The Stanford community lost a beautiful soul a few weeks ago. It is always difficult to capture the essence of someone so wonderful individually, and indeed, I think it takes the whole community to share every piece of them. I’ve seen a lot of death, including suicide, which is a trauma that affects that community as well as the individual. What hurts the most is knowing that someone was in that much pain. It seems, and in many ways is, a preventable trajedy that causes many people to feel tremendous guilt. I often wish that we had a way to celebrate life while it is in the process of living. I know this pain, and yes, anger and deep sadness. I know that it is frustrating and often scary. At the same time that we must celebrate and face the pain of a beautiful and tremendous life, we must also face and care for ourselves.
Helen, I wish we could have captured and protected your spirit. I’m so sorry.
There is always the possibility to be cold and clinical and indeed in distress that is the direction to which I usually run. We’ve all been both rewarded out in the open and punished in secret for that piece of our nature. We don’t run there because we lack humanity, but because we are terrified of our own humanity. So we hide. We pretend to be ok when we are not ok. We begin to make worlds for ourselves where we are profoundly and deeply alone even when others are fighting like hell to surround us with love. It is easy to talk about statistics and individuals in isolation, we are, as a society, deeply attached to the lie that we are all only individuals. This makes it painful for a very specific group of people in this world and that is who I’d like to speak to today. To the kind, sweet, sensitive people who see and feel too much. To those who hurt when others hurt. To those that fight for the humanity in others even as they fight for their own.
It is easy to build a society that rewards the cold, clinical machines, and as a culture, perhaps especially as Stanford alumni and students, we strive for it, don’t we? Are we not always fine? Always happy? Always scared in pain to tell our truth? We are terrified that people will find out we are human. We watch as people take away the humanity of others and for many of us, this is pain that becomes more and more difficult to bear because it runs contrary to our nature. We know this in our hearts. I know this, because when I talk about my pain, when I voice my anger at the fact that some people put others in suffering for personal gain, there is always a shy whisper of agreement, and often it has come from the people like Helen and the community that surrounds her.
What does that have to do with Helen? On a deep level, perhaps even a bigger piece of myself than I’d like to admit, I understand how much suffering she must have been to make the choice she made. I understand, and probably many of you understand too. I’ve been forced as a sensitive, and kind, and caring and intelligent person to bury my feelings to survive in a society that sees what makes us truly wonderful as weakness. But we are not weak. Civilization, the whole of human history is not a story of individuals working in isolation. Every great thing we’ve ever done on this earth happened because a community came together. Humans need each other and that is why isolation can be so painful for us.
So I wanted to instead to speak to you. I wanted to tell you that you are beautiful. That what makes you beautiful, your ability to love, is not a weakness. That you are not alone. You are never alone.