Silence is not agreement.
I keep my mouth shut as I walk behind the two women I am working with this week. The younger one is marching in her formerly fashionable combat boots in time to the words barking from her mouth. The topic is Suicide. Don’t ask how they got on to that subject, I wasn’t really paying attention.
She says, with all the force of the righteously ignorant: “I don’t understand how anyone can kill themselves. It’s so selfish. How can anyone be that selfish?”
This woman has been a part of my life for about eight years, a friend of a friend at first and now a coworker. I’m sure she’s heard my story. Perhaps she has forgotten. Or, more likely, she thinks she is imparting a message to me.
“I’ve been depressed, everyone gets depressed sometimes, but I’ve never wanted to die. Don’t they know how final that is?” She says, with a tone that implies, “idiots.”
In my head, I answer, “Uh, yeah, they do. That is kind of the point.” But I don’t say this aloud. I just follow. Silent. Listening. Cringing to think of the older woman’s thoughts. The older woman is smart and tolerant, I know she’s been through an emotional hell of her own. She doesn’t respond either. Because what can you say? Silence is not agreement, I just don’t have the will to argue with her.
The speaker continues on, telling stories of people she knows who were hurt by someone’s suicide and how terrible their lives became because of their loss. “So selfish!” she says, repeatedly, unaware of the hypocrisy.
What is Death?
I know other people who don’t understand the desire to end ones life. They may not be as obnoxious in their verbalization, but it boils down to the same thing: they don’t think about death the same way I do. I want to ask her, what does the word DEATH mean to you? She is one of those agnostic-yet-spiritual types. I imagine she would answer, “Of course we don’t know what comes next, and I don’t believe in a fairy-tale heaven or god or anything, but there has to be something. My soul is real, and it can’t just disappear.”
In other words, you are afraid of not existing, therefore you have convinced yourself that you (your ‘soul’) will never die. It is that fear that keeps you from understanding suicide. If you looked upon death as an inevitable ending, a dissipation into nothingness, a sleep without dreams or waking, perhaps then you could understand the desire to just skip to the end.
What is Life?
I choose to live, and it is a conscious choice. My life is a good life. I have experienced great joy and I believe that I will feel those bursts of happiness again and again in the future. That belief counters the anxiety, the fear of failure, the defeats, the blanket of numbing despair that threatens to smother me. No, I don’t forget. It is always there, in the dark corners of my mind. An open door into oblivion. A promise of nothingness.
We are born into a reality not of our own choosing. The chemical soup of our brains can so easily twist that reality into pain/despair/insanity. We make life-altering decisions before we have the knowledge to understand that the repercussions can destroy all happiness. There are no second chances. There are no do-overs.
What keeps you alive?
She is facinated with skulls and crossbones, symbols of death, evident in her tattoos and the stickers she plasters on her car and her luggage. (Reminds me of the totems used by an old shaman to ward off evil spirits.)
She has a ‘Kill or Be Killed’ attitude towards guns. She believes the weather/economy sucks and is just getting worse. The city is full of terrorists. We’re all going to be speaking Mandarin in twenty years and of course that means the end of the world. All strangers are bad until proven good. And in the end, life is about suffering, after all. If you aren’t complaining about something, you aren’t really living.
Here’s what I don’t understand, when your fear of death is the only thing that keeps you alive, what is the point? If I told her I believe the world is a wonderful place, that most people are mostly good, and disasters bring out the best in us, she would tell me that I was terribly naïve. If I told her I that I live for the future moments of unexpected joy that I know are coming, she would tell me I was being childish.
And yet, I’m the one who has attempted suicide. I’m the one who understands why, for some people, it is the only solution. I’m the one who’s selfish because I figured out that we can live (or die) only for ourselves, because it is the only reality we know.
I know why I keep going, why I keep breathing through the unending moments when I’m curled up in a ball on the bathroom floor unable to stop crying. Does she?
“I don’t understand suicide!” No, you don’t. And somehow, by ignoring the inevitable end of life, you seem less alive.
Her ignorance on the topic of suicide ought to mean that she has less to say, but, sadly, she just keeps talking.