different from the rest. It was an image of a man who had positioned his body like an arrow and was perfectly aligned and prepared and almost welcoming the impact of the concrete from 90+ floors up.
As hundreds leaped to their impending death, it seemed like they were giving up. This man in particular, later identified as Norberto Hernandez, almost looked rebellious in his defiance to “get on” with the death that was inevitable. Later after his identity was confirmed forensically and with visual confirmation from friends and family, his daughter was shown the image and ordered the reporter to leave exclaiming “that piece of shit is not my father.”
She summed up the very real and prevalent emotions surrounding suicide and crippling depression. Our culture has often times overlooked the fire raging inside that floor that pushed him and cornered him in a way where he was left with only one option.
The Fire That Was Inside of Me
For many, like me, suicide often doesn’t feel like a choice. I have begun to realize that people who face this decision and sometimes ultimately take their own life are feeling the intense heat of something that is corralling and caging their minds and emotions leaving them powerless and almost a slave to the impending end.
I grew up with a complete misunderstanding of God, faith, and ultimately myself. Words like “not enough”, “wrath of God”, “slut”, “whore”, “failure”, and the real tragedies of life had left me with a fire that seemed to be pushing me to the window and warming my feet to leap and get it over with.
I had rehearsed and realized that people have faced hotter fires than I was facing, but for me I had so many times believed I only had one option. Faith and twisted religion had added more fuel to the self punishment and lack of choices that I had tried to reconcile.
As a culture, when someone commits suicide, some may say how selfish they are or how selfish it is for them to think that. Often times religion tells them that they are only escaping the fire inside here on earth only to trade for eternal fire and torment in hell.
I think the “Falling Man” photo that Mr. Drew took that fateful day is a challenge and appeal to the humanity inside of us all to ask a different question to those that are struggling and wrestling with crippling depression and suicidal thoughts. We need to stop asking people “Why would you do this…or…What is wrong with you?” and start asking “What is your fire that makes you feel this is the only way out?”
I had longed for someone to ask me that question and truly see me and hear me not as a broken suicidal woman but has a mom, wife, and friend who had a fire that seemed to be getting hotter. I now long to hear a shift in how we discuss suicide so that struggling people can see a safe pathway to be transparent with what they are facing and feeling.
I don’t know if I would have been like Norberto or if I would have been like many others who once they realized what they had done, began to flail there arms in the air trying to escape the imminent impact. I do know that I wasn’t a “piece of shit” for wanting at times to get away from the blazing inferno inside of me.
We Can Change the Question
September is National Suicide Awareness Month and as the content creator for our social media and website, I want to challenge all of us to change the question and give people the safe space to share what fire they are facing, so that daughters will understand struggling fathers snd so that mothers will make room for suicidal sons.
We must remove the garment of shame that shrouds suicide. Now is the greatest time for real change and the kindness inside us all to be our only currency.