Counter-culture Journals (文革)

Counter-culture Journals (文革)

Friday, November 09, 2012

The Happydale travelogues: The suicide solution—It’s not for everyone

This is the fourth part of a series in which I had been on a road trip and decided to put some fictional stories together based on persons and adventures I had on my voyage. Naturally I used no one’s real name and changed the names of places I went. We continue with The Happydale Travelogues; 

During my stay at Happydale, I went to visit a friend named Jane. She a lot younger than me and she was facing the possibility of being kept in the mental ward of Happydale Hospital for up to 30 days. It used to be called the Happydale Sanitorium, but they eventually decided that name didn’t sound as good as a hospital. She was already in there and I went there during visiting hours. All the patients were locked in a ward. Some wards were more restricted than others. Hers was very open and easy going. As we sat in the living room of the facility she explained to me all this trouble she got from a lawyer.

“Why is a lawyer trying to put you away for so long?” I asked her.

“He’s acting on behalf of this doctor,” she answered. “This is ridiculous. I had made some cuts on my arm with those little plastic knives they let us use at dinner and now he thinks I’m a suicide risk.”

“I would think it would be nearly impossible for a person to cut through to a vein with a slightly serrated plastic knife. I suppose a person could kill themselves with one, but that would not be easy.”

“I know. That lawyer called me a spoiled brat.”

“He doesn’t sound very professional. He sounds like a real pain.”

“He wanted to send me to St. Louis or Kansas City. But then he agreed to let me stay here.”

It suddenly dawned on me how young Jane is. She is less than 25.

“You know?” I said. “You may not be getting treated as you deserve, but I sure hope you wouldn’t really kill yourself at your young age. You not only have the rest of your 20s, but your 30s and 40s. They can be some of the best years of your life. 

I didn’t consider committing suicide until my late 40s. I was getting depressed a lot and my job was burning me out. Finally I started to plan my suicide after my 50th birthday. I figured I could wait until then and 50 was a fair age to die. It got to the point where those suicide plans were about the only thing that used to cheer me up. Before I went to work, I would think about my suicide day and it cheered me up enough to go to work.”

“Really,” Jane said somewhat amazed.

“But I finally went to a doctor and he put me on some anti-depressants,” I told her. “It must have helped. My 50th birthday came and went and here I am years later, still alive. I guess I found reasons to stick around after all. That’s not to say I still don’t have my darker days and the option of suicide is always on my mind. But so far I just haven’t chosen it.”

She seemed interested in my story.

“Any way, the least you should do is waiting until you’re at least 50 before you decide if your life is a total wash out,” I continued. “At least then you gave it your best shot. Society as a whole doesn’t want anyone to commit suicide, but I feel if you went through half your life—to the age of 50, at least you gave it a fair shot. Most people are established to whatever they will be by 50. And some people’s health gets shitty after 50, so that is a valid consideration.” 

For a long time I’ve noticed that several of my favorite writers have also signaled out 50 as a special year. Mao Zedong said

"Living is transformed into dying, lifeless matter is transformed into living beings. I propose that when people over the age of 50 die, a party should be held to celebrate, for it is in inevitable that men should die- this is natural law." 

Of course he never suggested anyone commit suicide. He himself died of old age at the age of 83.

Another of my favorite writers, Hunter S. Thompson, did commit suicide. He told his wife that that day would come, he just hadn’t picked it yet. He finally shot himself at the age of 67. In his suicide letter he said;

"No More Games. No More Bombs. No More Walking. No More Fun. No More Swimming. 67. That is 17 years past 50. 17 more than I needed or wanted. Boring. I am always bitchy. No Fun -- for anybody. 67. You are getting Greedy. Act your old age. Relax -- This won't hurt."

When he died there were commentators who said “we really need a guy like him now. But he apparently made up him mind to check out of this world.”

I had a friend who killed himself a few years ago. He had Alzheimer and didn’t want to be a burden on his wife. He was an atheist and I sometimes wonder if that makes suicide more likely because such people do not fear hell or any other punishment by God or anyone else. Maybe they feel they deserve a quality life and if their life lacks adequate quality, then it really has no value. On the other hand most religious people feel it is a sin to kill themselves so they try and wait until the end comes naturally.

Sitting just a few chairs away from us and playing cards at a table was a patient named Linda. 

“I have a lot of relatives who have committed suicide,” she said. “It seems to run in my family and it is really bad.”

She started naming off her dead relatives and it was an alarming trend. It also didn’t help that she worried that these relatives would go to hell.

“I believe in hell,” she said. “I’m a Christian. I really worry that many of my relatives will end up in hell.”

“I can imagine a God but I could never believe in hell,” I said. “After all, most people who commit suicide probably feel they are already living in hell. I don’t see the logic of taking someone who feels he is already living in hell and, after seeking relief and committing an act he hopes will put an end to it, then God puts him into a similar place as he just left.”

It was then that I remembered what another of my favorite writers, Titus Lucretius Carus, who had lived in Rome about 90 BC. He said;

“ And those other fabulous monsters? Cerberus? The Furies?

Tartarus belching fire? We know that they do not exist,

and yet they speak to us, for which of us is not troubled

by guilt and the fear that somehow punishment must follow

at least as bad as the crime? And what we see in the world 

that happens out in public—being cast down to death

from the Tarpeian Rock, for instance—must be exceeded in Hades.

Hot pitch, executioners, torture, and all those ghastly diversions

the judges impose on felons scare us and let us imagine

an eternity of whips, firebrands, and scourges,

the effect of which is to make life on this earth a hell

for those fools who cannot distinguish dreams from the truth.”

I agreed with him. Surely a supreme being would know when enough torture is enough.

“I kind of figure if I die and there is an after-life, I can be pleasantly surprised” I said. “If not, I will likely not even notice I am gone.” 

I could tell that was not much comfort to Linda. She knew what she believed in and that was that as far as she was concerned.

So if there are any silver linings to the mushroom clouds of suicidal tendencies it is that we don’t fear death as much as others. As I get older I prefer not to fear death too much since my health is not what it used to be and I don’t have as many guarantees of a healthy life as much as I used to. And I’m still around and hoping this new century will bring some interesting changes my way, in my lifetime. 

I hope Jane turns out for the best also. No one should give up on life in their 20s. No one can stop those who are truly committed to ending their lives. So we just try to make life as bearable as we can so most people will choose to stick around as long as they can. -សតិវ អតុ

Elvis Costello - (Angels Wanna Wear My) Red Shoes

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