Tuesday was a very strange day. I was looking over a bunch of photographs on my desk from the opening festivities of the new year at Pepperdine. They do a big event to try and ease the transition for the new freshmen, many of whom, I suspect, are away from home for the first time and probably scared.
While I was looking at the photos, the phone rang. It was Dick Callahan, one of our sales staff, reporting that a neighbor of his in Corral Canyon had just found the body of a young man in an automobile, much the age of those Pepperdine freshmen. He had, from all appearances, committed suicide very early that morning.
Although I don’t yet know the name of the young man, or where he was from, what struck me is the strange difference in paths the lives of these young people had taken. The Pepperdine group was embarking on a new adventure filled with hope and promise, while this young man had concluded that ultimate adventure in a few brief moments.
It pointed out to me how important it is to somehow help ease the passage of these young people, particularly the young men, into adulthood. Anyone who can remember back, or who has had sons, can remember how painful everything is at that age. It’s a terrible time for young men. Hormones are flowing, most of the adults you know seem like aliens and there is that sense whatever pain you feel at any given moment is just going to go on for ever and ever. Sometimes it can appear very bleak and hopeless.
It takes some time and maturity to know that this, too, shall pass, and no matter how bad you feel now, tomorrow, or the day after tomorrow, most assuredly will be different. This unfortunate young man will never have the chance to come to that maturity. He ended his life with carbon monoxide exhaust from his automobile and ended the pain before he ever had a chance to find out.
In that way, I don’t think he was terribly different from some of those other kids who recently seized weapons and shot up their families, their classmates and their neighborhoods, except he turned it on himself and not others.
It’s easy for us in Malibu to pretend somehow we’re exempt from those kinds of turmoil, that living in a beautiful place, in affluence, is an insurance policy against these kinds of things.
If we do, it’s a sad self-deception. We have kids in this town with problems, serious problems. We have latchkey kids in this town who live in multimillion-dollar homes but they’re still latchkey kids practically raising themselves. We have easy access to drugs and booze. Most of our medicine cabinets look like a pharmacy, and any kid can find a high without leaving home. We have kids with sexual problems, violence problems, drug problems, alcohol problems, eating problems, isolation problems, divorce problems, learning problems, and they’re no different from any others of that age group.
As a community, we have to do something about it. When we talk about things like ballfields and a teen center, a place where the kids can go and hang out, and maybe get help when they need it, we’re not talking about a building or a land use decision. We’re talking about our kids and whether we can spare the time and energy in our lives to try and help them. If we don’t, it’s absolutely certain things will happen like that young man up at the top of Corral Canyon, or that auto accident or shooting or overdose. There is no parent who isn’t petrified of that prospect.
I can’t think of anything sadder in the world than a phone call that begins, “Mr. Jones, this is Officer So-And-So. I’m sorry to have to tell you but your child ….”
None of us wants to see that happen. We, as a community, have to help and give a major priority to those kids because, when it does happen, it isn’t just those parents who suffer that loss. It’s all of us.