Somehow, other people struggle with it. I don't fully understand; I will never be in their shoes. My personality is just different that way, because I always had the drive and the stubbornness never to give up. Yet, some part of me deeply understands, because I have known the trench warfare of life's battles and the shellshock that leads to it. I have known hopelessness and despair. I have felt the whole world abandon me and desired to respond in kind - I wanted to abandon it as well. I was no longer needed, so I turned inward to a soulless life of loneliness, and the only thing holding me together was the common grace of a God who wouldn't give up on me. That I have never desired to take the ultimate step in abandoning the world is a blessing I can take no credit for; I am merely lucky. The thought never crossed my mind and I don't know what would happen if it did.
As plain as day, the struggle with suicide is real. It is a real tragedy that affects real people. It becomes more than just an idea or a temptation, but an actual decision someone commits to. They actually do it. I don't know how. To me, it's unnatural, unthinkable, and for that it's all the more tragic. It should never have happened, but somehow it sneaks like a thief in the night into the lives of hurting people and whisks them away. I try to imagine what it must be like, to not just think of that infinite blackness but to know it, and the theatre in my mind descends into a place that's dark and perverse, to a basement that's pure evil. This basement is like the one that spooked me out when I was a little kid, where I was afraid I would meet a haunting ghost or a malevolent shadow, or Satan himself. My mind must create images of personified evil in order to comprehend the experiential knowledge of this irrevocable decision.
Every once and a while I hear of people committing to it, and I try to comprehend how it could happen. To me, it's not just sad but horrifying, because it is so completely unknown to me, and Man fears that which he does not know. Still, it is sad above all, and I mourn the losses. I mourn for the suicidal, their family, and their friends. Part of me even mourns for the sake of all creation.
One of the first suicides I knew of was during my junior year in high school. A kid from a nearby school was gay and got bullied. Out of the blue, he solved the problem. I was very sad when I heard about it. He and I had never met, and I would have never heard of this person had he not died, but I grieved anyway. He was young. Too young. How could death come to a boy who hadn't even begun to experience a mature life and all its promise? In no fashion was an understanding of their family's grief even comprehensible, and I could hardly grieve on the behalf of specific people. Yet, I grieved for all of creation, because all was wrong with the world. If one person had died, then the universe had died. Death can only exist in a dead world.
Someone, her name being Hope, trivialized the whole matter. She thought he had it coming, because he was gay. I thought this was in bad taste, and it hurt me that she responded to tragedy with hatred. She never knew him, but she had murdered him. He needed more love than what he received, and think we were all to blame for not living in a loving enough world. If the world was loving - truly loving - how often would people give up?
Hope should have given her neighbor more hope; this I cannot deny. Yet, I cried for her as well. She hadn't just hated and judged this person, because she had done the same to me as well. I knew a thing or two about her that made me feel very guilty for my ill-will toward her. She had a chip on her shoulder, and some vague history of family problems. I had overheard her talking once about how she had to go to counseling. If I just stopped and paid attention, it was obvious that she fostered a world of insecurities and some pains of her own. If suicide is an evil, and her hatred was an evil, then I really had to mourn for her affliction. Both vices are forms of murder. Both robbed someone of their good humanity.
This was several years ago and I could have forgotten that suicide was real, except it happened again this August. I went to a meeting amid church youth counselors. We talked for a while, covering a number of relevant topics, until someone asked one of the elders, Alan, how things were going. He mentioned several things about his family, and ended with an aside that his nephew had decided that life wasn't worth living anymore.
I failed to comprehend. It was, as I said before and will not hesitate to say again, unnatural. Alan told the story of his nephew, and there seemed to be no visible, discernible reason for him to give up on life. He was a good man, seemed happy, and worked exceptionally hard on his job. He put all that effort into everything. He was loved and valued. Why couldn't he see that life was worth living? He apparently had a temporary problem, but chose a permanent solution to it. It was far more than what was merited. How could he have possibly been tempted?
At times like these, I realize that all is wrong with the world. I realize what's inherent in all humanity, and what I'm capable of. I can defy natural order, spit in the face of all that is good, and destroy myself with evil, even when everything would have been infinitely better if I lived exactly as I should. For whatever reason that defied all sense, I constantly mess up. I don't mess up so bad that I prematurely destroy my physical existence, but at all times I am, somehow or other, exhibiting some sort of negative potential. I share the DNA of the humans who commit suicide. The alleles might not be the same, but our spiritual genome is equally human in its corruption. Any small error on my part is a reflection of the greatest errors possible. If one person commits suicide, then so have I. For me, it's just by some divine grace that it kills me in less literal ways.
