Songs In The Dark

In 1873, two years after the death of his son by scarlet fever, Horatio Gates Spafford decided to take a vacation to Europe with his wife and four daughters. His family went ahead of him to England on the ship Ville de Hauvre. Horatio was to join them a few weeks later.

While at sea, the Ville de Hauvre was struck by an iron sailing vessel, and 226 people were killed. Of his entire family, only Anna Spafford – Horatio’s wife – survived.

Horatio made the crossing alone a few weeks later, along the same route on which his daughters were lost. While sailing near the spot where they had died, he penned this most famous of Christian hymns:

When peace like a river attendeth my way,

When sorrows like sea billows roll;

Whatever my lot, Thou has taught me to say,

It is well, it is well with my soul.

I don’t remember singing this hymn much while growing up in the church, and I didn’t learn the origin story behind it until much later.

In the late 1990s and early 2000s, I was part of a traveling troupe of actors. We did a lot of our performances in churches around the country, and our most popular show was an original work called “Martyred: The Chet Bitterman Story.” The play was a dramatization of the real-life kidnapping and eventual murder of an American missionary by guerillas while on assignment in Colombia. Throughout the play – as relayed by former insurgents that participated in the kidnapping – Chet is shown to display incredible faith and resilience while in captivity, going so far as to proselytize to his captors.

At the end of the play, Chet is shot and killed, and the various members of the cast give a final monologue of their experience. The lights go down, and from the back of the darkened room, Chet’s voice begins to sing:

When peace like a river, attendeth my way…

That moment never failed to bring me to tears, even before I understood where the song came from. I recognized the song for what it was – an anthem to overcoming. Of all Christian hymns, it remains my favorite.

On Monday morning, I sat preparing a humorous blog post about the 4th of July. I was perhaps 500 words in when I got a call from my wife instructing me to call my father as soon as possible. When you’re in your 30s and you receive that message, the first question in your mind is, “Who died?”

I won’t write many specifics about the tragedy that has befallen my tribe, because the tragedy doesn’t belong to me alone. I will say that I was shaken to the depths of my soul. I hung up with my father, called my wife to relay the news, and then walked into the kitchen to pour a cup of coffee. As I got into the kitchen, my breath caught, my knees grew weak, I steadied myself on the kitchen counter, and I looked up at the ceiling and said, “How fucking dare you?”

After writing about outgrowing faith, I was suddenly reminded how central it all still is to my life. Even though I acknowledge that the benevolent deity I was taught about in Sunday School doesn’t exist in that form, I still expect some rules of fair play from the Universe.

Here I am, shaking my fist at a God that I don’t really believe in much anymore. I don’t expect God to care much about the individual lives that inhabit Planet Earth, so why am I still so fucking angry that He doesn’t seem to care at all?

It turns out that my relationship status with God remains, “It’s Complicated.”

I’m no stranger to tragedy, to grief, to sudden and violent death. In fact, sudden and violent death is an Immutable Rule of the Universe to me. Most people don’t live to old age in my universe. They die of illnesses that they are too young to have. They die of IED blasts or gunshot wounds. They die in car accidents. They die by suicide. Living through combat gave me a keen sense of the fragility of my life and the lives of those around me, and it seems like I live my life with the question, “Who’s next?” foremost in my mind.

Why does it continue, then, to hurt me so much when it happens?

Horatio Spafford went on to have more children. He left the Presbyterian Church and formed a community of faith with his wife and others. They did interfaith humanitarian work in the Middle East. They adopted a teenage boy from Turkey.

There is so much life left after tragedy, but I can’t believe that it comes from calm acceptance. I can’t believe that the words “It is well with my soul” come from resignation.

It’s the punk rock of hymns. It’s the fight song of someone standing in the darkest part of their life.

Whatever my lot, Thou hast taught me to say,

I listed compassion, justice, and righteous action as the greatest lessons that faith taught me. Maybe I should add resilience to the list.

On most days, God seems like a Numinous Observer, someone who can see all the bad in the world and either can’t or chooses not to do anything about it. I’ve given up on the idea that there is a God that has a divine plan for every bullet wound or car accident. That God is too fucking cruel for me to imagine, much less worship.

But, maybe I can imagine a God that watches over the dice-throw of the Universe and really cares about what happens. The God that Jesus of Nazareth believed mourns with those who mourn, whose Holy Eye is on the sparrow and knows how many hairs are on my head at any given time.

