Habit

My late and ex husband used to say: “If you’re walking down a street and a safe falls on you, it’s a tragedy. If it happens to you a second time it’s a coincidence. But if it happens three times, it’s a habit.”

As the slow news week continues, yesterday we had the Defenestration of North Nash Street, in which a worker at a nearby office high-rise committed suicide by shattering the plate glass window and leaping through it, ten stories down to a brick patio cafe courtyard. Around lunchtime. No, honestly, I am not making this up. This morning a worker on a hotel building one Metro stop away from the first incident hit the pavement from seven stories up, in an apparent accident. One more and it’s going to be a habit.

The habit that is getting to me, however, is that of some Internet users, who cannot read about an incident like the suicide leap in a comment-enabled news source without having to stick up their two-bit homily. “How sad — suicide is never the answer.” “Everyone should pray for this man and his family.” I would link to the story involved, but I honestly don’t want to give these idiots any more publicity (or create a return conduit to my thoughts here). I made the mistake of entering my own comment that casual readers, possessing only a few scraps of information, ought to keep their philosophizing to themselves: how do we know what “the answer” is? What was the question? (I didn’t go on to ask: Could you look Seneca in the face and say “suicide isn’t the answer”? How about Adolf Hitler? Would prayer strike anyone involved in the situation as a kindness or would it be an unwelcome imposition of someone else’s convictions? Was the guy terminally ill?) Well, you would think I had farted in church, the reaction that got.

Clearly these posters were quite jealous of their right to annex a stranger’s final act on earth as an excuse for their favorite emotional enema. (Aldous Huxley’s expression, not mine, but it fits and I’m usin’ it.) Never mind that they didn’t know what caused someone to choose this death; they all felt entitled to unload, in public where anyone personally connected to the incident might well find it, their views on the jumper’s personal choice, values, life, death, despair and faith, in the guise of oh-how-sad tsk-tsking.

I wish people would put a sock in it. As someone whose best school-friend, thank you very much, killed herself before either of us were twenty, I am here to say that nothing is stupider, more selfish or more insensitive than exhaling platitudes on the subject of suicide hot upon the heels of the event, especially when it involves second-guessing what the person should have felt, chosen or done. (The Scientologist who assured me that he had been able to trace the progress of my friend’s “Thetan” to a new body at least made me laugh enough to keep me from breaking his nose; but more conventional religious assurances can be just as irritating.) When all is known, you may be on target after all, but those close to the decedent are not looking to you, John Internet Citizen, to assuage their pain via your penny-pamphlet philosophizing about what “the answer” is or isn’t. As for it being sad, they have noticed. Death like this is a hundred yards beyond grief just as Nietszche felt himself a hundred yards beyond good and evil. People with no connection have no business commenting beyond “I’m sorry to hear this news;” but they always do.

My own story on the matter is a can I am not going to open very far, but — strange as it may sound — even with my heart broken I found myself defending my friend’s decision. It felt as if I were standing over her body to protect it from scavengers. I cannot claim to grasp all her reasons, but I believe people can be in so much pain that they see no reason to live through any more of it, even if it might end some day; we all want that not to be the case, but I don’t want to hear any “people should reach out for help” from idiots on the Internet, or in person for that matter, who have never been close to a situation like this, who would run a mile from anyone in the emotional state my friend had reached, and are just trying to pretend things never get that bad.

I am told that the minister at my friend’s memorial service prated about how “we” shouldn’t judge, because she might have changed her mind, before death but too late to get help. That’s about as judgmental as it can get. It’s a good thing I wasn’t there because I would have probably vaulted over the pulpit and screamed at him “No, you asshole, she wanted to die, are you really so unable to imagine someone might want to walk away from the planet that’s home to your lofty ideas?”

A few months before they found her dead she remarked to me out of nowhere: “I need to be away from people who think they know me.” I’m just glad the Internet wasn’t around then. Complete strangers in twenty-four different time zones could have assumed they knew her, if she had died publicly enough.

About forty comments showed up on the newsblog post about the suicide. The accidental fall — now, there was a tragedy — attracted four. It’s amazing how little people care when they don’t have the chance to sound Wise about something.

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9 thoughts on “Habit

  1. News commentability is a pernicious thing. A guy died on his motorcycle a couple blocks from my house, eluding the police. This is a one-newspaper city, and the comments wound up full of eulogies by friends and relatives who probably would never have had to go through all that if not for the random stranger comments that needed silencing.

  2. I have always wondered why they have a comments section on news articles. I just seems like a waste of space and electrons. Mostly I ignore them.

    I get most of my news from the BBC site, and I haven’t seen any place there to allow commentary. You read the story. If you want to discuss it, I guess the BBC figures you can talk about it with your friends, text them, or write about it on your blog.

  3. My can will also stay fairly closed, but suffice to say that I don’t believe anybody can be close enough to someone who chooses to take their life, to know exactly ‘What was the question’. The person them self may not know – everyone else is just guessing.

  4. I agree completely that the first reaction to the statement “Suicide is never the answer” should logically be “The answer to what?” Nobody can really know that, except the person who makes the choice.

    There are some people I know for whom I think homicide may be the answer, but that’s a different topic.

  5. “The answer to what”. Yes, we often don’t even know the deep motives behind our own actions, how can we judge other people’s motives? On the whole, ending one’s life, I consider it anyone’s ultimate freedom.

    • Ultimate, and irreversible, which is why I am sure so many people are ready to jump in with reflexive cries of horror. But I suspect we can all imagine at least one or two situations in which we’d choose it. I have some very sweet, older clients, not the least bit depressed, who have very clear ideas about when they would choose to end their lives. And I’m prepared to believe there are personal circumstances which are the moral equivalent of a degrading final illness. Or at least that it’s presumptuous for strangers to comment on any person’s decision about those circumstances.

  6. I have often said “I would never do ‘that'” and then find myself in that or a similar situation doing “that”. I like your comment “I’m sorry to hear this news” because it’s about the speaker/writer taking ownership of how they feel rather than spouting their ideas of what how who and why. In the work I do its called brevity – saying all there is to say and nothing more. Whether its suicide or any other act by a human being, we/I can really never know the why. Thank you for this post.

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