At least, let’s spread the word..

At least let’s spread the word – illustration made for the story of Nathan Englander. Client: La Stampa


There is a white tree outside my window, with a pretty black bird on it. I don’t know the name of the tree. What I do know is that in spring, it blooms. Or, at least it bloomed this year. A few hours after I admired it, a freezing, torrential downpour battered the newly flowered branches. A few days before, I woke up to discover not a white tree but a white world, as a springtime blizzard bore down on New York.

Thankfully, between those two storms was a beautiful Saturday — a full 30 degrees Fahrenheit warmer than the day that followed. My wife and I took our daughter to Prospect Park in Brooklyn for a kid’s birthday party, where we found the rest of our borough out in force. The three of us maneuvered between charity walkers and horseback riders, and the racing bicyclists who seemed intent on flattening anyone in their way.

I soon learned that not far from where we were hanging out, David Buckel, a 60-year-old civil rights lawyer and environmentalist, had self-immolated earlier that same morning. He’d doused himself in fossil fuel to protest fossil fuel use, after leaving a suicide note nearby and emailing a copy to the New York Times.

I was shocked, then saddened. Within a few hours of that harrowing suicide, the park had already moved on. The city, with the rest of the world, never stopped.

At home I looked online to see how this man’s desperate act, taken with the express purpose of drawing attention, was being presented in our click-based media landscape. His tortured message was there, but it was already being drowned out by other news, particularly the deafening noise from President Trump’s porn star feud.

It occurred to me that Mr. Buckel didn’t have the banner headlines because what he did was so foreign to this part of the world. And I don’t mean the act itself. I mean in style and form. The extraordinarily painful way he took his life reminded me more of the Tibetans who have sacrificed their lives protesting Chinese rule. And then I read that Mr. Buckel had alluded to Tibetan monks in his note.

I reflected on my own country and thought, How do Americans kill themselves when they want to get attention? Just look at gun-related massacre after massacre, in which legally armed monsters take the lives of innocents, ensuring they get every front page and top-of-the-hour story, before turning the guns on themselves. And so their messages of nihilism, of pure evil, spread.

Whatever underlying depression or personal issues drove David Buckel to do what he did, he, too, had a message. He wrote in his suicide note: “Most humans on the planet now breathe air made unhealthy by fossil fuels, and many die early deaths as a result — my early death by fossil fuel reflects what we are doing to ourselves.”

Story by: Nathan Englander
Client: La Stampa

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