Beyond imagining, though, I can see in real-time the human rebellion against tragedy and injustice in the Universe. Maybe they shake their fists and curse God for His perceived impotence. Maybe they pray and thank God for what they have left. Maybe they leave God or gods out of the whole thing, and just weep at how much life can suck.

But, they carry the fuck on.

Saying, “It is well with my soul,” after a life-altering, soul-shaking event goes beyond meek acceptance. It’s a snarl and an upraised middle finger at the very idea of injustice. It’s shouting, “I’m still here!” when everyone that you love is gone. It’s writing, “I am the master of my fate” while lying in a hospital bed with your feet falling off.

Maybe we can only sing songs like that, or write poems like that, or make those gestures out of the darkness.

Maybe it’s the only way we can really see God.

Maybe it’s the only way that we can clearly see ourselves.

 

The Many Messages in a Book Collection

This post is about my book collection. It’s also about my religion. It’s also about who I was five years ago, who I was a year ago, and who I was yesterday.

I decided a few days ago that my book collection needed a “purge.” I didn’t decide to do this because of a sudden ideological shift or a major life event or anything dramatic.

I just hate clutter.

I hate clutter, and I so often have to live with it. I have two kids and a lot of paperwork. I live in a house that isn’t tiny, but would still be considered small by most standards. We have built or installed nearly every shelf that is in our house. It often seems like every space that we have is already occupied, and – like most Americans – the amount of stuff we have just keeps increasing.

As a lifelong lover of books – the kind that are written on paper and sold in stores – I have accumulated a LOT of that category of stuff. Every few years, I gently and lovingly go through my book collection and decide if I can stand to part with any of them. Typically, I will end up with a small stack of “discards” that make the journey to the Used Bookstore where old books go to live out their final days. The problem with this strategy is that I purge specifically so that I can BUY MORE BOOKS.

I finally surrendered to the digital revolution yesterday, and decided that most of my reading will be done on my e-reader. I decided that I will limit my ink and paper books to stories that are important enough to me to devote shelf space to.

I had no idea what kind of philosophical journey this purge would end up being. I didn’t think that reducing clutter in my life would become about what is important to me now as opposed to what was important to me a year or more ago.

You see, a year ago, I decided that I needed to “take a break” from going to church. This was not an unprecedented event: I have taken multiple “breaks” from church (or religion in general) in the past. This particular break, however, felt different than others had. The reasons for my breaks in the past had typically been emotional: something happened that made me question my faith or someone hurt me at church.

The break that I started a year ago was different. Nothing in particular happened that caused a question or a crisis. I can’t point to a specific belief or sermon that I took issue with. I just stopped.

I stopped wanting to go to church every Sunday. I stopped wanting to share my religious beliefs with people. I stopped wanting to consult the Bible every time I was confused about an issue. I stopped trying to mediate between my conscience and what my faith said about any given issue.

I stopped caring what happened in the Church, or what Christians were doing in the nation or the world. I stopped seeking to learn about the history of my faith or the deeper tenets or mysteries of my faith.

I didn’t realize all of this at the time. I just knew that I was tired one Sunday, that I didn’t want to go to church to hear more about how I was supposed to live in the world. And, I just kept being tired.

The realization came in part yesterday, and in part this morning.

Yesterday, as I was cleaning off my shelves and creating a discard pile, I realized that most of my religious books were making their way into the pile. The book that I bought about Scriptural hermeneutics a few years ago left my hands easily. The giant tome on the history of Jesus in America was gone before I even thought about it. All of the books exploring apologetics and deeper questions of faith left my shelves and my life with little to no remorse.

I ruminated on that yesterday evening because, as I told my son, what you display on your bookshelf says a great deal about who you are. It tells the people that enter your home not only what you read, but what you think is important for them to read. It invites conversations about why certain books are important to you. It invites the most wonderful question, “Do you mind if I borrow that book?”

For years, I kept dozens of religious books prominently displayed on my shelf. I wanted everyone who came to my home to know how important my faith was to me. No matter the questions or challenges that I had concerning my faith over the years, those books remained.

Until yesterday, when I decided that they no longer had a place in my life. Until yesterday, when I decided that the works of Arthur C. Clarke and J.R.R. Tolkein had more to say to me and to my guests than the works of Bart Ehrman, Phillip Yancey, or N.T. Wright.

