The dark genius of humanity


How many really know you? How many know of your fear, your sadness, your shame, your anger, your depression? They are questions worth asking at any time, but particularly this week. I had no clue who Kate Spade was, so her suicide registered faintly, but the news of Anthony Bourdain’s death jolted me. I saw a lot of living, a lot of pain in his sixty-one-year old face, but he was traveling the world, doing things that most of us can only dream of doing, with joie de vivre and roguish panache. And dead now, from his own hand, in his France hotel room.

How many knew the truth of his life?

I’ve come to believe that the great tragedy of humanity is not our inevitable pain, the frailties and struggles, but the isolation so many of us feel. The great Catholic writer, Henri Nouwen, a transparent sufferer himself, famously said that what is most personal is most universal. By that he meant that those frailties are precisely what we have most in common with others. Yet we remain inclined to believe that we are unique, comparing our tattered insides with the outsides of others, not knowing that most of those others pretend like we pretend. The dark genius of humanity is our great ability to conceal the truth of our insides from one another. We are all such great actors.

I was damn good at it, too. In the mid-1990s, when I was enjoying success and recognition in my career, I was dying inside. I understand suicide, how the terrible disease of depression can trump all love and logic. I also understand how isolating depression can be. I’m lucky to be alive myself, frankly, lucky that the choice I eventually made was to try and defy the disease and reach out to others, Fred Rogers included.

I’ve traveled a long road to heal--know that it takes patience and loads of self-acceptance, and trusted others who know the truth about your insides and find it a privilege to walk with you, sharing their own truths along the way. Finding those people takes some discernment…but they are everywhere, waiting.

This week I spent sacred hours talking about the deepest things with friends who know me to my marrow, who have walked with me through the darkness and now accompany me to this amazing place of light and peace. This week I read of skyrocketing suicide rates, and celebrity suicides, and can’t help but wonder, how many really knew those who died.

 

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