Suicide: Further Consideration
Esteemed horror icon, actor Christopher Lee, who played Saruman in Peter Jackson’s The Lord of the Rings (LotR) trilogy (plus appearances in The Hobbit films) and who is now sorely missed, once remarked that he re-reads Tolkien’s masterpiece annually. I, too, have read the books (or book, as Tolkien intended the tale as a single opus), though only twice; however, perhaps reflecting generational distinctions, I do re-watch the films — Extended Edition always! — annually, typically during the colder months, as LotR seems a winter’s tale at its heart. With no one this year with whom to spend the holidays, I suspect I’ll watch one or more on Christmas Day. A person could do worse.
As soon as The Fellowship of the Ring’s opening prologue presents the flashback scene depicting the ancient, epic battle on the slopes of Mount Doom, with Hugo Weaving’s Elrond appearing all bad-ass and ready to deal death upon the evil hordes, I have, at that moment, the same general thought nearly every time: Well, that’s not fair. My thoughts aren’t upon the battle itself; if you fancy yourself a Dark Lord, you get what you get, with no cause for complaint, whether your name is Sauron or Vader.
No, I mean the part played by the Elves in the unfolding drama. In the Middle-earth of Tolkien’s universe, the Elves are higher beings, noble and wise, who are basically immortal. I’ve never worked out quite how it works, as they do age, but seemingly only to a point. And no, I've not read The Silmarillion, nor do I intend to, however much I recognize Morgoth as the baddest of all badasses. Tolkien may very well explain the details elsewhere, but the important thing is the Elves don’t die from sickness or age, but (because there’s always a but in matters of life and death) they can be killed through violence. (Presumably, then, through accident as well, but one gets the impression they’re too cool to fall off a horse or let fly an errant arrow.)
Let’s ponder this for a moment. Humans live human lives; we know all too well how long that length tends to be. The very young may not yet understand, but they will soon enough. To paraphrase Neil Peart from “Dreamline” by Rush, youth begin to learn they’re only immortal for a limited time.
Meanwhile, thousands of years pass and Elrond doesn’t age a day. Even for a higher being, I would suspect the difference between Elves and humans in terms of life spans would be so extreme as to make each an utter mystery to the other, beyond all sense of comprehension, just as many Americans can’t accept evolution because they can’t truly grasp the vastness of Deep Time.
I guess my point in thinking the Elves are getting a raw deal is that they’ve way more at stake than do the humans. As living things, we don’t particularly want to die, typically, but as humans, we know death gets closer and closer with every passing moment, and, worst of all, each moment passes more quickly than the one before.
My first five years on Mars, I mean in South Georgia, felt like a wonderful dream of new experiences, some good, some bad, but all having time to play themselves out fully across the tapestry of time; these last five years were a dark well, the bottom of which I reached in a heartbeat, seemingly, with hardly time to catch my breath. I was married, broken down, abandoned, and left bewildered before I could even say, “Hey, wait a second.”
Because time no longer waits for me. At the age of 25, I remarked to a co-worker, who was the same age, that I no longer thought of myself as a young man, only as a man, and that I had this feeling in the very marrow of my bones that I would blink my eyes and be 40.
Now I don’t say I’ll blink and be 60, or be retired. No, I say I’ll blink and be dead.
I’m blinking now, my vision as through slits, eyes closing to open again, or opening again before the eternal close, the darkening. Either way, time is no longer on my proverbial side.
I grow old… I grow old…
I shall wear the bottoms of my trousers rolled
The love song of Elrond would not be anything like that of Prufrock. For him to die would be to lose more than we frail humans can imagine. I saw an announcement last week concerning the passing of someone connected to the university who was 101 years old. We mourn her or his passing when someone that age dies, but we don’t call it tragic. Tragedy is reserved for the young or the senseless, when what could have been a long life (relatively speaking) is “cut short,” or the death need not, indeed should not, have happened.
I will readily admit suicide fascinates me. Because there’s a website for everything, there are sites where one may read suicide notes. It’s gut-wrenching. Each time I think I've grown too callused to be affected, but each time I'm always wrong about that. Notes written by teens and young adults are the worst, because we adults know how little the note writer truly understood of life and the world, having insufficient time to gain experience and perspective. I thought the It Gets Better campaign, aimed at LGBT teens, was especially effective in that regard. (Daniel Tosh’s comedy bit, It Gets Worse, about heterosexual marriage, was equally effective in its own way.)
But what of the middle-aged? I’ve never regretted remaining childfree; it has been a decision based on a variety of factors, from cold, traditionalist role models to personal ambition. Tellingly, babies have no effect upon me whatsoever. I don’t find infants to be particularly cute, really, and some, let’s face it, are downright ugly. But show me a puppy, now, and I can barely control my desire to pet it. Not just puppies; adult dogs too. And cats. But especially dogs. I don’t think I've betrayed my own species: the only thing betrayed is my tendency to let intellect guide emotion rather than the other way around. I know what babies and puppies grow up to be; now tell me, which one do you think is more likely to become an asshole?
That said, I’ve reached an age at which I can finally see the practical purpose of having children even in a world in which the state is more likely than offspring to care for the elderly. In short, children give parents something to do. Hold on before you object; l use do expansively, encompassing a sense of purpose and duty, among other noble qualities. Children represent a tangible, pressing reason to get out of bed each morning after one is world weary. It’s not that I, being childfree, have no reason to get out of bed each morning. No, actually, that’s exactly it, though for me personally, children would not have been the solution.
I’m still glad I’m not a father, but I will say I’ve also reached an age at which nothing has meaning unless shared with someone intimately known, be it a story told to one’s closest friend or a holiday to Spain with one’s partner. I told my doctor that fear of starvation only provides so much motivation to get out of bed.
“Because you know you won’t actually starve?”
No. Because at a certain point knowing you can die is comforting. If all else fails, you can fall back on suicide. In practice, of course, few, thankfully, are so cavalier, myself included. To push limits is still to recognize limits as such. I’ve pushed a few, but I've also mapped the terrain, a cartographer of boundaries between far and too far.
And still I think of Elrond and the Elves, for whom death truly means a great loss in the grand scheme of things. But what is twenty more years in the eye of Eternity? Does it really matter? Maybe were those twenty the best years of one’s life, but that’s not how aging works. Almost seems people die too soon. Or too late.