A new five-year analysis of the nation’s death rates … found that the suicide rate among 45-to-54-year-olds increased nearly 20 percent from 1999 to 2004, the latest year studied, far outpacing changes in nearly every other age group. — Midlife Suicide Rises, Puzzling Researchers, Patricia Cohen, New York Times, February 19, 2008
Healthy, successful men and women are killing themselves, and no one knows why. These are people in the midst of good careers, an age group that collectively takes home more dough than the GDP of some nations. Great houses, great cars, great entertainment systems, great kids just heading out into the world to make it on their own.
To the casual observer, they have achieved every measure of success. But it doesn’t seem to be enough.
These are the Baby Boomers, my generation, the post-war horde born with every possible advantage in a time of American greatness. A generation of enormous promise convinced they could bring about world peace and prosperity. “Tune in, turn on, drop out” was their motto, a rejection of everything their parents stood for.
But then came Viet Nam, the Kennedy assassination, Watergate and Jimmy Carter’s malaise speech. A great many Boomers gave in to cynicism. They blazed their own spiritual and ethical trails looking for answers; most found dead ends instead of enlightenment.
Perhaps because of the aching void in their lives, most abandoned simplicity and humility for unfettered consumerism. This generation has amassed historic amounts of personal debt. Big mortgages, huge car loans, profligate spending, kids going to the most expensive colleges — money, they have learned, makes the world go round.
Are there any hints here to a cause for an increase in midlife suicides?
On my 50th birthday it occurred to me that I would probably not live as long as I already had. For the first time, dying became personal — it wasn’t just something that happened to other people. How many more years do I have left, I wondered?
Death has always been a black terror. Even with our recent insights into the human genome, we have not discovered the secret to arresting the aging process. It will be a very long time before the last Baby Boomer is lowered into the ground, but for most of us, the wait will be shorter than we think.
Is it possible that the death of so many dreams, the yawning emptiness of so many souls, the futility of a life built on acquisition and consumption, the loud tick-tock of the clock counting down towards zero have all driven Boomers into despair? What happens to a generation when it stops believing in itself? What happens when it loses hope?
Depression is often the driving force behind suicide, and doctors are diagnosing depression at historic rates. I’ve experienced depression myself and how it warps and twists reality. Depression kills hope. It whispers insidious lies to the soul: “They’ll be better off without you.”
If depression speaks words of death, where do we find words of life?
After this a lot of [Jesus’] disciples left. They no longer wanted to be associated with him. Then Jesus gave the Twelve their chance: “Do you also want to leave?” Peter replied, “Master, to whom would we go? You have the words of real life, eternal life. We’ve already committed ourselves, confident that you are the Holy One of God.” John 6:66-69, The Message
What did Peter mean?
Jesus’ teachings had become harder and harder to accept. The dreams of those who had been looking for a conquering king had been dashed by a teacher more interested in prayer and faith than freeing an oppressed nation from Roman chains.
But the twelve disciples seemed to have caught something the crowds had missed. They had gained an insight into Jesus that intrigued them, a glimpse of something much more important than political revolution, even in the midst of a corrupt and unjust oppression by Roman thugs.
Life had seemed okay before Jesus. Now, a year later, they looked back and realized how empty everything had been, how pointless all their striving and scheming to snatch the gold ring had been compared to… this.
“You have the words of real life, eternal life. We’re committed to you,” said Peter, and the rest nodded their agreement.
What did he mean “real life, eternal life”?
I think he was saying, for the first time everything makes sense. For the first time I think I understand what God wants from me. For the first time I feel as if I have a purpose, and it’s a good purpose. I feel alive. I was a drone, throwing nets out into the sea, hauling in fish, selling them for a few measly coins, patching my nets and doing it all again the next day. It’s a living, sure, but it isn’t living, if you know what I mean.
I think Peter was saying that God had allowed him to glimpse something eternal, and in that glimpse Peter had seen a spot where he, a rather ordinary fisherman, fit into God’s great puzzle. Fit perfectly.
Peter found a plan that goes on beyond death, a plan that isn’t afraid of death because death has become a doorway, not a wall.
Peter and the other eleven had found someone who had shown them God as they had never known Him before. And now life was good. their hearts were filled, they wanted to live. Really LIVE!
The contrast is profound. In an age of health, wealth and comfort, Boomers are losing hope in everything they have ever believed in, everything they have worked so hard to achieve. They are losing interest in life.
They’ve won the gold ring, but they still haven’t discovered life. Real life. Meaningful life. Eternal life. The sort of life that gave hope to a motley band of Jewish nobodies.
Now more than ever, we need to hear the words that Peter heard, words that convinced these twelve disciples that Jesus was the very heart and soul of life.