“Hope” in Aspen, Colorado

_AHCThis week The Denver Post ran a story about suicides in Aspen, Colorado. Aspen is known for great skiing and famous people owing homes. There are fewer than 6000 people living in Aspen, but, according to the Denver Post article, suicides in Aspen ranked higher than almost anywhere else in the country. How can this be in this lovely quaint town known for great skiing, and “beautiful” rich people?

I’ve been to Aspen twice—back in my corporate days when our company jet took us to Aspen. Just getting to Aspen was an experience. The plane actually descended into Aspen rather rapidly, then hung a sharp right as it cleared a mountainside. The joke on the plane was “They had better hurry up.” I remember asking, “Hurry up for what?” The response was “They’re taking up the tennis court net so we can land”– because the town’s tennis court was the landing strip—(not actually true.) Leaving Aspen required even greater piloting skills to accelerate, ascend, and bank to the left to avoid hitting the side of a mountain. What I distinctly remember about Aspen were the downtown cobblestone streets and expensive stuff in store showcase windows. The next trip to Aspen found me alone on a company plane when the pilot started to descend and then quickly ascended saying “Oops, not it.” Okay, enough of Aspen.

There is now an Aspen Hope Center in Aspen, Colorado. The word “hope” got my attention because I can distinctly remember hearing a bunch of uppity folks saying “hope was for poor people.” Remember Sarah Palin’s snooty reference to “that hopey changey thing” in her hate-filled attacks on President Obama? Remember all the folks who laughed at the President’s use of the word “hope?” Remember “Up with Hope, Down with Dope.” Remember, “Put Hope in Your Brains, Not Dope in Your Veins?” My how times have changed when one of the richest counties in America has a “Hope Center” to deal with “lack of hope” when it comes to living. Some of the reasons given for the high suicides in Aspen include lost jobs, lost savings, broken and lost relationships, drugs and alcohol, isolation, and superficial relationships. One person said that Aspen has a history of drawing “odd and eccentric characters” as a factor in the high suicide rate.

Colorado is among the top ten states for high suicides that include Alaska, Montana, New Mexico, Wyoming, Arizona and Oregon, West Virginia, Nevada, and Kentucky. So what does “hope” have to do with suicide intervention and prevention? Hope has been much maligned lately as a solution to any of America’s problems. Republicans laugh at the word “hope” as a belief or sentiment that should be held by anyone—especially poor people. Earlier this week a report said that more people are now living in poverty in America than at any other time in American history. At the same time, more wealth has been accumulated by the top 1 percent than at any other time in American history. According to the same report 1 in 5 children in America now lives in poverty. Isn’t being in poverty synonymous with “lack of hope?” If so, how do we explain the suicides in Aspen? Isn’t this a rich town in the lovely mountains inhabited by rich and beautiful people? How can a person be “hopeless in Aspen?” (Maybe this should be the name of a Hollywood movie as in “Sleepless in Seattle.”) But suicide is much too important to make light of. So what else could be going on? Is there something much more human and much more of a common denominator to mankind at work in Aspen that is also true in West Virginia and Kentucky?

In countries with the lowest suicide rate the explanation given is “deep relationships with family, friends and neighbors, and a deep sense of connectedness to their community through these powerful relationships.” How does a person wake up feeling hopeless in Aspen? Or does the answer have everything to do with what a person feels when he goes to sleep? Another researcher suggested that when “values” are all about superficiality then this is a recipe for behavior that leads to self destruction. When day in and day out a person needs to smoke or ingest some type of mind-altering “substance” just to feel “normal” is this clue number one to potential trouble? What about the glorification of vacuous lives? What does the pervasion of “imagery of idols” affect a person’s sense of worth when the ideal is seen as totally unobtainable? Does this describe Aspen or West Virginia or Kentucky?

Again, I find it odd that the word “hope” is part of the name of Aspen’s suicide/crisis intervention program. I’m wondering just how they define “hope.” I’m going to write and ask them just that. I’ll report back with their response.

Copyright 2014 – L. Arthalia Cravin. All rights Reserved. No part of this commentary may be reproduced, stored in a retrieval system, or transmitted by any means, electronic, mechanical, photocopying, recording, or otherwise, without written permission from the author.

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