Sunday, October 9, 2016

Don't do it.




     A woman jumped in front of the train at the Northbrook station a few weeks ago. I wrote about the small memorial that sprouted on the spot for a couple days. Now a more permanent memorial, of sorts, has been established—this sign, an attempt to reach out to whatever tormented souls might be in the general vicinity and considering suicide. 
     I couldn't decide what I thought of it — rare for me. 
     On one hand, there was a desperate, we've-got-to-do-something quality to it. What are the odds that someone approaching the tracks intending to kill themselves will even notice it, never mind seize the aid offered? Given the general nature of the problem, isn't this an extraordinarily localized solution? Not much help to those wanting to end it all a block away. And what's with the handshake imagery? Is that really what a suicidal person wants? A good solid handshake? There seems something wrong, something oblivious and Masonic, something lacking about it. But I can't put my finger on it beyond that. 
     On the other hand, really, what else could be done? And it seems a problem that should be addressed somehow. Nearly three dozen people have been struck and killed by Metra trains this year, most of those suicides. Not a number to be shrugged off.  The Los Angeles Metropolitan Transportation Authority put such signs in after a spike of suicides in 2012, and officials there consider them effective. 
     Maybe so. Still, it's such an small gesture at an enormous problem, it somehow feels inadequate, somehow both not enough and too much.  It's a very big sign. I wouldn't be surprised if it sparked more despair than hope, if it gives more people the idea of ending it all than people it gives aid to. An unintended consequence, the way certain anti-drinking campaigns encourage drinking. It made me sad to see it though, again, I'm not sure why. Maybe you have ideas.

Several readers mentioned my use of the word "Masonic" in the above. I wasn't implying something malign about Masons, merely thinking of imagery such as the above.
    


14 comments:

  1. A couple of my friends have committed suicide. As far as I'm concerned, any prevention effort is a good effort.

    Bitter Scribe

    ReplyDelete
  2. I agree. I think any prevention effort should be tried. At least the sign is something that might make them stop and think that there is another alternative besides suicide. Ideally, maybe the sign should mention that things will get better, so don't act in the moment. The trauma of seeing the body bag or worse on the tracks is very traumatic. I've seen it a couple of times and really can't get over the sadness whenever it crosses my mind.

    Linda B

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. I've actually seen a Metracide [someone coined that word last year] & yes, it's traumatic.
      Weeks of nightmares followed & now, I always expect people standing close to the edge of the platform to do it.

      Delete
  3. This seems similar to phone numbers posted after casino ads offering help for gambling addiction. A discreet response to a very serious problem, more like a disclaimer, to me.

    ReplyDelete
  4. "Put up a sign so families can't sue us," - someone at Metra probably. I'm going along with your description of the sign as something wrong, oblivious, and lacking; but why describe it as Masonic?

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Masons are said to have one or more secret handshakes.

      Delete
    2. They do have secret handshakes, but that image isn't one of their symbols. The majority of my male relatives are Shriners and Masons, so I'm wondering why lump Masonic with wrong and lacking. They're very much the opposite.

      Delete
    3. I'm a Mason, and I think the handshake on the poster is supposed to represent "extending and providing a helping hand." Which fits in well with Masonic teaching! I think Mr. Steinberg was trying to by amusing and wasn't really intending to imply Masons are actually shadow-y, wrong and oblivious. We sometimes can be those things, of course, in some ways, but the point is that we try not to be those things and work to be good, kind, caring, supportive.

      Delete
    4. Exactly, I meant it to be descriptive. I've seen 19th century labor union banners that use the handshaking image. It just seemed something of that ilk, redolent of lodges and fezzes and pyramids and such. I wasn't implying that Masons are uncaring. Harry Truman was a Mason; I have nothing against them.

      Delete
  5. thank you neil, this is very thoughtful (and thought-provoking) column...dunno what the story is with that handshake, but youre right, seems approrpriate for maybe small businesses or a community building efforts (maybe thats behind it, lets watch out for each other? no, its only an image--doesnt convey that.)though occurs to me--hand reaching down to someone on the tracks (ill bet they werent thinking that though). also your previous column was very thoughtful. i was thinking: what else can be done? possibly something like posting this "everything is awful and im not okay: questions to ask before giving up"--yes its detailed, but the headline is a grabber, and just the act of reading it slows time. might work for more impulsive suicides. but perhaps not for those who have planned. i dont know. post or have these sheets avail to take?(though people can take pics w/phones i guess). .https://drive.google.com/.../0B6A2F5ky9SELU0Zfd05YME.../view

    ReplyDelete
  6. I suspect that the signs and probably the hotline itself are at best ineffectual in deterring suicides, like the anti-smoking ads on TV -- I used to light up a cigarette every time I saw one. What's needed is not a big NO, but an emphatic YES, not a "don't do this awful thing" but a "you have a wonderful life yet to live." But such a YES would have to be everywhere in order to save just a few lives. Not cost effective you might say.

    John

    ReplyDelete
  7. A preachy text probably wouldn't be any kind of a deterrent, but this sign is, in advertising terminology, a "call to action." Offering an 800 number to call provides a simple, concrete alternative to annihilation.

    Like others, I don't quite get "oblivious and Masonic."

    Tom Evans

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. See my reply to Bill above for an explanation of "Masonic."

      Delete
  8. Worse than the sign with only the phone number is the fact that oftentimes no one ever answers the phone when the number is called

    ReplyDelete