I first saw this picture when I was a kid, leafing through a “Best of Life Magazine” book. It struck me then, and still does, for a number of reasons. One, this heartbroken woman, Evelyn McHale, age 23, left her fiancee and then jumped off the 86th floor of the Empire State Building. In a crossed-out note she said she wouldn’t be able to make anyone a good wife. Splat. Two, look at how peaceful and poised she is (bigger picture here). White gloves, legs crossed at the ankles. Somehow Evelyn managed to clear the building and sidewalk, and land perfectly on her back on top of a limousine waiting at the curb. Look at the condition of the car and then look at her. How did she manage not to rip herself apart, spread blood and brains in a spin art masterpiece? Three, why, Evelyn? You seemed a young, beautiful woman, attentive to your appearance. Certainly not one who had obviously suffered at the hands of a cruel and ravaging world. Was your heart so fragile that it gave in to the crush of one man’s rejection? What was at play in and around your life that brought you to this solution? I would have liked to have talked to you up there on the observation deck. If not to stop you, at least to understand. Okay, yes, to stop you.
I don’t get suicide. My ex-wife’s second husband took his life by driving up a Utah canyon and shooting himself. They were together for about 10 years and the few times I met him, he seemed like a nice guy. I hear a lot of talk about the selfishness of people who kill themselves. I have a hard time focusing on that. I can only think of the agony, the futility these poor souls must feel, being driven to such finality.
The closest I came to entertaining the idea of offing myself was when I was a hormonal 13. It wasn’t serious, I was just so wrapped up in feeling unloved at the time (of course, this was imagined). I snapped out of it in a day or two– I think I was stressed over a math test or something else more important than swallowing a bottle of pills.
I was, for a time, under the impression that those who committed suicide were condemned to the lowest of fates, short of perdition. Enlightened, I am grateful that the Church doesn’t forecast such a heavy hand against these children:
Although it is wrong to take one’s own life, a person who commits suicide may not be responsible for his or her acts. Only God can judge such a matter. Elder M. Russell Ballard of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles has said: “Obviously, we do not know the full circumstances surrounding every suicide. Only the Lord knows all the details, and he it is who will judge our actions here on earth. “When he does judge us, I feel he will take all things into consideration: our genetic and chemical makeup, our mental state, our intellectual capacity, the teachings we have received, the traditions of our fathers, our health, and so forth” (“Suicide: Some Things We Know, and Some We Do Not,” Ensign, Oct. 1987).
Recently, I was watching the DVD “Good Night, and Good Luck” and towards the end of the film (based on a true story) a friend of Edward R. Murrow, Don Hollenbeck, took his own life. Already depressed over losing his family to divorce, he was the target of mischievous columnists and labeled a communist– this at a time where, in America, you might as well be called a child molester. A sensitive man, clinically depressed, he saw no happiness left in life and turned all the gas burners on in his apartment. Does he deserve hell for this?
As far as I can tell, suicidal tendencies equate possession– responding to the dark, oily voices which whisper to your mind how worthless you are, how hopeless life is, how happiness has forever abandoned you. It’s succumbing to The Lie. It feels naive and “molly” to say the Gospel is the elixir for such ailments, but I know firsthand that my testimony of God and the Church has many times immuned me to the world’s lies.
For the souls who listened and believed the voices, my heart goes out to them. I pray they find the desperately needed comfort that eluded them here.