Comments Off on Pseudocide

Nineteen years ago today, America was rocked by the worst terror attacks in our nation’s history.   

Observers felt a mixture of shock and horror.  Even after two decades, the tragedy still feels raw.   

A handful of others, cynically, saw an opportunity.  What if the catastrophic crumbling of the World Trade Center towers provided the perfect cover for faking someone’s death?

During the months that followed the attacks, insurance adjustors were stunned by the number of people who attempted to commit fraud.  Some invented relatives out of thin air – non-existent parents, siblings, or cousins who just happened to be interviewing for jobs on one of the top floors of the WTC.  Officials ultimately felt confident those deceptions were thwarted. 

But a shadow of doubt remains. 

Is it possible that some of the people who apparently vanished in the rubble of the twin towers are still alive – secretly living somewhere off the grid?

What would motivate someone to commit pseudocide (that is, pretend to be dead)?  There are the usual suspects: escaping the burden of crippling debt; avoiding a jail sentence; running away from a stalker or a bad relationship; cashing in on a life insurance policy (or at least leaving the money behind for loved ones).

In her book Playing Dead: A Journey Through the World of Death Fraud, journalist Elizabeth Greenwood reveals something fascinating: the number one motivator for those who consider faking their own demise, or who try to disappear without a trace, is the lure of simply starting over again.

A surprising number of people want to reinvent themselves.  Wouldn’t it be great just to walk away from the boredom, the frustrations, and the responsibilities of everyday existence? 

It’s not as easy as it sounds.

Fictional characters routinely pretend to drown.  In the real world, that almost never works.  It’s also surprisingly hard to fake dying in a car crash or being eaten by sharks. 

Of course, you could just vanish into thin air.  But that’s far from easy in the 21st century – what with security cameras, internet browsing histories, fingerprints, bank records, and social media posts that continue to preserve that picture of you from that embarrassing weekend back in college. 

“If you want to disappear and do it right,” Greenwood writes, “the planning is not for the faint of heart, or the careless.” 

It takes incredible discipline, focus, and hard work.  You must be willing to leave behind family members, friends, favorite possessions, and your reputation as an honest person.  You cannot lose your concentration for a moment.  Here’s the irony: if you had worked this hard before, in all likelihood you wouldn’t have felt the need to run away in the first place. 

Which brings us to back to the simplest strategy.  Which also happens to be the hardest:

Face your problems.

Happy people, almost universally, have discovered that problems aren’t fatal.  They are normal.  So are waves of sadness.  The pandemic has produced, for all too many people, a low grade fever of depression. 

But because unruly problems and feelings force us to think, work, and strive beyond our comfort zones, they inevitably help us grow.

“Cast all your cares on the Lord, because he cares for you.” (I Peter 5:7)

Life is hard.  But we’re not alone. 

And God is able and willing to bless the life you already have.