I have been thinking a lot lately about suicide. Please do not jump out of your chairs and start directing concerned phone calls or e-mails my way, because this is not what you think. The novel that I am now heavily into the rewrite phases of concerns itself deeply with death and what it means to different people, cultures, and what it means in a metaphysical and supernatural sense as well. My novel is a work of fiction if you did not know this already. I will re-iterate—I am not considering suicide as a personal option, I am only considering suicide and what it means to me.
Very often, when someone in our community chooses to end their own life, the largest response tends to be a mixture of very public sympathy for the person and their family and somewhat less public, but often vitriolic accusations of selfishness. We have all heard before that suicide is selfish. The idea is that by ending one’s own life, they are taking an easy way out—a coward’s way out. Meanwhile, they are inflicting untold pain and suffering on their loved ones and/or their community.
Suicide occurs at an abnormally high rate among teenagers and oppressed communities. As a teenager we go through a lot of difficult changes as we develop into adults. Additionally our world views are often shattered, or enhanced, or both. We come from limited understandings of our surroundings to infinitely more vast ones. There is also, strangely, a social emphasis on conformity. Those who do not meet some ambiguous status quo are taunted and tortured by their peers. On a personal note, I have always found it difficult to grasp the mentality of those who claim that their high school years were the best years of their lives.
Oppressed communities often deal with abysmally low standards of living while being exploited by their oppressors in just about every possible way that can be conceived of. Additionally, like teenagers, but on a much broader and horrendous scale, oppressed communities do not meet the standards of conformity placed on them by their oppressors. They are taunted and tortured for not meeting those standards as well as for when those standards are met. I realize that the language that I am using here might be a little murky, so let me give you a personal example.
Sometimes, though not often, I will wear my hair in braids. Because I do not do this often—and also, I think, because I am capable of passing as white—when I do wear them I am met with negative comments, teasing, or incredulity. Maybe the negativity is not intentional, and the ribbing is friendly, but that is neither here nor there because I am not trying to cast aspersions on individuals, but rather the society at large. The same individuals might, were I to be dressed in a three-piece suit, have something to say about my adoption of “white culture” as I am not wearing buckskins or whatever they are thinking. Hopefully this mild divergence gets the point across. I had no intention of this piece exploring these particularly themes exclusively, but they are real and present and not mentioning them would be a disservice to the original thought.
I cannot also claim that suicide is only explored by those who are suffering from the mistreatment of others. There are many people who have chosen suicide because of physical or emotional pain that they no longer wish to endure. Some of these individuals have had lauded and praised lives. Kurt Cobain is a more contemporary figure who is still celebrated twenty years after his death. He is also still condemned, even by his widow, these twenty years after.
So where am I going with this? I am wondering about the greater impact and meaning of suicide. Is it actually selfish in the way that it is often described? Most of us are taught that are lives are our own and we are to do with them as we please in order to achieve, ultimately, happiness. If one cannot achieve happiness, is it wrong to consider taking one’s own life? What if one believes that they will find their happiness in the after life? And here we come to an even more controversial aspect of this question. I know that many would consider this question from a faithful standpoint, but for those of us that are capable of accepting that our faith is not necessarily the faith of all, how do you feel about the idea that someone might commit suicide in an attempt to achieve bliss?
I do not know if I am going to get many answers here, because I very rarely get comments on this blog (to date) but I do get them sometimes and I am hoping that I can get some thoughtful, unique perspectives from some of you.
How do you feel about suicide?