I find myself feeling very worn out today – hopefully just the eternally damp weather – and somewhat at a loss regarding what to post. I had a few brilliant ideas, but by the time I got around to sitting down to write they either seems less brilliant, or were less solid than they had been this morning.
So – a few news items from the past several days that have jumped out at me, and need some recognition.
First and foremost, Mario Cuomo passed away at 82 on New Year’s Day. He was in the second half of his final term in office when we moved from New Jersey to New York state in 1992, and although I didn’t always agree with him, I admired they way he spoke and wrote. I also admired his integrity – a rare attribute in politics, and one that seems not to have been inherited by his son, our current governor. I don’t personally believe in an afterlife (and I think it’s certainly irrelevant to this life if there is one), so I think we all need to do what we can while we’re here to make our part of the universe a better place. And I think Mario Cuomo did well while he was here.
Second was the happy/sad story of Sailor Gutzler, the 7 year-old child that somehow survived the small plane crash in Kentucky that claimed the lives of her parents, sister, and cousin. While awed that she somehow managed to hike through the woods with a broken wrist, I’m afraid that all I really could think was that she was going to spend years in therapy to deal with the trauma of the crash, the loss of her family, and survivor’s guilt. It reminded me of a news item from a few years ago when a small boy lost his entire family at a rest area when their vehicle was struck by a truck after letting him out to use the restroom. And I worried about his future mental health in particular because he thought it was his fault. Children do not process experiences the way that adults do because their brains are still developing. Magical thinking and a sense of themselves as the center of the universe. So the parent in me worries more about child survivors of these kinds of tragedies. And I hope that wherever Sailor ends up, she has all of the love, support, and resources to work through the times to come.
The brain development of children brings me, in an odd way, to a story I had originally not intended to discuss because it has been discussed at great length over the past week by nearly everyone else. But since I’ve found some of the commentary, by people no better qualified than I, to be very disheartening, I’ve decided to weigh in. On December 28, Leelah Alcorn, nee Joshua Alcorn, a transgender teenager from Ohio, committed suicide by walking in front of a truck (& my heart goes out to the driver since he has undoubtedly been traumatized beyond belief and will also need much therapy). Leelah’s suicide (and yes, I’m making my stand by using her chosen name and gender) became very public when her suicide note was published, as a scheduled post, on her Tumblr account. In her post she detailed her parents’ religiously based inability to accept that she felt herself to be a female trapped in a male body. Her family did get her therapy, albeit specifically with Christian-valued therapists, but they also removed her from her very limited social support network by taking her out of school. I have no doubt that they loved her. And that they did what they thought was best within their personal framework. I have a hard time with their choice to put their religious belief that ‘God doesn’t make mistakes’ ahead of their child. I think it takes a great deal of hubris to think that they knew what God intended – but I’m not religious, so I’m also not sympathetic. And perhaps it is easiest for them to feel that they did all that they could for their troubled child.
I’ve been disturbed by the vehemence of some of the negative opinions I’ve heard, so I’m going to offer my own rebuttal to some of it. Most offensive to me has been the ‘get over yourself’ & ‘what a coward’ type of reaction. Ok – personal disclaimer – depression runs in my mother’s family, with a couple of suicides, including my grandfather, buried in her family’s past, and a couple of friends have ended their own lives. Whatever your opinion of her gender identity issues, I wish more people understood that depression is chemical. It is not a case of the blues, it is not something that is easily controlled by having a positive outlook, or by praying. It is a medical issue. Suicide is seldom either cowardly or heroic. It is an act, most times, of desperation, of really not knowing what else to do because your misfiring neurons are preventing you from seeing a way out. Depression does that. Sometimes, in adolescents especially, the medications used to treat depression do that. I’ve recently heard that she was being treated with Prozac – a drug that carries a big warning for suicide in teenagers, and her therapist and medical provider should have known better. Equally disturbing to me have been those, including some of my friends & family, that have chosen, quite emphatically, to use ‘he’ & ‘Joshua’ to make sure that everyone is clear that they do not think that there is any such thing as being transgender. Some of these individuals are not particularly religious, so I am left wondering where that level of hostility is coming from. And it does seem to me that there is hostility involved in the reactions. Whey else go out of your way to emphasize the use of ‘he’.
And perhaps that brings me back around to the need for us to be the best we can be for the short time that we’re here. We have responsibility to ourselves, and to each other, to support – not condemn. There is too much hate out there. Too little respect for others. And too poor an understanding of mental health issues. We, even as adults, indulge in quite a bit of magical thinking of our own.
“There are two ways of spreading light: to be the candle or the mirror that reflects it.”
— Edith Wharton