Online Movie Premiere of ‘A Beautiful Day Tomorrow’ by Local Dad Gabriel Nathan
The film chronicles Gabriel Nathan's 11-day East Coast road-trip in his '63 VW Beetle Herbie the Love Bug replica emblazoned with the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline contact information.
The best way to make a taboo word less taboo is to say it often. Say it when it makes you uncomfortable. Say if even if you worry it might make others uncomfortable. Suicide. One of the hardest words any of us can say. Local dad Gabriel Nathan didn’t just say the word, he embellished his car with it. Then took that car for an 11 day road trip. A road trip he filmed and turned in to a movie. All in the name of suicide. Suicide awareness and hopefully- suicide prevention.
Main Line Parent conducted an interview with Gabriel Nathan whose entire life, it seems, has led him right to this: creating this film to broaden awareness of suicide. Gabriel owns a Vokswagen Bug that he and his wife transformed into a Herbie replica, and I learned in the trailer to ‘A Beautiful Day’ that this ‘Love Bug’ icon is the only motion picture vehicle to attempt to take it’s own life. Naturally, this meant I had a lot of questions about which came first- the idea for the film, or the car purchase! Many thanks to Gabe for taking the time to answer my questions so that we could share with you! And a huge congratulations on this accomplishment. We hope you’ll join us in watching the film’s debut- now online instead of in person, on April 1, 2020 at 7:30 pm on You Tube.
Main Line Parent (MLP): Help me understand the chronology here- did you get a Bug, decide to make a Herbie replica out of it, and then later make the connection and decide to take this trip? OR did you have the idea to do something to promote suicide prevention awareness, and then get the car because it’s such a cultural icon that it would naturally garner attention on a trip like this?
Gabriel Nathan (GN): Like suicide, which is always complex and multi-causal, my reasons for getting into suicide awareness and for making my Herbie into what he has become is also complex and multi-causal.
1- My aunt Rena, who first showed me ‘The Love Bug’ killed herself.
2- My own experience with suicidal thoughts, depression and anxiety in college and beyond.
3- For five years, (2010-2015) I worked at Montgomery County Emergency Service (MCES), a locked, inpatient crisis psychiatric hospital in Norristown, working with people who were voluntarily and involuntarily committed for suicidality/homicidality/inability-to-care and other psychiatric emergency situations. During my last two years there, I shared an office with Tony Salvatore, the Director of Suicide Prevention, who is also a suicide loss survivor. Tony and I talked suicide prevention every day, and I learned a lot at his knee, and was deeply affected by the patients with whom I worked at the hospital. While I was there, I learned about the organization Prevent Suicide PA, that started an awareness campaign called “Drive Out Suicide”, where they gave out window clings with the Lifeline number on them for people to drive around with to promote awareness. I bought 20 of them and organized a rotation with the staff at MCES– people would drive with the window cling on the back of their car for two weeks, and then would switch with other staff members who wanted to promote awareness.
When I got my Herbie in February of 2017 (the culmination of a life-long dream), he was just a white, 1963 Volkswagen. My wife and I did all the stripes and number graphics ourselves, and added upgrades as we could afford to do them to make the car look more like Herbie (fake gray ragtop sunroof cover, gray interior, wide racing wheels and tires, etc) as well as safety upgrades. I owned the car for about half a year before the idea to get back in touch with Prevent Suicide PA and get a window cling to use the high visibility nature of the car to promote suicide awareness and generate conversation. See, people had already been coming up to me to talk about the car, and would ask about my line of work. I work for an online mental health publication now, and I would talk about that, and people would spontaneously open up either about their mental health, or the mental health of a friend or loved one. I saw how people were drawn to the car and how easily people opened up to me about very sensitive topics, so I decided to just use the car to promote suicide awareness and get the conversations jump-started– and the visibility. People don’t actually have to talk to me to “get the message”– you never know what someone who’s driving behind you might be going through– who knows who needs to see that message– either for themselves or for somebody else.
The idea for the road trip came later, around a year later. After a year of driving the car around with the Lifeline number and seeing what an impact I was making locally, I started to think about all the people I’d met and places I’d gone and thought– why not just drive… a little further, and make a film about it. The organization I work for makes short subject documentary films, and I have learned a lot about film-making through our mental health documentaries. We even made a short documentary during the first six months that I owned Herbie– before the Lifeline logo was put on– about just how Herbie is good for my depression and helps me be more extroverted, so I knew a longer film would work. I was able to obtain funding from multiple sources, primarily from the Ivywood Fund, then Janssen Pharmaceuticals and the Community Foundation of New Jersey, Bud Clayman, Dr. Frank Campbell, and some other donors, and the result is a 59 minute professionally-edited film.
MLP: Do you have any advice for talking to children about suicide, both in terms of how to explain someone who has died by suicide and about how to seek help if they have suicidal thoughts?
GN: My children know what the Lifeline number is, they know what suicide means, and they know that I take medication because my brain tells me things that aren’t true, and they know what anxiety and depression are. They know about what kind of hospital I worked at and who was cared for there. I try to speak to them in a developmentally appropriate way about anything and everything, because I believe that this is where shame and secrecy begin– the kind in which I was raised– and there is no reason for it. A somewhat irritated parent said to me at school pickup last year, “Saw your car today– great. Now I have to talk to my kids about suicide.” And I looked him right in the eye and said, “Good.”
I think how you speak about suicide to a child depends on the age of the child. I think you have to consider their level of anxiety and/or depression, their ability to handle hard subjects, their maturity level, etc– all of those factors go into how or why or when you talk about something. I think, in terms of speaking to a child about someone who has died by suicide, you can simply say that Uncle John or whoever it was killed himself or took his own life– don’t say “committed” when speaking about suicide, to a child or anybody (we “commit” sins or crimes, and suicide is neither). You can explain that people die in accidents, from illnesses like cancer or heart disease, and people also sometimes take their own lives when they are in so much pain or sadness or despair that they think that’s the only answer; but it is not the only answer, and if you ever feel like life is too much for you, like there is no other way out, I want you to know that you can come to me, and I will listen to anything you have to say, and we’ll help figure it out together. And, if there is someone else you feel more comfortable talking to, then by all means, talk to him/her.”
MLP: Any other thoughts or feelings you’d like to share with our readers before they view your movie? OR if they don’t view the movie, what is the one thing you want them to hear?
GN: Yes, this film is about suicide awareness, but it is more about human connection. That is, in my opinion, our best weapon against suicide and many of the factors that can lead to suicide: we live in an increasingly isolative world (and not just due to COVID-19), we are glued to our phones and our devices, and we are doing a disservice to humanity by not looking at each other more, not noticing when something might be off with someone who love, know, or care about, or work with. Suicide is typically NOT an impulsive act in adults– it is often deliberated upon for a significant amount of time, and people who are thinking about suicides often will drop soft direct or indirect clues about what they are thinking about– that means that, if we are educated about risk factors, warning signs, and danger signs, we have time to possibly act and intervene– to ask the question, “Are you thinking about killing yourself?” and to know what to do if the answer is “Yes.”
If you are in crisis please call 1-800-273-TALK (8255).