That Moment Before Death

by Illina (Saint Francis High School) on 2015-03-17 00:14:47 PDT
tracksDeath. The end of the life. It is an inevitable part of life. It surrounds us and will happen to all of us, whether we choose it or not, and yet it often takes all of us by surprise.

One day, two deaths. Last week, a student from Palo Alto died. A doctor from Stanford died the same day. One death was a choice, while the other, not so much. What did their deaths mean to them? What do their deaths mean to us?

The student from Palo Alto was only a sophomore. I remember a classmate coming into my statistics class late that day, but his tardy was excused because it was the result of a train accident. Soon after, I learned that that accident was the Paly student’s death. Many would call the death a suicide, but was it really intentional? Or did he feel forced into it by the increasing academic and social pressures of society? None of us will know or can truly understand what his thoughts were when he chose to walk in front of that train, but we can try. Suicide is one of the leading causes of death for those age 15-24, and that is not including the number of unsuccessful attempts.

For the city of Palo Alto, this is the third suicide this year and perhaps the ninth in five years. The pressure is mounting for high schoolers in the Bay Area, as students are expected to perform well academically, taking as many AP and honors classes as possible and scoring high on SAT, ACT, and AP tests and get accepted by a top tier college while, at the same time, maintaining a social life. It is not just parent pressure though; it is peer pressure too. It is a competition. Students as well as parents compare SAT scores and GPAs. Many people propose talking to a friend to alleviate the stress, but what if your best “friend” is also your fiercest competitor?

Life is hard for us, and there is no known “cure” or perfect suicide-prevention method. We can have counselors, we can have prevention hotlines, but the issue will persist if those contemplating suicide do not seek help. As active members of society, we need to seek out those who seem a little “blue” or down, to genuinely ask how they are doing and listen. Sometimes all it takes is lending an ear, sometimes it takes more, but we have to start somewhere. What needs to change is not the people, but the culture.

The Stanford doctor who died the same day had already known he was dying. Paul Kalanithi was a neurosurgeon, and he had metastatic lung cancer. While his body slowly shut down and he could barely move, he too experienced a loss in the determination to live. “The future, instead of the ladder toward the goals of life, flattens out into a perpetual present”—he felt as if he had nothing to live for, to look forward to.

But in his final reflection before his death, he realized something. He looked at his daughter, and he saw futurity. The moment before death, she embodied hope, something that would continue his legacy.

As teenagers, many of us may not yet have children to carry on our legacies, but we all have a future; we all have that moment before death. It is what carries us on and allows us to move forward in times of hardship. No matter how gloomy life may seem, there is something ahead, something to look forward to, something to bring you laughter, something to bring you hope.

We all have an identity—we are our past and present, but we are also our future. We are what we choose to do; we are who we choose to be.

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