Day 3 Sabbatical
Today I received sad news—a son of my cousin committed suicide. This news has devastated this quiet community—news which reveals the negative effects of our community’s drive to succeed. Allen was a 17 year-old, bright eyed, good and intelligent youngster. His father, mother, grandparents and everyone else in town are left struggling to find answers to impossible questions. Why did he do this? Why did God allow this to happen? How could this happen in Mundiappulley? How could this happen to one of our family members? Allen’s parents and grandparents were good church going folks. He was in the choir. He was taught by members of the church in Sunday School, and he was in youth group. What drove him to end his life?
Details slowly emerged from the family and their neighbors—stories that reminded our community just how high pressured the need to succeed in our town really is. Allen had done well in all areas of school but was weak in Mathematics. In fact, in this his final year, he was in jeopardy of failing the subject. But this was the problem: if he failed, then he would not be able to enter the Engineering College that he and his family had expected him to go to. They had already paid a hefty entrance fee, and if Allen did not pass, they would lose the entire sum. Thus, Allen did his best to study, he prayed, but he did not pass.
He was by himself when he got his results. He closed the family store and went home, knowing no one would be there. I imagine a feeling of worthlessness and despair was the only thought in his mind. Despair for his future, wondering how he and his family would be viewed by the community members. And the feeling of worthlessness, not based on reality, but by the perceptions of this young teenager. Did he have, as a point of reference, a personal encounter with a member of the community who once faced such news, thus moving Allen to do whatever he felt necessary to keep from going down a similar course of shame? I do not know. I do not believe so. Whatever he believed, it was enough to drive Allen to do the unthinkable.
Allen took his mother’s sari from the closet and tied one end of it to his neck while throwing the other end over a beam on the second floor near his bedroom. Then, he fell to his death. Allen, that sweet confused boy, did not share his feelings with anyone. If he had only said something to someone, but, maybe he did…just in a way others had not known how to hear. I can say that if the family and community had known, they would have told him how talented and loved he was. They would have told him about his inherent potential. They might have told him that he was made in the image of God and that, in itself, was worth something. His parents would have told him that it did not matter what grade he got or how much money they spent on his education, it only mattered that he was alive with them.
I spoke at the funeral. I cried with my cousins for the loss of my nephew. I, like them, do not know what to make of this. I did, however, remind them of Psalm 23,which most of the people of Mundiappulley have memorized since they were in grade school. I reminded them that, in my opinion, the most important word in the psalm is the word “with.” “Yea though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil, for thou art with me.” I reminded them and myself that, even in this painful and tragic circumstance, God is with them, and we, as a community of faith, are with them as they face this horrible event.
My prayer is that we as a community learn to recognize the pressures we put our kids through. I also pray that we will be able to discern the marks of despair in our young people, so this does not happen again. I know that, at present, nothing can take away their pain. Yet, I also know that they see that their family and church family are with them facing this pain.