by L. Arthalia Cravin
Over the past two months two men that I know have tried to commit suicide. One was 41 the other 91. Both were Anglo males. During church services yesterday a young man stood up during the welcome of visitors to state that he was a member of the military stationed at a local base, and that the night before a person in his squadron had killed himself.
Suicide is a very troubling issue. When it involves the young it is seen as a sign of serious emotional difficulties requiring psychological intervention. For older individuals, as well as those who are suffering from serious illness, there is that touchy issue of “the right to die.” The 91 year old individual, whom I have known for four years, lives four doors from me. His wife of 62 years died a little over a year ago. Their two grown children now live in Florida and Michigan and the grandchildren are scattered as far away as Australia. He confessed his near suicide after I took him freshly baked T-cakes. As soon as I entered his kitchen he was suddenly overwrought and told me that he had been depressed and just wanted “out.” He took sleeping pills, went inside his closed garage, got in his car and turned on the motor. He was saved by a repairman who heard the motor running inside the garage, left, drove around the block then felt an overwhelming urge to return—just in time.
The 41 year old individual lives 900 miles away. His confession of his near suicide came during a phone call when I inquired about his extreme hoarseness. He finally stated that the hoarseness was due to a tube having been placed down his throat during his emergency trip to the hospital after he took a bottle of potent pills. He too just wanted “out.”
There is a soon to be released book entitled, “Against Happiness,” written by Eric Wilson that might be worth reading. According to a Newsweek review, Wilson, “ trots out criticisms of the mindless pursuit of contentment that philosophers and artists have raised throughout history—including that, as Flaubert said, to be chronically happy one must also be stupid. Less snarkily, Wilson argues that only by experiencing sadness can we experience the fullness of the human condition. While careful not to extol depression—which is marked not only by chronic sadness but also by apathy, lethargy and an increased risk of suicide—he praises melancholia for generating “a turbulence of heart” that results in an active questioning of the status quo, a perpetual longing to create new ways of being and seeing.”
I wonder about Wilson’s assessment about ”turbulence of heart.” My neighbor’s active questioning of his status quo, created within him a longing to leave this life and to join his dearly missed wife of 62 years. During my kitchen table conversation, he referred to “cabin fever” and the “gloom of winter.” He is not alone in his feelings. A friend in Dallas called me over the weekend and mentioned that her 89-year old mom had also made a comment about how “lonely it looked outside.”
There have been serious studies conducted that have proven, to one degree or another, that because of the earth’s rotation and tilt, and the shortened length of sunlight for the continental United States, that people do in fact suffer from “winter blues.” There is something about lack of sunshine and brain chemistry. Is there something more unusual about the current winter? Is there an environmental “shadow” that is worse than usual hanging in the air that is affecting feelings and emotions? Is the sun shining less brightly this winter than others? I can only wonder. But what I do know is that in early December I noticed the same “gloom of winter.” I then went to several thrift stores and bought all the bright red and yellow artificial flowers that I could find. Every room of my house is now brightly decorated with springtime blooms and I no longer suffer from that certain “shadow of darkness.”
When individuals, for whatever reason, start to feel that they do not wish to continue living because of a “perennial outlook of bleakness” there should be cause for concern. People who believe that by taking their own lives that they have “settled all outstanding matters” have no idea just how much is left unsettled. The “whys,” the examinations and re-examinations by friends and loved ones, often never ends. It is not enough to rattle off a long list of the names of those who have suffered from what Winston Churchill referred to as “the black dog.” Churchill’s bouts of depression, and many others, including Abraham Lincoln, Vincent van Gogh, Emily Dickinson, and Woody Allen may be legendary but they offer no solutions to ordinary individuals who “just want to end it all.”
I am looking forward to reading “Against Happiness” in order to learn what new theories are out there about sadness and depression. Although I am not in the medical field, I look forward to trying to find an answer to why any Anglo male, of any age, would want to take his own life. Even accounting for individual differences, the average Anglo male’s troubles would appear to be “child’s play” compared to his darker skin counterparts. And, even admitting that suicides are increasing for all young males, I would like to find out why some individuals who have been denied every nuance of “life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness” find a reason to want to stay alive. I think especially of an African American lady that I met several years ago. Her name was Miss Addie. She was 89 at the time, lived all alone in rural Texas, at the end of a long winding road, miles from the nearest neighbor, in a shanty of a house without running water. When we arrived at her house she was standing on the porch leaning on her walking cane. She was anxiously awaiting our arrival so she could make her monthly trip into town to buy her necessities with her old age pension of less than $300. Neither sadness nor depression evidenced itself in Miss Addie; instead, she talked and talked about how she looked forward to “going to town.” After we took her back home, took her groceries inside and hugged her goodbye I was the one who was overcome with sadness as we drove off– waving goodbye to Miss Addie while she stood on her rickety porch leaning on a walking cane. This past Sunday the same young man who mentioned that a comrade had killed himself, stood at his pew and sang this song, “Oh Freedom, Oh Freedom, and before I be a slave I’ll be buried in my grave, and go home to my Lord and be free.”
© Copyright 2008 – L. Arthalia Cravin. All rights Reserved. No part of this commentary may be reproduced, stored in a retrieval system, or transmitted by any means, electronic, mechanical, photocopying, recording, or otherwise, without written permission from the author.