“I woke last night to the sound of thunder
How far off I sat and wondered
Started humming a song from 1962
Ain’t it funny how the night moves
When you just don’t seem to have as much to lose….”
— Bob Seeger,“Night Moves”
This song points to the epidemic of suicide among male baby boomers — the generation born in the decade and a half after World War II. My generation.
This led mostly to wisecracks — ongoing riffs on the famous anthem of our collective youth, “Never trust anybody over 30!”
The key finding by researchers is that the suicide rate for men over age 50 rose nearly 50 percent between 1999 and 2010. A mushrooming discussion now, however, is whether that is a blip or a trend. Research suggests that for every generation born after 1945 — from the boomers to the millennials — the suicide rate will continue to escalate at a record pace. Suicide is the only form of violent death still on the increase in American society.
Everybody has an opinion, everything from the late Jack Kevorkian breaking the taboo with his self-suicide Death Machine, to current economic doldrums.
Pick a reason for this emerging trend: the breakup of families; the dissolution of the “village” — it might take a village, a community, to raise a kid, but it’s an absolute necessity to give a safe harbor to every adult. The cult of youthfulness that grows into self-hatred with the infirmities of age; the rising number of people living alone and the rising number of lonely people; and the new phenomenon of an aging population less involved with church.
I am loath to give out any great catch-all reason, only because every suicide has a uniqueness to it. Every act of self-slaughter has its own tragic story. To generalize is to trivialize.
But since I’m of the generation and gender that seems to be the pacesetter in this race, I’m asked about it, and I wonder about it. Why would a guy my age put a gun to his head and pull, while humming a song from 1962?
I’m tempted to recall the classic movie “The Big Chill” (1983) that starts with a suicide among the baby boomers. The minister at the funeral is angry: “Where did our hope go?” he demands.
Bishop David Zubik of Pittsburgh tells the story of when he was a young priest in his first assignment. His pastor was away and his day was filled with all the mundane rituals of rectory life — answering the phone, paying the bills, going to the door, fixing what was broken. Like the old Beatles’ song, “no one was saved.”
At the end of the day, all he wanted was to read a magazine in peace at the burger joint down the street. But not a minute after he sat down, a lady with a young child asked to join him. He grimaced into a grin and his retreat became idle chit-chat.
Years later, after celebrating Mass he was handed an envelope by an usher. In it was an unsigned letter from that woman explaining that their meal together had saved her from suicide. And to this day he can’t remember a single word he said to her.
Sometimes we do nothing and it works; sometimes we do everything and it fails. But we have to be connected.
I see that guy sitting on the bed in the shank of the evening, and I worry about him. “Strange how the night moves,” Bob Seeger sings, “with autumn closing in.”
Hope is not wishful thinking. Hope is firm belief in God’s love, care and presence.
Especially when autumn is closing in.
Robert P. Lockwood writes from Pennsylvania.