Regular readers of Live And Let’s Fly may have noticed a prominent voice in the comments section has been absent for the last several weeks. That is because he killed himself. His death is a sad testament of the fragility of life, but also a reminder to us about our priorities.
Reflecting On The Death Of A Blog Reader
For the last week I have debated whether to even write this story or not, but it is impossible for me simply to ignore what has transpired and maybe through this sad tale others will avoid a similar fate.
Anthony Joseph, Jr. found Live And Let’s Fly at some point during the pandemic. Posting under names including Acura and Vietri, he took strong positions against the COVID-19 vaccine, which above all else seemed to be an issue he was transfixed on.
Unlike other blogs which fully censored such anti-vax commentary, we allowed him to voice his opinion, which he did. Rarely a day went by when he did not remind us of his condemnation for the COVID-19 vaccine or anyone who supported it.
For those comments, he was routinely rebuked.
At multiple points he was banned from Live And Let’s Fly for not respecting our comments policy, but it was like a game of whack-a-mole in which he would soon pop up under a different name and IP address. I found it too cumbersome to spend my days redacting or deleting comments, so we just let it slide.
Personally, I always thought he meant well, though he was clearly deeply troubled and his Captain Ahab-like monomania was disturbing.
This culminated in a story I wrote last month on a United Airlines flight attendant who has sued her employer for backpay after being sidelined during the pandemic for her refusal to be jabbed. Over the course of the next several days, Jospeh left over 50 comments on the blog, culminating with this one:
Indeed, he followed through on that threat and killed himself shortly after writing that comment.
No blog reader is responsible for the death of Joseph. He chose to take his own life in a manner of his choice. His obituary shares that he struggled mentally and physically for years. Being challenged on an issue is not being bullied, though when people are attacked instead of their ideas, needless pain is the result (suicide or not).
I’ll discuss our comments policy below, but I think it is helpful to always and particularly today to take a step back and think about the way in which we speak to others, whether in-person or anonymously online.
A week before his death, he emailed me in total despair, empty and broken from a world that felt empty to him.
I told him that the fundamental human problem–the reason he was so sad–is because he put his hope in the wrong places. He saw Donald Trump as his messiah and his utter fixation on the shortcomings of our own systems of government will lead anyone to despair. There is no salvation in any political leader or party.
I am a Christian and this was an opportunity to share what I base my hope on. That is that humans have forsaken their Creator and are mired in a hopeless search for meaning and fulfillment. Yet God calls us to a new and radical identity rooted in a historical event witnessed by hundreds, carefully recorded, and faithfully preserved through the centuries: a remarkable life, death, and resurrection of man named Jesus of Nazareth.
My hope is in Jesus and my faith is the recognition that all of us, regardless of our good works, are unworthy and that only Jesus is worthy. That is the uniqueness that separates the Christian faith from all other faiths. It’s not that we bring our good works to the table and God, in a sort of cosmic balancing test, determines whether the good outweighs the bad.
No, Christianity recognizes that we bring nothing to the table and that the saving work of God through Christ is a free and unmerited act of grace. We stand in awe of this perfect love and in debt for the price that has been paid through the death of Christ so that we may be called the sons and daughters of God. Our response is good works, but it is not our works that play any role in our salvation or the hope that is within us.
Going back to its origins two thousand years ago, Christianity was despised by the intellectual class as a fanciful crutch that weak people leaned on to try to find meaning in this cruel world. Oh yes, Christianity is a crutch. In fact, it is full body cast; a heart transplant that gives us an identity that cannot be taken, a love that can be quenched, and a hope that cannot be extinguished. For we were dead in our sin, but were made alive by Christ. That is the ultimate miracle, friends. That God would draw us to Himself and demonstrates that for us to love God and one another, we must reject the idea that we can work our way toward that goal. It is only when we recognize that we love because God first loved us and saved us from the perdition of sin that we can find rest.
Christ came not just to save the world from physical hunger, but to satisfy our greatest hunger of all: our purpose and meaning and hope in life that we cannot find in ourselves or our endeavors. Put another way, Jesus came to save us from our sins and crystalize that we are unworthy but God is worthy. As pastor and theologian Tim Keller said, “Religion makes us proud of what we have done. The Gospel makes us proud of what Jesus has done.”
I had this conversation with Jospeh a week before his death. I also urged him, whatever he thought about Christianity, to seek medical help and implored him not to end his life: that such a drastic move was selfish and would solve nothing. I shared the suicide hotline (simply dial 988) and told him to reach out to his family that loved him.
He rejected that message. He was angry and called me names that I will not repeat.
Prior to his death, he sent a final message to both me and to Kyle, who writes here on Sundays. This time, he claimed, he was really going to end it all. We took his threat seriously: Kyle called the police, even though we did not even know exactly where he was in Florida.
But the troubled young man took his own life…an obituary confirms this and I highly doubt this is all just an elaborate hoax.
This morning a funeral mass was held for him in Rhode Island. The liturgy of the funeral mass begins with John 11:25:
“I am the resurrection and the life. Whoever believes in Me, though he die, yet shall he live.”
The great hope of a new heaven and new earth in which there is perfect peace, love, and justice is rooted in a historical reality. Interestingly, Keller departed this world on the same day as Anthony, though he died of cancer in perfect peace and contentment. What a juxtaposition.
That brings us back to the comments policy on Live And Let’s Fly. Admittedly, his death has made me wonder whether we should take a more active role in moderating comments. As a general principle, I believe the answer to speech is more speech. I am not afraid of misinformation because I believe that in the great marketplace of ideas, we better underhand others and hone our own worldviews and convictions through dialogue, not erecting walls of separation between ideas we might find disagreeable or even repugnant.
I don’t think the final outcome for Jospeh would have changed had we censored more of his comments or the comments of others.
But I do think it is important to remember that this blog generally deals in light-hearted topics and is for entertainment. You should never take too seriously the latest story on a drunk passenger run amok or even my flight reports and hotel reviews. With limited exceptions such as this post today, this blog is an escape from the “real” world rather than a reflection of our greater priorities.
I value the great community that has developed in this blog that appears to me to be unique among the larger independent travel blogs. I hope that this continues and I while 99% of visitors do not leave comments, I am quite thankful for the 1% of you who do.
Please continue to do so, but also be mindful that even hiding behind the anonymity of the internet is a person leaving each comment. Let’s work to treat others the way we want to be treated…and that certainly goes for me too.
And let us not neglect those who find themselves in their hour of greatest need while also realizing that suicide is always and only a personal decision.
This is not a happy topic, but I hope you understand the burden on my heart and why I felt the need to share my thoughts with you today. To the Joseph family, I send my sincere condolences for the loss of your son, bother, and friend. I hope that his life will inspire others to seek help when in need, evaluate their own priorities, and realize that placing our hope in human institutions will not satisfy our greatest human need.