Tuesday, July 21, 2009

Sometimes there is also consolation.

Life is hard. It's The Rule. I remember once attending a lecture at King's College in Halifax and in the waiting time before it started, I was sitting at a table with a group of young girls and was drawn into their conversation. One rather bitter-sounding young lady was expounding on how she just "hated perfect people". All the people who have perfect hair, perfect skin and teeth, whose parents have paid for their education but who nevertheless get perfect grades. People who, in short, have never in their lives had any problems.

While I was in general agreement that such people were indeed vile and to be severely punished, I couldn't agree that I had met very many of them. In fact, I said, I'd never met any. Because of That Rule. Everybody suffers.

Today I received a note back from a letter I sent to the widow of an old school acquaintance of mine who, we heard through the internet grapevine, had taken his own life late last year.

Perhaps you will remember:
Sunday, November 23, 2008
"Twixt stirrup and ground, mercy sought and mercy found"

It's been 25 years at least since I met him. He was one of the cool kids in high school when I was a wallflower. He was a large, brash and outgoing, when I was a chronically shy, depressive/angsty teen neurotic. He was one of the most talented singers and actors in the choir and theatre groups in school. I moved in the same sort of circles, but we had different friends and though I admired him, he rather frightened me.


A decent chap, all 'round, and someone worth knowing, even slightly.

Last week, I got word that he had died suddenly. That was all we knew. I was surprised how saddened I was, since we had not known each other well, by any means.

Then we learned that he had taken his own life, after several years of battling serious depression, and my remote sadness took another form. Now his name, to which I had given little thought over the years, is in my mind over and over. His life, that had merely brushed close to mine for a few years, many years ago, suddenly seemed more precious.

His act will remain a mystery and a tragedy, even to those who knew him well. It will injure his children and his wife, his parents and siblings, his friends and co-workers. It has rippled out into the world, even as far as Rome, where I am sitting in sight of the great dome of St. Peter's Basilica, and the graves of the first Martyrs. His life, his existence, the reality of him, however distant he may be from me and from you who are reading this, is real. It cannot be erased. By his act, he has tried to remove himself from the world, to undo his own Reality. But this is the secret of living: it can't be undone.

This is what makes suicide so terrible. All acts of negation so horrific. It is an attempt to undo The Real, to become an unmaker, an anti-deity...

I am happy to quote some relevant bits from her note giving some hope that Charles had not been responsible for his act:

...those closest to him feel that it was not completely within his control. He had received a number of concussions throughout his life ... which led to a condition called Cumulative Brain Trauma. Risk of suicide among this population is fairly high. His last concussion, coupled with a stroke that he had sometime earlier last year, actually destroyed tissue in his temporal lobe, which is the area of your brain that controls things like anger and self preservation. At the point he had arrived at, the only thing that would have kept him safe was 24 hour institutionalized care. Of course, none of us knew this at the time...

It seems a strange thing to think that such sad information could be a source of consolation, but I found it so. I know that at the time I wrote about Charles, others who read the post also offered their prayers for the repose of his soul, including at least one Mass, and I hope that this information will be a help. There is no way of knowing in this life, of course, but there is always hope.

I once spoke to a young priest on the first anniversary of his ordination and he said that the thing he had learned that he hadn't expected was just how much suffering there is in the world. People don't talk about it, and that's to the good. But priests know all about it.

The two go back to back, inseperable, it seems. Suffering and hope.

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