So why haven't I taken it to the greatest extreme? Why haven't I ended myself, if that's my nature?
There's always hope. Always. I hope that there's something redeeming about my existence as a human being, and I believe in that hope because I have seen evidence in it.
That same August, a few days before I learned of Alan's nephew and suicide was far from my mind, I received a random message on Facebook from someone who was a friend of a friend, but to me a complete stranger. "Jesus loves you." She paused. I smiled, touched. It was cute and I really appreciated it. Then: "I wish he loved me."
My heart sank. I didn't know exactly what she was feeling, but I had an idea. She felt that she was loved less than other people, that she was less of a person. I have no idea why she was feeling that, but it was the obvious takeaway from such an expression of emotion. I had compassion. Without even thinking about it, and certainly without thinking much of it at the time, I messaged her back. Of course Jesus loved her. I told her exactly why, because I believed it with all my heart. It wasn't an essay, but pure human communication in its simplest form. Something told me that she carried some sort of deep shame, that she doubted herself and her self-worth. Yet, it didn't matter what type of wretch she was. She was beautiful. Even the bad things in us and in this world would work together to the benefit of our beauty. Jesus loves her.
She told me thanks, that it was exactly what she needed to hear. Then she realized that she had accidentally messaged the wrong person. I shrugged it off, because it seemed to minor and inconsequential at the time.
A week ago, she messaged me back. She remembered me, and apparently what I had to say meant so much to her that she had to tell me about it a month after I first talked with her. She said that she had almost committed suicide that night when she first sent me an accidental message.
I looked up from my computer and around the library, astonished. Was anyone looking? Where in the room was God? Who could I turn to?
The other suicide victims were people I had never talked to, and I had most certainly never had any direct involvement in their suicides. Nobody I knew ever struggled with it, or at least that I knew of. Suddenly, some simple, innocent young woman comes to me and tells me that I had helped save her life. I was overwhelmed. I felt unworthy of this supposed righteousness, because I wasn't even helping her with some grand intention of saving her life, and I wasn't on some saintly crusade. I was just being a regular nice person who was content to fix small problems. I never needed to know what my comforting words had done or how much of a difference I made.
For some time, I let her talk about her feelings and how far her life had come in just one month. She had struggled with some serious doubts about herself and had beat herself up a lot. I understood this pain, for I and many of the people closest to me have struggled with the same issues. My breath was taken away that this came so close to ending with a tragedy before grace saved her. It was a time for celebrating, and I cried tears of joy. Still, I couldn't rejoice, for I was too overwhelmed for that. I had just witnessed a miracle, begetting a happiness I didn't even know how to feel.
Instead, in shock, I told an old friend about it, Monica. At first I poorly communicated what had just happened, and she believed that someone was still considering suicide, and she found me later to tell me she was going to get a pastor we both knew. I had never seen her so sincere before. When I talked with the pastor a few minutes later, I was numb. I couldn't explain myself, or all of it. We both agreed that it was, in the most literal sense of the word, awesome. Someone had been lost and yet was found. She was alive, and it was all because she knew that she was loved, that the world had not abandoned her. The pastor and I prayed, and I went about the rest of my night a changed man.
Evil can exist within us, but we have the mark of love upon us. That's the hope I need.
I wish the story ended there, but it's not so simple. She had been spared, and death did not take her away, but her brother had ben seized that very night. An hour after she told me about how she had survived, she got news that her brother committed suicide. She didn't understand it. I didn't either. I didn't know how such a thing could happen, especially when someone's life was just about to go right. I went and I talked with another pastor, and he didn't have many answers. He did, however, know how to listen, and he taught me that what I needed to be at that moment was a good listener as well. This young woman needed someone to talk to, to listen to her as she sorted things through. She needed someone to mourn with her, but also to be distant enough to provide the necessary objectivity.
I still wonder what my obligations toward other people are, and how all things are working together toward an ultimate peace. We're not there yet, but I still often hope for it, and for all those who are still living - the only people I can talk to - I pray that they never give up hope, either. I've seen that darkness, and I've seen the brightness. One is to be acknowledged, while the other is to be believed. Shadows cannot exist without light, and so it is that the very reason we should mourn the loss of loved ones is because we haven't lost sight of what we love. And on my soul, may love never fail.