This morning as my flight took off from Miami after a stimulating experience at the annual ABA Dispute Resolution Section meeting, my last Tweet was about the disturbing statistical evidence that lawyers are unusually prone to suicide.
I had loaded the Sunday New York Times on my iPad and settled in for a flight back to Nashville. At some point each Sunday, I dive deeply or swim shallowly into “all the news that’s fit to print.” Today I was not prepared to encounter numerous articles, editorials and letters to the editor which cast light on my preoccupation with lawyer suicide.
Of course, that’s the way the brain works. We always find what we’re looking for and don’t see the gorilla right in front of us. (If that analogy escapes you, check out Marc Jenkins’ blog site Flipping the Gorilla)
In rapid succession, I read thoughtful articles by an atheist, an agnostic, psychologists, a Christian and a Hindu. None were written with reference to the other and all were published in today’s New York Times. Finally, I read a review of a posthumously published book written by a young woman whose life ended in an auto accident at the cusp of a bright career in journalism and thought leadership.
Follow me, if you will, on the journey I took and its impact on the curse of lawyer suicides.
The first editorial I read was A Rationalist’s Mystical Moment b
“stepped out alone, walked into the streets of Lone Pine, Calif., and saw the world — the mountains, the sky, the low scattered buildings — suddenly flame into life.” Afraid that she had a nervous breakdown, she shared her experience with no one. Only many years later in her pursuit of science to explain the order of things was she able to formulate an explanation. She concludes:
There is no evidence for a God or gods, least of all caring ones, but our mystical experiences give us tantalizing glimpses of other forms of consciousness, which may be beings of some kind, ordinarily invisible to us and our instruments. Or it could be that the universe is itself pulsing with a kind of life, and capable of bursting into something that looks to us momentarily like the flame.
Next I found A Doubter in the Holy Land by Maud Newton. She recalls a trip to Israel in which she vowed to avoid falling prey to the “Messiah Syndrome”. As a “committed but fearful agnostic” she would not be overwhelmed by the religiosity of the Holy Land and become a convert to any of the religious traditions of that region. Nonetheless, admittedly “spellbound” by many of the Jewish, Muslim and Christian locations, events and observances she witnessed, she concludes:
I’d been warned that visiting the Holy Land intensifies your deepest religious beliefs. That was unexpectedly true for even this ardent doubter. Seeing the remains of all the regimes and the people who had tried to infuse their faiths and customs and architecture into the place and then receded across the millenniums, I couldn’t understand how anyone could feel sure of any belief, any way of being, in a place that is so constantly shifting. Like Jerusalem, I remained my own stubbornly uncertain self.
Then I read The Trick of Life by that when you are feeling bad, one way to make yourself feel better is to pray for others”. In his depressive panic attacks and writer’s block, Akhil chose to focus on others. He concludes:
I called my parents a few weeks ago on the second anniversary of my brother’s death. My father began telling me that he felt abandoned by my brother, that my brother’s dying feels like him leaving us. As he spoke, I started thinking: I love you. I love you. My usual response at this point would have been to tell my father that he needed to focus on the future, that what was past was past. Instead I told my father that he was wonderful, that he should think of how brave he had been to take care of his poor sick son for all those years, that his devotion had been heroic.
Next, I found Is That Jesus in Your Toast? by
psychological phenomenon of seeing something significant in an ambiguous stimulus is called pareidolia. Virgin Mary grilled cheese sandwiches and other pareidolia remind us that almost any object is open to multiple interpretations. Less understood, however, is what drives some interpretations over others.
Their study and controlled experiments conclude that this phenomenon is heightened in the context of “moral hunger”. Humans often seek to place meaning in a moral or religious framework leading us to attribute supernatural origins to common phenomenon.
Finally, I read the op-ed by columnist Nicholas Kristof, Her First, and Last, Book. He wrote about Marina Keegan who had graduated from Yale University with high honors 5 days prior to her death. She had already written an article in the Yale newspaper which has been read online over one million times, composed a play that was about to be produced and was prepared to start working at The New Yorker at a startlingly young age. In the wreckage of the crushed auto that took her life, her mother found the computer on which Marina kept her writings. After salvaging its hard drive, her first and last book,“The Opposite of Loneliness,” was recovered and will be published in a few days. Kristof reminds us of Marina’s burning questions about the meaning of life and living with purpose and asks why so many of us choose poorly.
All these accounts by different writers addressing different topics or personal experiences offer a common thread: regardless of one’s faith orientation or lack of it, at a deeply subconscious level humans crave purpose and meaning. We might even find it even when we are not consciously looking for it. When we do, our lives are enhanced and emboldened and life truly can be lived.
Deep in thought on the flight home I wondered if the suicide rate among lawyers can be attributed in part to living a life without meaning or purpose.