There was something heavy and black and sticky about it [a friend's suicide], a kind of terrible cloud. I felt sick and like fainting underneath it while I cleaned the apartment bare, like the winter clearing the branches of the trees and the earth with its terrible wind, leaving nothing behind. When someone new moved in with uncrushed dreams, then the spring would return to that apartment.
But as for my friend's widow, she would move on with the winter, following it like a gypsy wherever its cold wind blew, and its emptiness beckoned.
It was also the beginning of her end.
At that time, some people called my friend a coward. They said he had lacked the courage to face up to his problems, and to deal with the trials life had put in his path. I, always reluctant to speak ill of the dead, did not join in this chorus of condemnation. Was it superstition, (the vengeance of ghosts, and need to bind the threatening figure with love) or some important form of respect?
In all events, my friend had proven his courage other times. Did his courage break, or is it only that there are different forms of courage for different challenges, and that we may respond courageously to some situations and not to others? (Perhaps it is like in Orwell's 1984, where there is that room of horrors that holds the one thing we fear most, different for each of us. To one a rat, to one a bullet, to one a cliff with torrents of water rushing beneath, to one a disease: our personal weak spot, the one "special" thing that will break us, even if we are made of iron.)
The question bothered me a long time. I felt a loyalty to my friend's memory, a desire not to "sell him short," and remember him as a coward; yet also, the suicide seemed such a tragedy, and there was a heavy darkness about it, not a bright, liberating shining.
I concluded that I owed my friend a moratorium from judgment. There was both bravery and perhaps a lack of it in his action. The physical act of actually getting a gun, loading it, setting himself up with it, and pulling the trigger, which I went over in my mind again and again in my effort to understand him, did require physical courage - just like the act of jumping off the Empire State Building, which someone else I knew much more peripherally, did.
But what of the courage of facing life's challenges?
I concluded that for him, bred to a different idea of courage, it was not easy to find valor in living out a humiliating demeaning life with no apparent light at the end of the tunnel. ... I finally concluded that my friend was not a coward; that he simply had not reached the perspective on life that could have enabled him to carry on. This is why I feel that spiritual understanding, and connection with spirit, is so crucial to survive in this world, because raw courage may not be enough. The proudest lion who would keep on fighting if he was filled with arrows, might be killed by a mere shadow. There comes a dark time, a confusing time, when only insight can bring courage, and that is why the spiritual path is so crucial to any sensitive being on this planet. ...
Could it be, whenever we face a life crisis, as though our soul was seeking to cross a deep and difficult river in its path, and that we must keep on wandering along the shore, for the rest of time, until we finally find a place to cross, and dare to make the crossing? If so, we might as well do it now. If it's painful now, why stay stuck in it, why keep perpetuating it for eternity? Certainly, things we do in this life can haunt us and imprison us within this life. ...As the saying goes, no matter how hard you try, "you can't run away from yourself" -which may be what we're doing whenever we run away from a hardship life has ‘"forced" upon us. Therefore, I believe that we must struggle with all our heart and insight, to go on, and never take our own lives.
...Suicide is only rescheduling the ordeal for another time-and if we cannot pass through the hardship now, what is it that will make us be able to pass through it in the future? On the contrary, the more deeply the precedent of collapsing is entrenched within our souls, the harder it is likely to become to break through the barrier in the future. It is as though our souls were bleeding. Better to fight now, before we lose more blood!
And yet one more way to think about suicide: Look at a part of yourself that was beautiful, a childhood photograph, a picture that you drew, something that evokes tenderness before the self-hate set in. Something that evokes that maternal/paternal instinct that has kept our human race from dying out - the heart's pull towards that which is helpless and beautifully fresh, whether we have fathered/mothered it or not. Accept that child into your care, like an orphan...given to you to love, even if no one else does, to care for, to be a guardian of. Imagine yourself carrying that fragile, beautiful being with you along a hard, dark road. Can you see yourself saying, "Enough!", and just throwing that child off your back or out of your arms, down onto the hard ground at the side of the road, leaving it behind in the cold to die? Of course not!...