Jennifer Michael Hecht, author of Stay: A History of Suicide and the Philosophies Against It, felt the terrible effects of suicide twice in two years. The loss of two friends and fellow poets, the second of which seemed prompted by the first, inspired Hecht to write a column for The Best American Poetry. She hoped that this letter would reach an audience of grieving poets and spark a resurgence of loving life.
Most of the scholarly writing on suicide is concerned with religion or law. Suicide is illegal; suicide is not in God’s plan. But Hecht wanted to convey a stronger message to her readers. She wrote:
…I want to say this, and forgive me the strangeness of it. Don’t kill yourself. Life has always been almost too hard to bear, for a lot of the people, a lot of the time. But it isn’t too hard to bear, it’s only almost too hard to bear.
Hecht’s argument hinges on the devastation that is left behind when a loved one commits suicide. While writing on the topic is often focus on saving oneself, Hecht’s plea asks the reader to save his or her friends and family as well, writing:
These days we encourage people to stay alive and not kill themselves, but we say it for the person’s own sake. It’s illegal, sure, but no one actually insists that suicide is wrong. I’m issuing a rule. You are not allowed to kill yourself. When a person kills himself, he does wrenching damage to the community. One of the best predictors of suicide is knowing a suicide. That means suicide is also delayed homicide. You have to stay.
Hecht’s open letter took the conversation about suicide past philosophical ideals or religious beliefs – hers was a heartfelt and desperate plea: stay. Her new book, whose title bears that same request, is a response to the hundreds of readers who reached out to the author after she published the letter. Stay is a combination of philosophy, religion, and cultural study. But it is also more than that; it is a manifesto to everyone suffering:
Don’t kill yourself. Suffer here with us instead. We need you with us, we have not forgotten you, you are our hero. Stay.