Temporary pain

All morning my foot’s been hurting. “What new infirmity has befallen me?” I asked myself.

It turns out my infirmity was in the form of a piece of glass, harpooned halfway through my dermis.

Did you ever find yourself in a traffic jam and think, “I hope it’s an accident”? I have, not because I hoped anyone was hurt or there was terrible damage but because with an accident, at least you know there will be an end to the traffic jam.

Traffic, like many of life’s pains, is frustrating because there often doesn’t seem to be any reason for it and there’s not much we can do about it. We’re just stuck.

Yesterday morning a friend of a friend killed himself. He was 26 years old. I didn’t know him but people say he was a sweet guy.

I don’t know if he was what we might call “unstable,” if he had a history – diagnosed or not – of depression or bipolar disorder, if he had used threats of suicide as cries for attention. Whatever, he killed himself.

Some of the chatter on social media among his acquaintances and neighbors has been along the lines of “Don’t be selfish.”

Of course it’s selfish. Ending a life – your own or someone else’s – is just about the most selfish thing you could ever do. It’s selfish because there’s no undoing it, no restitution to be paid; no apologizing will ever let you bring the life back.

I don’t doubt that there are people who contemplate or plan their suicide, only to reject it because of worry over what their loved ones would feel or face afterwards. I can tell you with authority, though, that the awareness of the selfishness of the act is there right up the last flicker of consciousness, jumbled in with the pain, the anger, the desperation – whatever led the person to that moment. But knowing that what you’re doing is selfish often isn’t enough to make a difference.

Why do so many suicide notes say, “I’m sorry”? Because the person killing himself knows that what he’s doing will cause pain, anger, embarrassment, hassle. But often the pull is too strong. The attraction to some other place than this place is too strong when your pain is strong.

“Don’t be selfish” comes from the anger that inevitably follows a suicide. It’s natural. But for people who don’t see an end to the traffic jam, it often isn’t enough.