20 March 2009

Suicide is Painless/The Fall

It's a line in the M*A*S*H theme song. I'll bet a lot of people still didn't know that song had lyrics, but it does, and they're actually pretty good.

Suicide, of course, isn't painless at all, to anybody, the victim, their friends, family, coworkers, anybody involved in it, even sometimes people who just happen to be passing by.

Last Sunday, we went to church for the first time in months. We'd been to a prayer service there the Monday night before, to help focus people on finding solutions at this time in our country's economy and invite God to do what he can. We were reminded of how positive it was, how much it contributed to our lives. We'd just gotten out of the habit of it, taken for granted, I guess, the relationship, which is always easier to do than anybody realizes.

That previous Monday night, a teenage boy spontaneously took the microphone at the end of the service and told about how on a September night in 2007, he had attempted to take his own life; how he believed that the body cannot survive if it's completely out of hope; and how he found out that deep within him, there was a flicker of hope he hadn't recognized, because he had survived, with God's help and love. It reminded me of how I felt so many years ago, all the time, and how important it is to have even the tiniest bit of hope to cling to.

Sunday morning, after breakfast and an extraordinarily passionate delivery by Dave, our pastor, that suggested that he'd had our house bugged for the past several weeks, we waited for a fresh CD of the message (great idea) to take with us. It took a few minutes to get them copied, but we didn't mind. Then, only a couple miles down the road, a kestrel falcon sitting on a power line caught my eye. It's one of the things/animals/sights that's rare enough and special enough that it will stop me every time, no matter what. I made a u-turn and pulled onto the opposite shoulder, and we all admired (mostly me) the beautiful little bird, and I shot some film of him with the camera I'd brought along for no apparent reason. After several minutes, he flew away, and we made another u-turn and headed home. The kids started to bicker a little, and Christy wouldn't have it poison our wonderful morning, so she immediately initiated a gratitude exercise in which we went around the car, taking turns telling things we were grateful for, however small, until we each had at least five. I think we were up to four when we got to the bridge.

Highway 96 between Franklin and Fairview runs under the Natchez Trace Pkwy bridge, a mammoth structure that seems to run through the clouds across the valley that cradles the highway below. As we approached it, we could see a few police cars on the left side of the road, and a van on the other side, a little up the road from them, with what looked like a surveyor standing in front of it, looking in the direction of the police cars. I believe the mind typically runs through the things it knows best first. I've seen car accidents, and I've seen surveyors, though never together. I've seen news crews, though never at small accidents in the country, and when I realized that it was a news van and a cameraman, and then that there was no wrecked car, I knew. Part of my mind knew sooner, and made me resist looking up at the bridge to finish the thought, because that thought was still too hard.

As we passed the police cars, now obviously parked in a way that shielded something from passing cars as best they could, or shielded the people in the passing cars from something, I glanced briefly to my left. I don't know why. Maybe just to finish the thought for myself, as I've rarely benefited from leaving it open.

I saw a bright yellow tarp that wasn't big enough, and legs wearing dark pants, white socks, and black shoes, the officers standing next to the person, the cars, the flashing lights, all in a snapshot that I know will never fade, or at least not for many, many years, because that's the memory with which I am "blessed." It was not longer than a breath, and I felt a flash of what had happened, the pain someone has to feel to be there, what it meant in the world, in our day, in the day of the people who couldn't possibly have yet been notified that someone in their life was no longer in it...the fall. It was suffocating, even just to me in a glance, in the simple awareness of it. We only got about a hundred feet before I had to pull over and get out of the car, because the waves of it were incapacitating. Christy came and stood with me and hugged me while the sobs and gasps and shaking had their way with my soul for several minutes.

After we got back in the car and had driven in silence for a couple minutes, I offered my fifth thing. I was grateful that we were all together in the car, safe and happy, and with hope. I explained that somewhere, right that second, there were people, maybe a family, maybe a group of friends, but definitely someone, because there always is, going about their day possibly much like we were, with no idea that this had taken place, that sometime soon, someone would come and tell them that this person they knew and possibly cared deeply about was not alive anymore, and that the only reason he was not alive anymore was that he was in more pain than he felt like he could carry any longer.

I didn't realize until later that, judging from the scene and the fact that things weren't further along than they were, that it was possible that had it not been for Dave being so on fire and talking a little longer than usual and about things so personally relevant to us, and our compulsion to have the CD and its copying taking several minutes, and the rare sighting of the kestrel, that we might have come along much sooner than would be healthy for anyone in the car. I don't know what purpose brought our paths together at all, but I'm certain that there was one, maybe to show the alternate ending for the boy's story last Monday, maybe to illustrate our need for gratitude. Whatever the unknown details, I have continued to feel all of it a great deal. I pray for the others in that person's life, and for everyone who feels that bad, that they find whatever they need that gives them enough hope to find a living solution.

I know how bad it feels. I have felt it. But it really is true that in the next second, around the next corner, could be the thing that lifts you up. And in the meantime, whether you can feel it or not, at the very, very least, God sees you and loves you and hurts with you, and wants you to wait around long enough to find out why he put you here, that you weren't a mistake or an accident, that you're part of something bigger than you or anyone around you could possibly know. Death isn't the escape it looks like. It doesn't make the hurt go away. It just cements it, writes it in stone, and is what makes peace truly unrecoverable.