A Dark Mystery

Spring                                                                       Mountain Moon

death book of the deadSuicide. A dark mystery. It closes off communication, denies explanations. Though it seems cruel to me, the Roman Catholic prohibition against suicide puts a moral weight on the individual’s scales. Says, wait. Pause. They see it, clearly I think, as self-murder, but there is no nuance in the stance. No admission that life sometimes becomes a heavy burden, heavier than can be borne.

Among people I know, I know of two suicides, one a software programmer, an adult, and another, recent, a young man with apparently psychotic tendencies. I also know, closer to home, of an instance of suicidal ideation. That’s the difficulty, it’s so easy to proceed from considering suicide to a brash act, a momentary lapse in judgment that becomes tragically permanent.

Death Pendant_with_a_Monk_and_Death_-_Walters
Pendant_with_a_Monk_and_Death Walters

I applaud the hot lines, the counseling centers, the encouragement to see a person slipping away and to do something concrete about it, now, before nothing can be done. I’m also sure that no number of such services and attitudinal shifts will stamp out suicide.

The French existentialists posited suicide as the ultimate moment of human freedom, choosing how to die expressing a final raised fist against the crowd, against ennui, against the absurd. And, as an instance of individual choice, I agree. It is this stance toward suicide that carries forward into the debate about choosing death when a terminal illness allows for no hope.

Death remains the barrier about which we all wonder and about which we have no reliable information. Is it an extinction level event for the individual? Or, is it merely a passage way to a different mode of existence? How about reincarnation? I have no idea. I do know that our body returns its star dust to the great pool where it will resurrect in some other form.  I do know that though the dead no longer have agency, they can continue to influence life through wills, through creative work, through those they affected.

isle of the dead, arnold brocklin
isle of the dead, arnold brocklin

It is this profound and blanket uncertainty that gives death and, by extension, suicide, their fearsome reputation. Yet it does not need to be so. As I read recently, every generation finds entirely new clerks at the grocery store, politicians in office, farmers and factory workers, scholars and dancers. Death itself is not an uncertainty and in that intransigence gives away its secret. Death is not abnormal, in fact it is a perfect example of normal since it affects 100% of humans, of all living things save for a handful. That which is normal is just that, normal.

No one, to paraphrase Garrison Keillor, is above average when it comes to dying.