With my roommate gone for the past three days, I spent each night alone in my apartment, watching a documentary on suicide called “The Bridge.”
Why would I do such a thing? I have no idea.
The documentary focuses on the Golden Gate Bridge as the number one suicide spot in the country — a symbol of human ingenuity and almost spiritual beauty for which people will even travel to San Francisco to end their lives. Film director Eric Steel set up camera crews from different viewpoints focusing on the Golden Gate Bridge in all sorts of weather and captured more than two dozen suicides during the year 2004.
Juxtaposed with the film of these people jumping is the commentary of the deceased’s friends and family. And while the movie is not recent, the common thread that weaves through its many stories is the issue of loneliness.
One jumper had a mental illness and was never quite understood by her family, another was lonely and tried to find love online and yet another — the sole survivor during that year — spent forty minutes crying. He was only approached by a German tourist asking him to take her picture despite his endless tears — a seeming confirmation that nobody cared about him.
I remember the first text I had to read upon arriving at UC Berkeley was “Suicide” by Émile Durkheim; we were asked why we would begin the class with such a text and decided collectively that it was because suicide is the loneliest decision you can ever make in your life. The mother of one boy who jumped admitted fear that she played a part in his decision but was reminded by a friend that it was not about her and that most people who decide to commit suicide leave long before the actual act.
While this may not be the most light-hearted topic, I was simultaneously captivated and horrified at the idea of loneliness and how it negatively pervades the lives of so many. Between the simplest bouts of loneliness of a girl alone in her apartment watching morbid documentaries to the loneliness of men and women making the hardest and most fatal decision of their lives lies a reminder that humans are not meant to be solitary individuals.
We may be the most individualistic and independent generation as college students in America, but that does not change the fact that being removed from interaction and comfort is not a feeling we innately love. In fact, the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention revealed that suicide was the 11th leading cause of death in America, four places before homicide. We as a country are more likely to kill ourselves than be killed.
I was struck by a comment made in “The Bridge,” by two men enjoying the day out at the beach when they saw one man jump; they mused aloud how curious it was that they were enjoying one of the happiest moments and celebrations of life sailing when not too far away, someone was experiencing the lowest point of their lives. How we all interact daily, how sometimes the weighty words of a complete stranger can affect us for the rest of the day, how we may be in such close proximity to someone who feels so utterly alone.
All of us, at this point in our lives, surely have felt loneliness to some extent or another. Personally, I’m beginning to feel the effects of the transition from high school to college, with old friends changing and new friends not completely aware of who you are. Or perhaps you too have experienced the loneliness that accompanies a hardship in your life — a lost job, a deceased family member, an illness, etc. — when friends don’t know how to approach you for fear of saying the wrong thing and end up avoiding you altogether. Or perhaps your loneliness was derived from being misunderstood, or the inability to communicate what you desire.
Whatever it may be, I strongly believe that humans are not meant to be alone. While you read this, however, you may be applying it to yourself, saying, “Exactly. Why aren’t people realizing that I’m lonely?”
One Calvin and Hobbes strip sweetly portrays Calvin grumpy, screaming, “I’m in a very crabby mood, so everyone just leave me alone! I hate everyone!” Then, when no one comes near him, Calvin mutters, “Nobody recognizes my hints to smother me with affection.” We all naturally have that child in us, waiting to be smothered in affection or a confirmation that we are loved. Don’t forget, however, that this applies to you as the instigator of loneliness. The friend in your dorm or the person in your meeting who sits in the back and doesn’t interact may need affection more strongly than you do.
And don’t forget that you may be in close proximity to someone going through the worst day of his or her lives.