Hot Asphalt On A Summer’s Day

Our house on Short Hills Drive in Bath, Ohio had an asphalt driveway.  The driveway ran up a small hill, took a right turn to the garage, and had a big open area at the top of the hill where Mom and Dad had put up a basketball hoop.

On blistering summer days, the sun would heat the asphalt, and you could catch a whiff of tar and feel the heat radiating off the black surface. On those days I liked to walk barefoot on the driveway, to take in the smell and the scorching heat and see how long my feet could stand it. It’s one of those things that will always mean “summer” to me.

I was reminded of this today as I was out walking to do a few errands. It was hot and the sun was shining brightly.  As I walked I passed a freshly paved asphalt parking lot, smelled that smell, and felt that heat, and the sensory experiences brought it all back. I started to think about how much I enjoyed walking barefoot on hot asphalt, and how I hadn’t done it in years.  So when I got closer to home, and I passed an empty parking lot that was ablaze in the sunshine, I couldn’t resist. I took off my sneakers and socks and set out across the lot, feeling the burn on the soles of my feet.

My feet aren’t as tough and calloused as they used to be, and after a few laps around the tarry surface I was ready to step off and put my shoes back on. But my little barefoot exercise felt good. In fact, it felt exactly like summer.

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The Suicide Cascade

The recent deaths of Anthony Bourdain and Kate Spade have focused attention on a growing health problem in the United States:  suicide.  If it seems like suicide has become more commonplace in recent years, that’s because that is exactly what has happened.

anthony-bourdain-dead-6Coincidentally, the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention released a report last week that sketched out some statistics on suicide in America — which are deeply disturbing.  The CDC report states that suicide has been steadily increasing for more than a decade and is now the tenth leading cause of death in the United States.  The CDC looked at data from individual states from 1999 to 2016 and found that suicide rates have increased in virtually every state.  In half of the states, the rate has increased by a mind-boggling 30 percent.

The CDC report found that, in 2016, almost 45,000 Americans died by suicide, with especially sharp increases in suicide rates in Idaho, Montana, Wyoming, Utah, North and South Dakota, Kansas, Minnesota, Oklahoma, Vermont, New Hampshire and South Carolina.  The statistics also show that women are beginning to close the historical suicide “gender gap,” in which men have been far more likely to take their own lives; suicide rates among American women also have surged.

What causes a person to commit suicide?  Why would someone as interesting and witty and evidently successful as Anthony Bourdain, for example, decide to take their own life?  The CDC report found that more than half of the people who committed suicide did not have a diagnosed mental health condition.  Another recent study, on suicide trends in 27 states, also determined that suicide is more than a mental health issue, with many of the people acting as a result of relationship problems or loss of a loved one, substance misuse, physical health problems, or other personal or financial strains.

And suicide also seems to have a nefarious cascade effect, in which each suicide makes the next one more likely.  It’s apparently due to a variation of the “broken windows” effect, in which learning of someone’s suicide gives struggling people who otherwise might not think of it the idea that suicide is a viable option.  The effect has produced well-known instances of “suicide clusters” in towns or schools, in America and elsewhere — which may mean that we should hold our breath and hope that highly publicized suicides, like those of Kate Spade and Anthony Bourdain, don’t trigger an even greater epidemic of self-inflicted harm.

We all need to keep our eyes open, pay attention to our friends and colleagues who are struggling, and try to help them understand that their lives are worth living, even in times of great difficulty.