Roger Marolt: Aspen is killing itself from within |

Roger Marolt: Aspen is killing itself from within

Roger Marolt
Roger This

When I’m scared I imagine myself in the afterlife sitting next to God. I think, what would I be afraid of then? The answer, of course, is nothing. I would not be afraid of anything. Then I remind myself that he is right beside me even now. I work through this interactive prayer when I am worried, stressed, lonesome and anxious. It brings me peace.

Of course I have shared this personal part of my life with my family. I wonder if I ever talked about it with my friend who ended his life over the weekend.

I knew he was suffering. He had been for a long time. Frequently he would come to my office and start out talking about baseball. He loved the game and his Giants. It’s a topic I like just about anytime. But, I always knew that analyzing the probability of our teams making the World Series was only stepping on the conversational clutch.

Baseball was how we connected, because it is easier to talk about batting averages and pitching rotations than to come out and say, “I need help.” What is curious is, from the moment he walked in the door, I knew he was seeking a shoulder to cry on and he knew I knew that and, yet, we could never get to that point directly.

We talked about spirituality all the time. We discussed practical ways we each used to deal with our problems. We shared like brothers. And, now that our relationship has been so dramatically and permanently severed, I feel I let him down.

It is not the first time. About 10 years ago I was walking past a local bar after work on my way to my car. A friend spotted me from inside and came rushing out. It was obvious he had been drinking, but he was all smiles. He practically begged me to come in and have a drink. Something didn’t feel right, but I knew dinner was practically on the table at home and my young children were anxious to tell me about their day at school. I declined my friend’s invitation. He killed himself that night. I still clearly see his face as I walked away.

This has to stop. They say the suicide rate in Pitkin County is 23 out of 100,000 people, but without effort I recall a dozen local friends who have died at their own hands. It makes me wonder if the suicide rate rises the longer you live here. I am 55 years old and, when I think about my local peer group, it seems that suicide is by far the leading cause of death thus far in our relatively young and healthful lives.

It is not because they weren’t relaxing enough and remembering this is Aspen. I despise that trite bumper sticker saying that implies simply being here should be enough.

I think there is something wrong with this place. It’s stunningly beautiful. We have abundant recreational opportunities. The cultural experience is first rate. The crime rate is low and there is almost no threat of natural disaster. It’s everything you could ask for. And we are killing ourselves at an alarming rate, higher than most other places in the world. We numb ourselves sick to this apparently perfect environment with alcohol and drugs. Although we claim it is only recreational use to enhance our experience here, our abuse and addiction rates are alarming.

People frequently load the question of how great it must have been to grow up here. I’m not sure. Most of us liked it, but what we didn’t see was that, in our youth, the foundation was being laid for so many of us to fall into substance abuse, depression and suicide down the road. Aspen is a tricky prize for kids. Yeah, I know: “poor little rich kids.” Trust me: All Aspen kids have heard it a million times. We very clearly understand that we are not allowed to have problems.

I have accepted all of this. The proof is that I stay. I chose to raise my children here. If everyone accepts this as I have, can we possibly have a healthy community?

I think we try to live up to the print ad pictures of Aspen and the image the rest of the world has of us. That is as impossible as it is one-dimensional and spiritually vacant.

First-world problems are hard to fix with money. Oftentimes that only makes things worse. First-world problems are difficult to talk about without sounding ungrateful. I don’t know what the answers are. Is that reason enough to keep praying?

Roger Marolt believes suicide and depression are our valley’s biggest issue, by far.