Suicide: A Consideration
I’m sure I'm not the only one who’s had an existential crisis while chasing after — and hopefully squishing — a cockroach. That something so small can move so quickly is unsettling; indeed, that trait is one reason why we tend to find creatures of the beyond quadruped variety, i.e., insects, so disturbing and repugnant. Multi-legged locomotion just seems so… unnatural somehow. Logic and cockroaches, it must be said, seldom cross paths.
Disgustipation (to borrow from Tool), followed closely by blood lust, on the other hand, are instantaneous and involuntary reactions to the affront scurrying cockroaches present to our sensibilities. It’s no less than a home invasion, those gross bastards, and this injustice cannot stand, man. (Speaking of closely following, that was awfully hipster of me to follow a Tool reference with an allusion to the Dude. My apologies.)
We spring into action, by shoe if feasible, provided one is wearing shoes. In the unfortunate event of being caught barefooted, we display our evolutionary dominance by repurposing some object close at hand from it’s intended station into a technology of terror, a killing tool. (⬅︎ Not a Tool reference.). Carnage ensues, so take that, you! Maybe you could survive global nuclear annihilation, but you sure didn’t survive my kitchen. Disgust returns as we next marvel at the sublime horror, sickened and amazed from seeing something so small produce that amount of juicy bits. The next step for most is to call an exterminator, or at the very least pick up some spray or baited poison.
Recently, the above scenario played out in one of my spare bedrooms, which is empty save for a huddled group of opened and unopened boxes that feature personal memorabilia (god, I need to buy a house, already; I've never met anyone older than myself who’s never owned property), and three I-need-to-lose-the-ten-pounds-of-belly-flab-I-put-on-thanks-to-my-meds articles of clothing hanging in the closet.
Our battle took place in the close confines of the latter. Feet bare and the room nearly so, I ran for the can of Raid Roach Spray. I went full-on chemical warfare on his ass. (The sexist pronoun is purposeful here because men are always the ones who instigate war, and that cockroach damn sure instigated one.) Person has a right to defend her or his own sovereign territory from marauding, border-crossing pests. (And no, that was not a thinly veiled reference to immigrants, legal or otherwise.)
But O! What a death! His death throes were frenetic to the point of madness, so much so that sympathy welled up inside me. If WWI chemical warfare was anything like this.... These somber thoughts led to the aforementioned existential crisis. Roaches are strong in the force that is self-preservation, their survival instincts having been honed over billions of years. Much like ours. We call it romantic love, but at its beating heart, its biological drive stemming from our own evolutionary path. The same can be said of our fight-or-flight instincts. Go back far enough and you’ll find a common branch in the evolutionary tree.
Are we merely playing out evolved traits, the very ones that got us here in the first place? Is fear of death merely a genetic trait? Clearly, higher-order thinking abilities make us somewhat unique. (I say somewhat because who knows the depths residing behind a dolphin’s eyes?) We humans are meta-thinkers, reflecting upon ourselves as thinking selves, realizing all the while our own mortality.
We learn at an early age that this world will someday end for you, little pumpkin. That knowledge casts a ghostly pall over all we do, even now, within our sanitized lives; imagine, then, when violence and death occurred with much greater frequency and regularity, and in ways far more visceral. The newly birthed gazelle knows it needs to stand up as quickly as possible. Our solution was big brains and religion.
Nevertheless, at least in the modern age, we habitually deny our impending doom. Oh, we may not say it right out. No one sane says, “I’m going to live forever,” except as a figure of speech. And please, none of the trite, “I’ll live on as memories in the minds of the loved ones I left behind.” No matter how special your grandchildren turn out to be, eventually, somewhere (soon) down the line, all memory of you will be lost.
Similarly, I chuckle every time I hear a cosmologist or astronomer say with a smile that we were born of the stars, and how special it is that we eventually return to our elemental forms. I ain’t buying it, any of it. You will be dead, as in dead dead, and you know it. You don't actually live on in someone’s heart or as a hydrogen molecule.
Furthermore, I think the religious aren’t as sure as they let on. Everyone with whom I've had this discussion attempts to refute me concerning the statement I’m about to make, but I'm yet to hear a satisfactory (to me, anyway) response: If you believed, truly truly believed that your loved one was now in a paradise so transcendent that mere mortals cannot even begin to comprehend it, and that one day in the future you will follow and be reunited with her or him, if your faith in that future were absolute and unshakeable, you wouldn’t grieve so dramatically.
Oh, you’d still cry, because you liked sharing this life with her or him; but hey, you two will have all of eternity to catch up! Chuckle chuckle, nudge nudge. You’d cry gentle tears, not weep with abandon. Wouldn’t grasp hand to mouth in utter horror at the terrible, terrible loss. I know, you think I'm full of shit.
Imagine a dear friend of yours gets married and moves to Japan because his wife is Japanese and he loves Japanese culture. You’re both in your late 30s; he’s childfree, but you’ve got two boys in addition to a lovely wife. You know that cost and hassle make visiting unrealistic; you know you’ll likely never see him again, especially when he tells you over Skype that his wife is expecting. Do you weep uncontrollably, your body convulsing in spasms of emotional pain? Do you throw yourself upon the chair on which he once sat? Do you pray that he could still be with you? Uh-uh. Nope. You're thinking I'm full of shit. You said that already. But I know. We both know.
Through song and tale we recount deeds and loves of those long since past, and by the act of retelling (re)assure ourselves it wasn’t all in vain, that it indeed happened and mattered and matters still, even now in our suburban kitchens; yet, just beyond solitude and quiescence, doubt ever lingers and death ever calls: though I love both life and you now, fugacious they are, all.
I think I composed the above years ago because fugacious was a MySpace (remember that?) word of the day or some such nonsense; but I'm only 90% sure I wrote it. Guess at some point I let in some doubt, and it only takes once for it to find purchase.
I’ll stop here for now. As soon as bad poetry rears its nasty countenance, you know it’s time for last calls and goodnights. I’ll post a part 2 over the weekend, in case you’re thinking, Well, that went nowhere, and it didn’t mention suicide once.