Tuesday, March 08, 2005

Thoughts on Suicide

While ruminating one day, my thoughts somehow went to suicide. The way my thinking was going, I was asking myself whether it truly is a mortal sin or not.

I said I'd look it up in Canon Law (heh, it even creeped out one of our law studes at LP HQ when I told her, after she saw I had Canon Law up on my browser, why exactly I was looking for it) but because of all the things we did today at work - oh, the stress! - I never got around to doing so. I also said I'd consult my profs and mentors at the Ateneo first but... I just can't wait, somehow, discussing this. It seems important to do so.

I was working on a couple of premises during my internal discussion. Yes, Church law says its a mortal sin. I don't need to look up Canon Law to say that. The branding of suicide as such is premised under the fact that suicide is a form of murder, albeit one where the murderer does not take someone else's life but one's own.

The next premises are what complicate the matter for me, particularly that of Hope, and its absence, and how one views God.

Let us establish the situation of the suicide. For purposes of this discussion, we will exclude fanatics who engage in mass suicides or (groan) terrorists.

Actually, we really can't say with utter authority what a suicide is thinking. We are not a party to the struggles a suicide goes through at the moment of the act. We are not THEM. Most of the time, our knowledge of the mind of the suicide is gleaned from the oftentimes available note, or from statements from survivors of suicide attempts. The picture we form is one of such hopelessness that to the individual so caught in a situation, there is but one option left and that is to end it all with the utter finality of death.

This is where the conundrum is for me. We can only glimpse at the situation of the suicide. Yet even this glimpse should engender in us a feeling at least of pity for the poor soul; isn't it utterly sad that a person is brought to such a situation where the only way out is death? That the negation of the Self is better over what pains the person? Yet for most people, even those closest to the suicide, there is a feeling of... I don't know. Revulsion at the act? Anger? Dissapointment? I often hear people describe suicide as cowardice; in fact, if I recall correctly, I myself have said as much in several occassions.

I just realized yesterday (when I made the original discussion, now lost due to a glitch in my palmtop that erased all my data) that this is sheer arrogance on our part: who are we to judge? We have no idea whatsoever what manner of pain the suicide was going through, why they were lead to such a path. In fact, where the hell were we when the suicide needed us? I have often heard that suicides were actually looking for another means of escape from their situation prior to the act but no one was there. Loneliness is such a powerful booster to hopelessness. It is so easy to think there aren't any options when its so dark and you're all alone, that no matter how hard you cry out for help, for understanding, no one answers. Or worse... they tell you to shut up.

*sigh* I wish that palmtop crash hadn't taken my data with it. My discussion was so clearer then.

My point is this: we humans, through our imperfections, have condemend the suicide. We look unkindly on them as weak individuals even as we mourn them, or even as we console those that survive. To further express our... outrage at the act, we have extended our condemnation to the suicide to the afterlife. The suicide viewed his or her life as hell, and we say that, because of their act of cowardice in the face of adversity, they deserve no less than the real thing at their death.

But... isn't God supposed to be merciful and loving? Is He not supposedly perfect, more so now that He understands what it means to be human when His aspect that is the Son assumed humanity? God knows how it means to toil under the noonday sun, to feel hunger, thirst and fatigue, to know physical pain and the stronger one that comes from a heart abandoned and betrayed.

Wouldn't a God of mercy and love look with pity on the poor, shattered soul of the suicide? Would He rather not grant that soul rest instead of condemning it to everlasting torment? Would He not embrace that lost soul and tell it, "no more tears, no more pain. you are home now" and embrace it, rather than turn His face and bid that soul begone?

I grieve for these lost souls. I know how it is to stand on the edge of the abyss and wonder whether it would be much better to just step off. At least the pain will be over in a matter of seconds. No more tears, no more loss, no more of this nigh-endless struggle.

Two people I know very well are suicides. One was a good friend in high school, and the other in college. I had laughed with them, argued with them, shared stories with them. The one from high school was a very happy person, and the last time my best friend saw him alive, she said he still seemed happy. The one from college was a rather troubled person, but the last time I saw him alive he seemed over the worst of it.

I was not close to either, but there were times after attending their wakes that I wished I could have been there to reach out a hand to them as they drowned in their sorrow. To hold them tight so they will not flee from this life with so much pain in their Hearts.

But I was not there. Were any of their friends there, in the end? All suicides, except the ones we removed from the discussion above, die alone. They die alone, usually in the dark. Alone, and in the dark. What thoughts must have run through their heads as they reached out for the coil of rope, or belt, or knife, or blade, or gun, or bottle of acid?

Yet even I am guilty of forsaking the Wounded, complaining sometimes that I myself am so greviously hurt that I have little strength left. We all carry pain in ourselves. We all avoid pain; that is an instinctive reaction of all that live, because it guarantees survival. The Bene Gesserit of Dune, in their Gom Jabbar trial, say that how one responds to pain and a seemingly hopeless situation determines humanity, that the animal will bite its hand off to escape a trap, while the human will endure the pain so he or she can find an opportunity to deal with the threat.

What if... we stood beside the suicide, set aside our own pain, and offered a hand of help to the other who is being consumed by theirs?

And if we imperfect humans fail to save the life of a suicide... would not a kind, loving and merciful God, one that knows what the human condition is all about, not offer that lost soul the salvation it never found in its lifetime?