“The mass of men lead lives of quiet desperation,” Thoreau wrote in Walden in 1854. Though he was speaking of the tedious nature of labor, he might as well be speaking of people’s mental state in general. “Quiet desperation” might also describe how people feel shortly before they choose to commit the crime that must not be spoken: suicide.
You don’t read much in the papers about people who take their own lives. Unless the individual was famous, the media draw the cloak of silent charity. The upside—a grieving family is spared moral condemnation on top of their terrible loss. But there is a downside—it means people don’t get the chance to talk about the overwhelming inner pain that drives some people to hate living.
There is a lot of suicide in America. In fact, for the most recent year for which I have numbers, there were 32,439, almost twice as many as the 17,357 homicides. The actual number of suicides is almost certainly far higher, for the official record counts only clear-cut cases. Hundreds of thousands more attempt it, injuring themselves badly enough to need hospitalization. Still others fail in their attempts and keep quiet about it. The fear and shame keep them from revealing how deep a black hole they feel themselves to be trapped in.
The Evil One warps people’s perceptions to make them blind to God’s many blessings and to intensify their feelings of hopelessness and self-hatred. We probably come into contact with pre-suicides every day. You and I can be God’s rescue agents. We can offer a listening ear, a caring heart, and some encouraging words when we meet someone who seems very, very sad. We can take their suicide talk seriously. We can present professional counseling as a dignified, not desperate or pathetic, choice.
Above all we can pass on the sweet message of the unconditional and forgiving love of our God.