Okay, I get depressed at times; but just so readers know, the below is not a cry for help. I’m fine, really.
So suicide can be honorable, which is a relief
My father took his own life, and I admired him for it. He’d suffered a stroke ten years before and was stricken permanently with aphasia and dominant side paralysis, and he had more strokes too, and seizures and eczema and bed sores and cramping and incontinence, indignities piled on indignities, and finally he decided enough was enough and he stopped taking nourishment: refusal was the only option left to him. It took a few days, but he did die, on his own terms and after an honorable fight.
So suicide can be honorable, which is a relief. I’m bipolar II, a lesser form of the disorder, and suicidal ideation is the background music of my life, adding a certain zest to my philosophical musings: sometimes, the meaning of life is of immediate concern. The absurdist philosopher Albert Camus said, “There is but one truly serious philosophical problem, and that is suicide,” and I tend to agree, but it’s curious, isn’t it, that it’s also a philosophical problem that’s more or less taboo. Serious discussions of suicide are rare, even among friends, and even down at Louie’s happy hour it’s not a subject that comes up very often. And why would that be? Is it because we’re all so well adjusted that the subject is of no interest? Or, rather, is it a subject that makes most of us deeply uncomfortable, for deeply personal reasons?
You’d think that suicide would be the most personal decision possible, but arguments against it tend to focus on the effect it has on others. Suicide, for example, is said to be selfish because of the grief it brings to those around the victim. Suicide is even illegal in most jurisdictions, and religions condemn it almost unanimously, which raises the obvious question: why? Why would social institutions presume to influence the most important decision an individual can make?
In my own case, the best arguments against self murder tend to be literary: not only would I have trouble coming up with an adequate note, but in nearly all life stories—and certainly mine—suicide is just about the least satisfactory ending conceivable. It abruptly negates the dramatic tension that give fiction, and life, meaning. This is not to say that all lives have happy endings, clearly they don’t, but all lives are stories, written by ourselves in collaboration with fate, and there are few things as frustrating as a story that ends before its time.
I pretentiously call these little entries ‘essays’, from the french word, essai, which means attempt, or trial. They’re an attempt to figure out what I believe or feel about certain topics, and in this case the attempt failed: I still have no idea what I believe about suicide, and can offer no easy generalities. But here’s a thought: the death rate by suicide in the United States is 10.6 per 100,000, almost exactly the same as the death rate by traffic accident. And yet, I have been in lots of conversations about the importance of seat belts, and hardly any about the verities of intentional death. And that seems wrong.
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