In today’s society, that escape is easier than ever before. And that is a great gift to many people: If you do not have much in common with your relatives and neighbors, if you are gay or a genius (or both), if you are simply restless and footloose, the world can feel much less lonely than it would have in the past. Our society is often kinder to differences and eccentricities than past eras, and our economy rewards extraordinary talent more richly than ever before.
The problem is that as it has grown easier to be remarkable and unusual, it has arguably grown harder to be ordinary. To be the kind of person who does not want to write his own life script, or invent her own idiosyncratic career path. To enjoy the stability and comfort of inherited obligations and expectations, rather than constantly having to strike out on your own. To follow a “little way” rather than a path of great ambition. To be more like Ruthie Leming than her brother.
Too often, and probably increasingly, not enough Americans will have what the Lemings had — a place that knew them intimately, a community to lean on, a strong network in a time of trial.
Without such blessings, it is all too understandable that some people enduring suffering and loneliness would end up looking not for help or support, but for a way to end it all.