Put another way, more than 7,000 military personnel past and present kill themselves each year. They are sons and daughters; brothers and sisters; fathers and mothers; relatives and significant others; old classmates and best friends.
“This is a huge public-health problem,” says Dr. Charles Nemeroff, a professor and the chair of psychiatry and behavioral sciences at the University of Miami Miller School of Medicine. “Also, remember that for each suicide that occurs, there are a very substantial number of suicide attempts.”
That’s something Leighton knows all too well. Like so many soldiers, his story is both unique and somehow familiar. It is also just one story among thousands.
Surrounded by books has been a main circumstance of my long life. So it is now, near the end of my 94th year, when I am in my large library of perhaps 18,000 books in the western wing of my house in Chester County, Pennsylvania. So it was in the beginning: I was born in a sanatorium in Budapest, Hungary, wherefrom, after a day or two, I was translated home to my mother’s bedroom in an airy apartment that housed, among other things, many books. This I know and can see from photos in a family album, still in my possession.
What a miracle that the writings and the words of great people had been preserved for thousands of years even before an age of books came into existence! The word book was there in many languages well before the 16th century a.d. The Book of God was the Bible, people thought and said. Even now, the word bible (Gk., β?βλος) refers to and defines the meanings of books (bibliophile, bibliography, etc.) After about 1500 a new age began; wrongly named the “Modern” Age, it may even be named the Age of Books. Before that, books were written on wooden tablets or parchments or cloths. Now books were printed and fastened and bound and stored together. Their numbers and their availability increased in much of the world. In 1517, exactly 500 years ago, Erasmus wrote that the Middle Ages (a term then yet-unknown) were passing and something of a newer and golden age was about to begin. Today, few people possess that kind of optimism or know that the “Modern” Age, the Age of Books, is now passing.
I knew a poet who could only write his poems with a stub of a pencil. Nothing else worked for him as well. His family and friends bought him fountain pens, ballpoints, typewriters, and laptops, but he kept away from them. “It’s like giving a dog a wristwatch for Christmas,” his wife said. Only lead pencils would get him excited. “How come?” friends asked him. Because, he explained, one can chew a pencil all the way down to a stub while thinking what to write next. He also had no use for writing pads, notebooks, and fine stationery. He preferred envelopes of old bills and the backs of leaflets passed out in the streets of New York that advertised quick loans, massage parlors, fortune tellers, and fire sales, though a restaurant menu or a bank deposit slip could serve him just as well.
Reading a book published after its author’s death, especially if he is as prodigiously alive on every page as Oliver Sacks, as curious, avid and thrillingly fluent, brings both the joy of hearing from him again, and the regret of knowing it will likely be the last time. In his more than 45 years of writing books — mostly about the workings of the brain, but along the way touching on nearly everything else, too — Sacks taught us much about how we think, remember, and perceive, about how we shape our sense of the world and ourselves.