Suicide is anything but painless….

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…to the survivors. Over the weekend I went to a memorial service celebrating the life of my wife’s former co-worker, who took her own life at the age of 28.

The celebration was beautiful. It touched on the young woman’s accomplishments as a dancer, geologist, her innovative thoughts on changing the world for the better, the love she drew from her family, the connection she found in New York’s Buddhist community and the beauty and creativity she inspired in others.

While we were there to celebrate her life, here’s what stays with me the most: with all those resources at her disposal, she couldn’t bring herself to use them in what was her moment of greatest pain. I didn’t know her, and I don’t know why she killed herself. I can say that as a society, we’re not shy about quite publicly discussing our sports injuries, our cholesterol counts and dietary problems, even our addictions to booze and drugs. Yet when it comes to depression, a huge stigma remains.

There’s no reason for it. There are sympathetic mental health professionals that work on sliding income scales, suicide hot lines and community mental health groups like Mood Disorders Support Group here in New York City , AA meetings every hour everywhere, or online forums like inspire.com’s Mental Health America Support Community.

Most of you know actor Joe Pantoliano, i.e. “Joey Pants” of “Risky Business” and “The Sopranos.” He’s turned his own battles with depression into “No Kidding Me Too,” which aims to break down societal barriers about mental illness so that those who need it can find the strength to seek treatment.

All too typically, the reaction to the tragedy of suicide is “why” because he/she had everything going for them. The truth is that we never really know. Mental illness is insidious and over-whelming. At its worst, there is no way someone can look outside of the confines of their mind without help. Few want to be seen as vulnerable, not having it together, or needing the help of others. It’s especially hard if you’re the one who people typically turn to for help; admitting it’s your turn is like giving up control.

The best comparison I can make is that depression is like going miles down the wrong road, knowing it, yet being too stubborn and/or afraid to turn around and get the right directions. But to everyone who gets lost, it’s worth it to retrace your steps back. Every time. I’m sure that the hundreds of friends and family this young woman affected during her short life would agree. And yes, I’m talking from experience.

Links:
Inspire.com’s Mental Health America Support Community: http://www.inspire.com/groups/mental-health-america/?ref=as

Mood Disorders Support Group: http://mdsg.org

No Kidding Me Too: http://nkm2.org

Home ownership: a privilege you save for, not an entitlement

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My former co-worker Ed Moed co-runs a marketing communications/PR firm and writes a terrific blog, Measuring Up . It’s about how people, cultures, organizations and companies measure up in promoting themselves, accountability, deal with crisis management and other issues.

I comment often, and certainly felt compelled to respond to his post about how  the Obama Administration is taking stock of the mortgage mess to get us away from the idea that every American is entitled to own a home. If the last three years have proven nothing else, we’re not.

http://www.measuringupblog.com/measuring_up/2011/02/obama-says-everyone-cant-own-the-american-dream.html#comments

 

Will live classical music ossify?

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Last night I wondered just how many major U.S. cities will still have a symphonic orchestra in the remainder of my lifetime.

This came after I very pleasurable experience joining my friend Brian, who had an extra ticket to a NY Philharmonic performance. Andrey Boreyko — a terrific, energetic presence — was guest-conducting and Branford Marsalis was soloist for two 20th Century pieces for alto-sax with orchestra. The orchestra led off brilliantly with Haydn’s Symphony No. 60 in C Major, and closed the second half with a Richard Strauss opus that reminded me of just how moving and powerful classical music can be, especially when played live.

The musicianship is incredible. The Philharmonic has shown a revitalization of energy in recent years that is gratifying. They were definitely having fun on stage. Yet the same problem remains — not enough people saw it to become hooked. I’m not even 50, yet too often my wife, my friends and I bring the average age down to 65 whenever we attend a classical music event.

Here I am sitting in Avery Fisher Hall, reveling in how lucky I am to be here in one of the world’s great cities, with one of the world’s great orchestra’s, yet the hall — which was perhaps 70% full during the two Marsalis pieces — thinned out during intermission. It was barely 60% occupied for the Strauss finale, and most of that audience looked to be 65 or older.

Bless their hearts, but they can’t do this forever. Will my late Baby Boomer/early GenX group and those that follow pick up the mantle? Digital delivery has given the music itself new means of exposure. Some friends say that as we get older and more disenfranchised with popular music, our patronage will happen naturally. Maybe.

But this is an age of cutbacks and tough times that are hitting NEA and cultural organizations hard. It won’t let up any time soon. There’s no guarantee that younger corporate leaders continue to see the value of sponsorship for this type of experience. The halls need subsidies and incentives to fill up and stay afloat, particularly outside NYC in cities like Cleveland and Buffalo. In that context, what will the future of live performed music be? I’d love to hear the perspective of others.

New York Times Review
http://www.nytimes.com/2011/02/19/arts/music/19branford.html?scp=2&sq=branford%20marsalis&st=cse

Remembering My Father on Deer Lodge Day

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68 years ago today, my father Nat Engel was a U.S. Merchant Marine radio officer on the S.S. Deer Lodge, at sea on the Indian Ocean. The ship was bombed to smithereens by a German u-boat. Several were killed and he was injured before making it to shore in Port Elizabeth, South Africa. From there, he was hospitalized and sidelined for several months. made lifelong friends, served out his time on other ships, came home, met my mother, raised my sisters and I, and lived a full, interesting and sometimes eccentric 84 years until 2007.

That’s why February 17, 1943 is always special in our family as Deer Lodge Day. I don’t have many examples of my father’s writings of that time except a diary he kept on the following ship, the S.S. Edward Burleson. Here are two passages:

“During the early portion of this outward lap, I came to know the second mate pretty well. I share with him the unhappy distinction of being the only other man on board who’s been sunk by the Germans. He’d been on the Morremac Rey when she was divebombed and sunk off Murmansk, and had the gray hair to prove it. He spoke freely and often of his experience, and knowing what it must have been, I felt for him. But despite his 15 years at sea, he spoke of little else. On the basis of that one trip, he tried to tell Lt. (JG) Ralph Boches how the gun crew should be run, the signalmen how to hoist their flags and me how to take a time tick.” Dad then goes on to say how bored he got with the fellow.

OF HIS LONG WAIT FOR A SHIP IN NEWPORT NEWS: “I won’t plunge into the well-worn theme of servicemen in southern towns. I’ll simply say that despite a three-week stay, my most pungent memory is of a loverly ballad that was beginning to sweep the country, and second best is my short stint as second fiddle to a discharged WAC who was waiting for a paratrooper from Topeka who’d promised to marry her. The song haunted us everywhere, from the jukeboxes in the beerless taverns to the groups of soldiers trying to drown their boredom in a sea of noise. I’ll think of the Hampton roads Port of Embarkation and its canteens and environs (visits to Norfolk included) whenever I hear “Pistol Packin’ Mama”…..

So what am I writing about?

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Peter Engel: Wiseacre or Wise Man for our times?

I’m Peter Engel, and Hell & Happiness is how I write about the things I care about — career and personal growth, media and politics, marketing, bicycles, Seventies cop shows, as well as the upside of life struggles with love, mercy, compassion and de-stigmatizing depression. Like life, there’s funny stuff, crazy stuff, sad stuff, angry stuff and things that just don’t fit into any category.I’m always passionate and willing to make fun of everyone — including myself — so feel free to stick a pin in my balloon when I get pretentious.