A hero has died by his own hand. The news is making its way around the world at lightning speed. As quickly as his last breath left his body, the world grieves this brilliant, troubled and tender-hearted soul. And we grieve as though he was a close family member to each and every person.
Suicide brings us closer than our own breath to the risks of being touched, and NOT being touched by each other’s pain. For the moment we choose to see the depths of darkness that can end in suicide, we are faced with the need to be open and vulnerable. This is the only way we can be changed by what we experience. Unless we are willing to be opened, touched and made uncomfortable by what comes our way in life, there is no chance we can be deepened by another’s suffering. Sadly, most people don’t want to talk about suicide, or perhaps they just don’t know how.
Me? I want to talk about it. Suicide is not a topic to shy away from, yet we seem to contract into our shells when it comes up, like a hermit crab when water rushes the shore time and time again. It’s not a dirty word, it’s OK to say it and to feel the full range of emotions, even if it means feeling angry at the person. As someone who has walked the shores of depression and attempted suicide in the darkest days of addiction, I beg of you – PLEASE TALK ABOUT IT!
I think the biggest thing that happens is noticing all the questions that arise pointing me to my own human experience, my own limitations and secrets. For surely someone who takes their own life had some secrets… ones we will probably never know. What’s important is listening to the alarm bell sounding inside and connecting to my internal 911 operator urging me to remain steadfast in my commitment of awakening us to the idea and practices of belonging to and with each other. I want to be fully alive in the hopes that perhaps even one person can know their place in the world and escape the despair and desolation that can inevitably lead to suicide.
If you have ever read any of my blogs or articles, you’ve heard the thread of “belonging” running through everything. It is a golden thread that recognizes the interconnectedness of all life, a connection that is beyond the intellect. It’s as though we are born with two umbilical cords, the visible one that is cut so the life force from our mother stops flowing, allowing us to live. And the other invisible cord that is never cut so the life force of the universe can continually flow, always breathing us.
However, there’s an interesting paradox inherent in that continuous flow of life energy. It always brings us to places where we must risk being open, being touched, being vulnerable. If we do not allow this cord to breathe us, we can never be changed by our experience, we won’t be anointed by the beauty and the suffering that is necessary to participate in our world – a world that invites us into a gritty and mysterious territory called our humanness, which is where we experience our divinity – hence the paradox.
So one of the questions that once again has risen in my mind around suicide is wanting to understand how we as living, breathing, talking, walking portions of divinity, can rejoice in the mystery of being human when touched in such painful ways. And when I say rejoice, I am not talking about finding a silver lining, or affirming away my pain with the idea that there must be a blessing in there somewhere, but rather sitting with the idea, the awareness, that in every moment of being broken open, in every breakable thing around me, including the life of a beloved, there remains, and will always remain, the unnamable and unknowable thing that is forever unbreakable.
In short, sometimes I wonder where the heck God is. In our darkest moments can I know my divinity? Can I know yours? Can you be the light needed to shine on my path to illuminate my darkest moment? Will you breathe in me to save me for one more day? Will you sing me back to life, a song reminding me that there is that unbreakable place within and all around me?
Elie Wiesel is holocaust survivor. His agonizing, yet life affirming stories offer a glimpse for me into a some of the darkest moments in human history, while always pointing to where the divine is present. In one story he recounts a morning filled once again with despair as he watches the lifeless body of a young boy hanging, swaying while the sun is rising. The voice of a fellow prisoner beside him whispers, “Where is God?” And Wiesel says, “In the boy hanging…”
That unbreakable pulse of life, God, the divine, whatever you want to call it, waits in the silence and the suffering, in the love and the joy, to speak to me, to make itself known, to illuminate my path. It’s that invisible cord of the heart that refuses to deny the truth, goodness and beauty of being human. That flickering light that may bring pause to someone, giving space to the thought, and in a new breath think, “Where is God? Oh, there it is.”
Life it seems is this never-ending dance between feeling alive, whole and free, and feeling wounded, resigned, and irrevocably broken. It’s as though we are dancing around a fire in celebration, making what is invisible, visible, or bringing our divinity into form through our humanity by belonging to each other. That same fire that lights us is the same fire that can burn us if we stand too closely. Maybe we dance somewhere in between, burning long and slow as fuel for that invisible cord that breathes us. This way when I see a lifeless boy hanging, learn of a beloved committing suicide, open myself to the hurts and cries of another, or read my own suffering on the pages of my journal, and say “God is in the boy hanging.”
Yet still I know that for some the pain and strain of life can be too much and I must find the place to honor their burning up, and their breaking apart. Robin Williams is now silent, his voice no longer able to speak what may have been withheld, so please talk with each other, belong with each other, open yourselves in ever-greater ways… don’t be silent, light the path with your fire when someone is in their darkest moment. We must risk being vulnerable to know what it means to be alive, to feel the unbreakable breath moving in and between us.
I swore never to be silent whenever and wherever human beings endure suffering and humiliation. We must always take sides. Neutrality helps the oppressor, never the victim. Silence encourages the tormentor, never the tormented. – Elie Wiesel