“Hope is like a disease,” I told myself last Sunday. It clings to you, whether you want it to or not. People say the hardest thing in the world is living without hope, but I think it’s the exact opposite. It’s hope that kills you, simply because it is so hard to let go of, and even in the darkest of places, you can’t help but think, “Maybe this will all pass. Maybe I’ll come out of the other side, into bright lights and a land of no fear, maybe it really will get better.” And the darnedest thing is that it does- whether you get to see that or not.
I’ve been thinking about suicide recently.
It’s not a subject that is very new to me: I remember thinking it from 4th grade, back when the first signs of black clouds flitted over my mind. More recently, though, I had just finished reading “Maus”, the game-changing graphic novel by Art Spiegelman. It includes the story of Spiegelman’s mother’s suicide. I remember thinking, while reading, “How desperate she must have been. to let go, after surviving Auschwitz. How hard it must have been for her to go on.” It led me to something I had thought about many times before- the notion of suicide being cowardly. I never understood that broad brush-stroke. Suicide is an action, and every action by every person has a motive, and every person has their own motives for acting the way they do. Why, then, are those who commit suicide all tarred with the same brush? As if they were all pathetic little fools who could not take anymore from life, who did this to avoid responsibility? Some people perhaps do really have that idea in mind- those who cannot weather consequences of their actions. But surely not all? Surely not the woman who was in her darkest place in a bubble of isolation and saw no way out,? Sure not that transgender youth who saw his very existence being rejected on every level by all those he loved? Surely not this woman, a Holocaust survivor, having lived through a horror few can even dream about? Can people not see that the real turning-point in their mind was when they lost hope- hope that it would get better, easier to tolerate? Even this woman, who ought to have known this above all others?
Can they not see that that is the real tragedy- the fact that they lost that one faculty that is the hardest to get rid of, that one glimmer, that one small squirming of the mind- the very human, very stubborn, very, very essential instinct to the bare machinery of life and existence- the ability to hope?
Can you imagine how desperate one must be, to let go of this evolutionary, existential instinct hardwired into the very being of humans?
On the other hand there is the completely opposite extreme: the dark glamour that surrounds this topic like a halo, like the water around Virginia Woolf’s drowned head and bloated lips, like the gas seeping its noxious fingers into Sylvia Plath’s melted head. The notion of romance being attached with something so ghastly, so dreadful, so final. I see it now, on Tumblr, everyday: a sort of dramatic gesture, an eagerness to prove oneself: if someone dies trying to prove it, the topic is more worthy of making posts about, their courage praised, their aggressive acceptance thrust out into the aggressively accepting corner of the interweb- or else. I cut, therefore I’m feminist; “society” has made me want to kill myself, therefore I’m worthy of being on Tumblr. It’s almost an initiation rite.
It’s a strange world we live in.
I feel like I ought to go into Japanese ritual suicide or the Roman act of nobility and sacrifice here- those are the only two societies I know about where suicide is a socially sanctioned and even approved-of act; let me know of others that may be there?- but that’s too complicated to talk about here or unravel. We’re not dealing with social norms or cultural identity here; it’s the choices of an individual that I’m talking about.
To me, any action must always be placed in its context. There is no doubting the fact that many, many actions are questionable at best and criminal and immoral at worst no matter what situation they’re placed in, but an individual’s decision about their own life seems to be the last thing we should be questioning. The actual act of killing oneself is not the real death, you see- someone who decides to take their own life has been dead for weeks, months, maybe years, before they actually take that step. I can assure you that they waited for someone to notice it, to tell them- it’s going to be okay. And of course, it gets better; of course, we must do our absolute best- better than our best- to convince someone who is in a bad frame of mind that it will, indeed, get better for them too: but we should probably try to to do that while they’re still alive, instead of blaming them for being weak, for not knowing this, for not having hope, for not believing, once they actually have lost their belief and hope and strength to survive… once they took that step, knowing this was it, knowing it was final, knowing this would end it all- all possibilities, even those ridiculously persistent little doubts of maybes and perhaps and the elusive good times to come. Believe me, it is the hardest thing they ever did.
What do you think? Do you agree with my feeling, or do you think I’m a terrible person for approving any kind of taking of life- “even self-murder”, as D H Lawrence put it?
Let me know in the comments. See you on Wednesday.