I recently watched a Netflix classic miniseries entitled “13 Reasons Why”. Selena Gomez served as executive producer of this series which is based on the best-selling novel by Jay Asher regarding teen suicide.
Hannah Baker was a high school sophomore at Liberty High (fictitious name) in the town of Crestmont (the book never mentions what state). As the series starts out we learn that Hannah has tragically committed suicide. But before she did, she made a succession of cassette tapes describing the thirteen reasons for ending her own life. The thirteen reasons are actually thirteen people that have neglected or hurt Hannah in some way.
As I watched episode after episode, I saw how Hannah became increasingly more and more desperate and injured by the people she trusted. And one by one her friends moved out of her life. Feeling invisible and alone she withdrew into a place of isolation and hopelessness.
Clay Jensen, the one classmate that truly loved her was too shy to tell her about his feelings. In view of all the rejection and abuse she had suffered, she felt she was not good enough for him, so she inadvertently pushed him away as well – no doubt, she reasoned, to save herself the pain of his eventual abandonment.
The series begins with Clay receiving the cassette tapes that begin with Hannah explaining why she committed suicide, stating, “If you have received these tapes, you are one of the reasons.” Of course Clay, being the straight-laced, honor role, person of character that he was could not fathom why he would be on the tapes. After all, in his mind Hannah was the love of his life. (We do learn in the end that the only thing that Clay had been guilty of was not having the courage to tell Hannah how he felt about her.)
Most of the people who hurt Hannah had secrets, insecurities, hurts or fears of their own that caused them to react to her the way they did. And “yes” some of them were simply vile, selfish, despicable human beings.
This was possibly the most disturbing series that I’ve ever watched. And I think that the reason that’s true is because this stuff actually happens way too often in today’s society. (I would like to caution you who plan to watch this series, it does have a lot of teenage jargon, so there is quite a bit of foul language to go around and even more importantly, some of the scenes are graphic in nature.)
In the 12th episode, Hannah said (via the tapes) that she had died before she ever decided to commit suicide. Throughout the show, when someone was kind to her, you could see the sparkle of hope in her eyes…but then, when they disappointed her, you could see it fade away a little bit more each time.
As Clay listens to the tapes one by one, he learns how he and twelve other people wounded Hannah’s soul. He had been the second to the last person in line to receive the tapes – so eleven other classmates had already heard the tapes and knew about everyone else’s injustices toward Hannah as well as their own. But Clay was, by far, the most disturbed by them.
He wanted to right all the wrongs and it almost destroyed him as well.
On the day before Hannah killed herself she made an appointment with Mr. Porter, the School Counselor, as a last ditch effort to save herself. During their conversation, Hannah explains her thoughts (that were clearly in-your-face suicidal) to Mr. Porter. He asked her what had happened to cause her feelings of desperation. “It has been one thing on top of another,” Hannah replied. She briefly described the incident that had quenched her last spark of hope. However, Mr. Porter essentially tells her that she needs to “move on” with her life and let all the negative things go. She leaves his office muttering to herself, “I know what I need to do – I just need to move on… I just need to move on.” She pauses in the hallway, waiting, hoping that Mr. Porter will come after her – but he doesn’t – and that evening, she does as he has suggested – she sadly moves on …from this life.
Clay confronted Mr. Porter about that conversation with Hannah, accusing him of not taking her obvious cry for help seriously. Mr. Porter said, “Clay, you can’t love someone back to life!” What he meant was that Hannah had it in her mind to kill herself and that no one could have stopped her.
Clay told Mr. Porter, “We could have stopped her, just one of us could have saved her!” Looking back at Mr. Porter as he turned to leave, he said, “We have to get better at taking care of each other!” He walked down the hall and saw Sky (a girl that had no friends) standing at her locker.
“Hey Sky”, he asked, “would you like to hang out sometime?”
“Sure”, came her surprised response, “When?”
“How about now?” answered Clay.
I’m so glad that the series ended this way. And I loved Clay’s statement: “We have to get better at taking care of each other!” He was determined to be the change that he wanted to see happen at school. In order to see a difference, we must first be the difference; we must be the friend that rescues the next desperate soul.
What can we take away from this? Here are a few things I’d like to comment on:
The first is Mr. Porter’s statement – “Clay, you can’t love someone back to life!” He couldn’t have been more wrong. You can’t once they are physically gone, but Hannah said she had died long before her suicide. If she had only had one friend that stood by her, I think the outcome would have been different – that’s what Clay meant when he said, “We could have stopped her, just one of us could have saved her!”
Of course Hannah’s story was fiction, but I read a true story about a boy in school who was truly a troubled soul in need of a friend. He was walking home from school one day intent on hanging himself when he got home. On the way out the door some students ran into him and knocked his books out of his hands. Another student (a football player) saw what happened, helped him with his books and invited him to play football the next day. He did and they became fast friends. At graduation the teenager told his story of how he had already determined to commit suicide that day and it was his newfound friend that had saved his life. We may be the only link between another person and eternity. We truly ARE our brother’s keeper.
Secondly, we never know what a person is going through – we cannot know the torture hiding behind the smile. Some of the students that hurt Hannah only hurt her because they were hurting in some way. That does not excuse it, but it does prove that often people hurt other people because of some insecurity, fear or pain of their own. The Bible teaches in Romans 12:21 Be not overcome of evil, but overcome evil with good. Don’t pass on the pain – but remember (in many cases) that the most unlovable person is the one in the most pain.
Last, but not least, Hannah felt utterly hopeless. As Christians, we are NEVER without hope. Jesus can turn any situation around. But even if He doesn’t for the time being, He is the God of all comfort and He will never fail to walk with us through our darkest valleys. Pain and heartache comes to ALL of us, Christians and non-Christians, young and old, rich and poor – no one is exempt. A few years ago, I had something tragic happen in my own life and I became disappointed and disillusioned with God and I stopped talking to Him. After spending the most miserable week of my life, I finally decided, “Well, I have a decision to make, I can go through this WITH God or without Him!” The choice was really no choice at all – I knew I could not make it without Him. It has not been an easy journey, but I can tell you that my Savior has been faithful every step of the way. Don’t walk through your valleys without Him.
Isaiah 43:2 When thou passest through the waters, I will be with thee; and through the rivers, they shall not overflow thee: when thou walkest through the fire, thou shalt not be burned; neither shall the flame kindle upon thee.
Matthew 28:20 …and, lo, I am with you always, even unto the end of the world.
Psalm 23:4 Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil: for thou art with me; thy rod and thy staff they comfort me.
When we walk through our darkest hours, Jesus is there with us (if we allow Him to be) and He is the One who can save us. Hannah cited thirteen reasons why she gave up all hope – Jesus is the one reason we shouldn’t. He will never let us down!
Copyright © 2017 Sandra J. Briggs