night I sat in a beautiful chapel on the campus
where I have taught for the past eighteen years.
The sun was setting, trees shimmered in our pond,
and a lone blue Heron seemed to be meditating at
the water's edge. We had gathered in the chapel
to commemorate the life of a young man who, just
days before, had taken his own life.
by one, people rose to say how kind, how generous,
how compassionate and caring this young man had
been. I didn't really know him, but I wanted to
express my condolences to his family, and to offer
support to grieving students.
I listened to the speakers, I remembered standing
beside a bathroom sink one night, watching flood
flow from the deep slashes I'd cut into my arms.
The cutting had been painful, but seeing the sink
fill with blood I felt only curiosity. So much blood,
and yet I didn't' even feel light headed. And how
fast the blood coagulated, stopping the drain so
that the sink actually began to fill. Was I bleeding
to death? Perhaps, but it hardly mattered because
something inside of me had already departed, something
that had made me laugh and cry, feel anger and sadness,
longing and hope, had gone. I was depressed, yet
the cutting was not really about dying. I wanted
to come back to life, but didn't know how, so I
skated at the edge of eternity, thinking that might
do the trick.
when I read about young people committing suicide
in Ireland, or when I hear that another young person
has taken their own life in my town, I invariably
flash back to the days when I dragged my body out
of bed, forced myself to swallow an egg and a slice
off toast, and struggled outside to face a world
that seemed so utterly indifferent to my suffering.
I remember feeling as though I were at the bottom
of the sea, in a diving bell, separated from other
human beings, watching the world swim by while I
remained paralyzed, immobile, wishing that, at least,
I could experience sadness.
parents sent me to a psychiatrist who was getting
rich giving his clients electro-shock treatments.
This charlatan didn't care what might be troubling
his patients, just run electricity through their
brain and they would be fine. After 13 of these
"treatments, " I couldn't remember close
friends' names, couldn't read or write or concentrate.
My brain was a cinder. That's when I cut my wrists.
am convinced that most people who commit suicide
do not wish to die. That would be an easy way of
deconstructing the mystery of suicide, but this
view will not help those who may be living in that
diving bell, isolated from the world that swirls
around them, wishing they could explain what they
are feeling to someone, anyone, just once.
problem, I'm convinced, is that we insist on thinking
about suicide as an expression of madness, an aberration
in an otherwise normal world where people go about
the business of working, raising their families,
attending church, paying taxes, dying of old age.
Those who succumb to some mysterious despair, we
tell ourselves, do not reflect the world in which
we, normal people, live and work and die. They do
not represent the world in which ordinary people
live according to rational rules and regulations.
what if the world we have created for ourselves
makes little sense to our children? When I questioned
why the church had pounded "thou shall not
kill" into my head, when in fact what it really
meant was that it's perfectly acceptable to kill
foreign enemies, no one seemed to have an answer.
When I suggested that capitalism and Christianity
are incompatible, the former based upon greed, the
later on love, I was warned not to think that way.
When I asked why some members of my parents' congregation
drove expensive cars to church, while others could
barely afford to keep a roof over their heads, I
was told not to worry about such unimportant things.
remember feeling increasingly isolated from a world
that insisted that political, social, economic,
and religious contradictions made perfect sense.
I didn't understand how killing for peace is every
Christian's duty; how hating our enemies is compatible
with "turning the other cheek," or how
discriminating against African-Americans, Native
Americans, homosexuals, and others is an expression
of Christian love. People who questioned these absurdities
were sent to psychiatrists. Many found themselves
locked inside of psychiatric wards.
come to realize that if it takes a village to raise
a child, it also takes a village to drive children
to the brink of despair. After all, what choice
do young people have but to embrace the Orwellian
world in which they happen to live? Children who
ask why the world bristles with nuclear weapons,
when even the use of a small percentage of these
warheads will destroy all life on this planet, are
told their government is the best, the greatest,
the most democratic in the world; therefore, their
government has the right to blow up the world in
order to save it. Kids who ask why politicians lie
and cheat and steal from the very people they claim
to represent, are informed that these crooks represent
the people; therefore, they are exempt from the
rules by which we, ordinary humans, live.
people who dare to ask why so many self-proclaimed
Christians are willing to drop bombs on innocent
children, will be told it's all right to commit
mass murder as long as God is on your side.
not suggesting that everyone who commits suicide
is driven to do so by uncaring, indifferent, or
downright cruel people. But I can say with absolute
certainly that when I stood over that blood-clogged
sink so many long years ago, I was crying out for
someone, anyone, to listen to what I had to say.
I was told that I was crazy. I'm convinced now that
I was trying to discover what it means to be sane.