Archive for February 26th, 2010
Whenever I see stories of high-achieving people inexplicably killing themselves, I think of two people: Richard Cory, and Kathy Ormsby.
Nadia Brianne Matthews [known as “Bri”] had a glowing future.
The sophomore star softball pitcher at Mater Dei High School in Santa Ana had verbally committed to play for the University of Arizona, and had a sense of confidence, grace and warmth that went beyond her 16 years, friends say.
Her suicide Thursday at her Anaheim home has shocked and devastated relatives, friends and teachers and coaches who saw in her amazing talent and promise – a nice girl who could put a smile on anyone’s face. …
The coroner Friday afternoon ruled the manner of death suicide, “by ligature hanging.” …
[Nadia] Martinez said her daughter had a 4.0 GPA and had dreams of becoming a neonatologist.
One of the most awful things about suicide is it often comes with no warning. Bri’s family will probably never be able to answer the question, why?
The reason I think of Richard Cory is because he is the title character of Edwin Arlington Robinson’s 1897 poem about a beautiful, tragic figure. I remember reading this poem in grade school, and it hit me pretty hard and has always stuck with me, maybe it’s because it’s the first work that opened my eyes to the idea that you never quite knew what was going on inside the heads and hearts of those who seemed to be well. The last line, which comes out of nowhere, symbolizes the shock anyone feels when a loved one commits suicide — even for me, when I had a friend kill himself at 15, a friend who gave ample warning (what I considered ample — others did not ) of what he was going to do.
The poem, in its entirety:
Whenever Richard Cory went down town,
We people on the pavement looked at him:
He was a gentleman from sole to crown,
Clean favored, and imperially slim.
And he was always quietly arrayed,
And he was always human when he talked;
But still he fluttered pulses when he said,
“Good-morning,” and he glittered when he walked.
And he was rich—yes, richer than a king,
And admirably schooled in every grace:
In fine, we thought that he was everything
To make us wish that we were in his place.
So on we worked, and waited for the light,
And went without the meat, and cursed the bread;
And Richard Cory, one calm summer night,
Went home and put a bullet through his head.
You might recall Simon & Garfunkel’s rewrite of Richard Cory.
The reason I think of Kathy Ormsby because I was in attendance at the 1986 NCAA track and field championships in Indianapolis — the event where the North Carolina State 10,000-meter runner split from the track mid-race to jump off a bridge over the nearby White River in an attempt to kill herself.
Instead, she was left paralyzed from just above the waist down. A lot of coverage at the time focused on how Ormsby, a high school valedictorian and premed student, was extremely driven and put a ton of pressure on herself to succeed, with the implication that might somehow have been behind her suicide attempt. From the New York Times, circa 1986:
Mitch Shoffner, the head of the social studies department at the high school, taught her world history and coached her in volleyball in the 10th grade.
”I know that she’s always driven herself very, very hard,” he said. ”She’s not the type of person who can accept second best for herself. If there’s any pressure, Kathy was putting it on herself. She’s always been very much of a perfectionist.”
Later, Ormsby did cite fear of failing her coaches and parents as to why she tried to kill herself.
”One time, I got on the volleyball team for not practicing hard enough, and she broke down and cried. Most of the girls just got mad. She was very, very serious about everything she did.”
Later, Ormsby indeed did cite fear of failing her coaches and parents as to why she tried to kill herself, and in later interviews said she had a panic attack and never intended to kill herself. (Ormsby is now an occupational therapist in Wilmington, N.C. — I believe her photo is the top one on the blog post here.)
Do Richard Cory or Kathy Ormsby give any indication as to why Bri Matthews, who seemingly had the world at her feet, decided she could no longer live? No. But they’re all unfortunate examples that suicide, and whatever is behind it, can affect seemingly the most successful among us.
You can’t watch your kids play at the YYYYYY, M, C, A!
Like high schools that have banned fans because of suspected gang activity or threat of violence in the crowd, the Tri-Community YMCA in Southbridge, Mass., has closed its Feb. 27 fifth-grade-and-up basketball championships to all but players, coaches and officials because of some other unruly mob — the players’ parents.
From the Worcester Telegram & Gazette:
An e-mail sent out to the parents cites “unsportsmanlike behavior from some parents” during the last couple of weeks.
The e-mail says a few people have become “belligerent” in the stands, even after being spoken to, and have been “setting a bad example for children.”
“All must know that this is inappropriate behavior that will not be tolerated.”
YMCA Director Edward Keefe and YMCA Recreation Director Susan Casine agree it was a very tough decision to make.
“There was a lot of discussion. We didn’t make the decision lightly,” Mr. Keefe said. “This is the last game. This is the last week. We want the kids to have fun, have a positive experience and close out the season on a positive high.
“We don’t want to affect the parents who go to every game and behave themselves and cheer on their kids,” Ms. Casine said. “But we need to make sure that unsportsmanlike behavior from parents doesn’t get out of hand.”
In the comments section — always the most fun read in these stories — one self-identified parent sounds a little, well, belligerent over the decision. From a martyr going by the handle “Innocent yet punished:”
I am a parents with several children who have been participating in the program for several years. I heard about my punishment on the news last night. Interesting that no one bothered to email, write or call. My children have not caused problems and neither have my husband and I. Now we are all being punished to send a message to the poorly behaved parents. What message is being sent to my family? You have to pay for the sins of others. Bring your children up right and teach them to do what’s right and then teach them that behaving has no benefit because they will be punished for something they didn’t do. Do you think I want my children alone in the gym with the same children that swear like their parents and have no problem causing problems? Do you think I want my children left alone without me to witness the adults in charge not having enough courage to eject misbehaving parents and children? I don’t think so. Let me ask the question again of the adults in charge, what message are you sending to my family? Those same misbehaing parents and children will be back next season, how many of the well behaved parents and children will be back? I don’t want my children and I to receive more punishment next season for something we don’t do.
Hey, Jesus had to pay for the sins of others, too, Innocent yet punished, and you didn’t hear him complaining. (OK, maybe a little.)
Other commenters suggested that the Y have the local police or extra security to take care of belligerent parents, which sounds reasonable, except when you ask yourself, the YMCA needs cops to handle a fifth-grade basketball game? In the Star & Telegram article, the Y officials pointed out that they, and the referees, have tried to eject unruly adults or get them to moderate their behavior, but with no success. Apparently they subscribe to the common American fan credo that if you pay your money ($52, or $35 if you’re a Y member), you get to do or say anything you damn well please.
The martyred parent does bring up a good point, though, about whether the “good” parents will bring their kids back for next season if they face the probability of not watching their children play and other people’s children swear. This is why the Y and other leagues are always in such a quandary about what to do about problem adults, because no matter how they do it, they upset their revenue base.