On March 31st, Netflix released Thirteen Reasons Why, a series based off of the 2007 novel of the same name by Jay Asher. It follows Clay, a high school student who finds a box of cassette tapes on his doorstep one day. The seven double-sided tapes tell the story of why, two weeks prior, his friend and classmate, Hannah Baker, took her own life. She narrates every tape and dedicates each side to one person, describing how and why they are one of the thirteen reasons she made the decision that she did.
Suicide has always and will always be a hard subject. The impact of that kind of decision always ripples out farther than one might think. What makes 13 Reasons Why special, is its ability to show those ripples. It shows the classmates, the coworkers, the families, and the friends, even the strangers. Everyone is affected. But perhaps what it showcases best are the internal ripples that take place inside an individual considering this kind of decision. It shows how those ripples become more like tidal waves that surrounding swimmers shrug off as a traditional rise in water.
It doesn’t matter who you are, or if you’ve ever known anyone involved in, affected by or related to someone who has made or considered this kind of decision, you’ve been changed by the fact that a decision like this exists. And when you hear about it, even if it’s just on the news, it takes its most familiar shape: a reminder. So that night, you hug your loved ones a little tighter, you say things you didn’t think you were brave enough to say, and you live a little harder than you did before. Because in the wake of such darkness, you want to create a little light. You want to use the reminder to make things good, which is noble, though not as noble as using it to quash some of the bad.
While watching and/or reading 13 Reasons Why, you’ll find that it asks something very specific of you. It asks you to do something you’d rather not do in the wake of something like this. It asks you to look, to listen, and to feel. It asks you to let the ripples hit you, and to recognize the “reminder” as a series, not a solo act.
13 Reasons Why reminds us that our words matter. That they can say more than you mean, for far longer than you may have intended.
It reminds us that our words can be weapons, and regardless of our intention, we have no control over whether someone recognizes that weapon as a toy.
It reminds us that sometimes there is no next time. That something we “should have done” or “will do tomorrow” always has the potential to turn into something we can never do.
It reminds us that we’re a piece of the world. That we’re a world within the world. And as such, the world needs us to remain whole.
It reminds us that a try is better than nothing, but that it’s the do’s and did’s that make a difference.
It reminds us to be loud. To say help, over and over and over, in every language we can find, because someone will hear you. Someone that can help, or someone who feels the same way.
It reminds us to be quiet. To pay attention to the whispers that are meant as screams, because you never know how much courage it took to make that sound.
It reminds us to care. Not only for who we’ll influence in the future, but who we’re influencing now, in the every day, with the most ordinary of interactions.
It reminds us to take responsibility. For our words, for our actions, for our strengths and weaknesses, for our highs and lows.
It reminds us that sometimes people need help fighting their battles. And that sometimes the best way to help is to remind them they are helping you fight yours.
It reminds us to love. In every way, in every size, because love can be louder than anything else.
So just as it is the responsibility of books and shows like 13 Reasons Why to depict a subject like this so honestly, it is our responsibility to receive it respectfully. Let the ripples hit you, if only so you can know what they feel like, and so that one day you might be better equipped to rescue someone who feels like they’re drowning.