Dear Lauren,

I don’t want to give life a chance anymore.

Lauren Roth

Lauren Roth's Answer

Dear readers, I did receive this email about a year ago, from across the world. And she and I still email each other to this day. I think we exchanged four short emails just today (hers were long, mine short, but loving).

Why do we still email? Because she chose to live.

I just finished reading 13 Reasons Why (Please note: I’m writing about the book 13 Reasons Why, not the Netflix series. It could be that the movie version depicts the ideas differently.) and like many readers, I was sorely disappointed. Disappointed that Hannah chose to take her own life. Yes, you read that right: chose. Judaism teaches us the most important lesson of all: we are responsible for choosing our own actions.

I’m getting quite tired of the “poor me, I’m a victim” mentality in our culture. I really, really understand that being an adolescent is very, very hard. Hey, I understand that being a living human being is often very, very hard. But shying away from difficulties, running away from our responsibility to keep on keeping on? I don’t believe in that.

There are so many things I would want to tell Hannah Baker. In fact, I’ve told many of them to my across-the-world email friend. Things like: “this too shall pass.” Most difficulties in life do. We think high school will last forever, in all of its awfulness, but it won’t. We think we’ll be in our painful situation forever, but usually we’re not. Usually, life has great difficulties and life has beautiful moments, and “this too shall pass.”

I remember when I was in high school, and a friend of mine said: “They say high school years are the best years of your life. If these are the best years of my life, I’m completely messed up.” Just as he said that, I realized: high school years might be good years for some people, but for most of us, they were (are) really tough times. You don’t have much control over whom you spend most of your day with, you don’t have much control over where you have to be and when, and you don’t have a mature enough sense of self to be okay in any social situation thrown at you.

I promise you: This too shall pass.

Hannah Baker chose not to stick it out. It was a selfish decision on her part, one that hurt many people. God gave us our life, and we are not allowed to kill ourselves. I know the pain can, at times, seem unbearable. But sticking it out is doing the courageous and kind and strong thing. For ourselves and for those around us.

Hannah could have grown up to have a lovely life, helping many other people because of the difficulties she had endured and survived. Taking herself away was selfish and weak.

I know it’s a simplistic example, but I’m going to use it anyway, because it illustrates the point so well. My parents came to visit us for a week. They had concert tickets, weddings to attend, grandchildren and children to go and visit.... My father hurt his back just before their trip (moving tables and chairs in their synagogue with the 20-year-olds!) and spent the entire week on his back on the bed in our guest room, in a tremendous amount of pain. He missed the concerts. He missed the weddings. He couldn’t even sit up, stand, or walk without searing pain.

How do you think you or I would react if we were in that situation? I think I, personally, might have a lot of grumbling and complaining going on. Not my father. He was good-natured, kind, polite, gentle. Whatever I brought him to eat was fine! Whenever we came to visit was fine! Whenever we left was fine! No grumbling. No self-pity. How incredibly refreshing. He didn’t pity himself. He had brought a dense, difficult book, and he read it for hours on end. He listened to music from his phone. He conducted business with his clients on his back on the guest room bed on his phone. He didn’t pity himself. No pity parties for him.

This is the same father who says his goal is to dance at all of his grandchildren’s weddings. Not just attend, but dance. You don’t accomplish that kind of goal of longevity with joy by moping around, saying “Poor me,” and feeling sorry for yourself.

Another important point: Hannah Baker allowed other people’s behaviors towards her to emotionally destabilize her to a fatal degree. Yes, when people are mean to us, it hurts. Yes, it can make us feel like we’re going to fall apart. But the most important thing to remember about mean, nasty, or even “just kidding” people is: their bad behavior is their problem, not ours. The particularly insensitive boy in the book who tried to make Hannah into just an object? “No one can make you feel inferior without your consent.” (Attributed to Eleanor Roosevelt)

Over the course of my lifetime, I have read countless true stories of people in impossible situations who maintained their sense of self, their sense of hope, their pride, their humanity. To my clients, to my children, I rally often: “You are strong enough to handle this well.” Mean, nasty, demeaning people can only break you if you allow them to.

Another idea I wish I could tell Hannah Baker: get up and help yourself. Hannah didn’t tell Clay what was wrong. She had the opportunity, and she didn’t open up. She didn’t speak to her parents about her pain. If your parents are anywhere near normal, talk to them about your difficult times. They may be able to help. Hannah gave only one therapist only one short shot at helping her. Sometimes it takes a couple of sessions to connect to a therapist. Sometimes you have to try a different therapist if you can’t connect to one.

But certainly don’t take your own life. God put you here for a reason, for a purpose, which you will figure out once the pain has gone. And “this too shall pass.” Whatever it might be.