(Of course, I kept some. I kept my C.S. Lewis, Bonhoeffer’s “The Cost of Discipleship”, “Dark Night of the Soul” and Henri Nouwen. Those books speak to me on a level that goes beyond religion, and their books are so often treatises on how to live with despair and pain.)

This morning, Facebook gave me another reason to think on this, to consider why these books left my life. In its ongoing campaign to inflict me with permanent nostalgia, Facebook reminded me of a post that I made five years ago:

“This morning, I apologized to W (my elder son) for the past few weeks, in which I’ve selfishly valued my sleep over getting them breakfast at an earlier time. W responded, “It’s okay, Daddy. I love you just the way you are.”

So, I said, “You love like Jesus loves, W. You forgive like Jesus forgives.”

W replied, “I’m a follower of Jesus.” And, then B (younger son) chimed in, “We LOVE Jesus!”

Tears came to my eyes, and gratitude came to my heart. I’ve tried so hard since coming back to my faith to maintain a balance: to introduce my children to faith, without going down the road of brainwashing or indoctrination. They’re not experts on doctrine or theology. They’ve never been made to feel afraid or unworthy because of religion. They only know that Jesus loves and forgives us when we mess up, and that we want to do what He told us to do. And that simple faith is enough to cause a 6-year-old make a spontaneous profession.

“Let the little children come to me, and do not hinder them. For the Kingdom of God belongs to them.””

 

There is, of course, nothing wrong with teaching your kids about faith, especially when that faith is about kindness, generosity, compassion, and forgiveness. But, the zealousness of it disturbed me a little, particularly in light of how easily I rid myself of religious literature yesterday. It made me think on what has changed in my life over the past five years, the past year, the past few days.

Then, as though a ray of light from the heavens illuminated my mind, I came to a conclusion.

Religion has done all it can for me.

It’s not about renunciation or denunciation. It’s not about hating faith or being hurt by faith. It’s about moving through it and past it.

Five years ago, I was leaving almost nine years of military service. I was a year past a suicide attempt. I was hurt and confused and unsure of my place in the world.

Faith gave me the answers that I needed at the time. Faith helped me shape who I wanted to be after the Army.

Faith ensured that compassion became my highest value, that God or the Universe became about love and justice and doing what’s right no matter what it costs me.

Faith gave me the strength to teach those values to my children, to create an entire life around those values.

Now that my life is centered there, I don’t need the extra trappings of religious faith. I don’t need the mysteries of Genesis or the proper reading of Romans. I don’t need the songs and the prayers and the professions.

I don’t need all those books.

All the extras of religion will remain an important part of my memories, and they continue to be important to so many of my friends and family. I won’t mock it. I won’t belittle it.

But, I won’t argue with you anymore about whether or not the Bible approves of this or that. I won’t worry about whether this social issue or that person fits in with the “Christian” view of the world.

My criteria for living remains the same.

Is it compassionate?

Is it just?

Is it right?

I just no longer need to ask if the Bible or the Church approves.

But, thank you to all those who taught me about faith. Thank you to those who helped shape the language of my life. You remain important, just like those books – even if they’re no longer on my shelf.

 

We Are All To Blame

In July of 2006, my unit created an outpost in the middle of southeastern Ramadi, Iraq. In an early morning raid, we cleared a city block of its residents and moved our unit into their former neighborhood. We built machine gun nests on top of their houses. We surrounded the neighborhood with booby traps and razor wire.

And, we burned their stuff.

This was all necessary for what we were doing: creating a stable base from which to launch attacks against insurgent and Al-Qaeda Iraq forces in the city. We were losing the battle for the city at the time, and this particular strategy helped us secure victory against those forces and create a peace in the city that lasted for several years.

But, we burned their stuff.

This bothered me less at the time than it has in the years afterwards. Iraqi sanitation infrastructure broke down after the invasion, and the air constantly smelled of rotten garbage and shit. In an environment like that, you convince yourself that the people whose possessions you are piling up and pouring gasoline onto are all unwashed, possibly diseased barbarians and that you are putting yourself in danger just by touching their bed sheets.

We spent most of a day clearing those houses of a lifetime’s worth of earthly possessions. We laughed, we joked, we smoked cigarettes. To us, this was all in a day’s work, just another day in The Shit.

A few days later, we had a “community outreach” event. I was one of the soldiers that was assigned to “provide security” for the event. We brought out Public Affairs officers with envelopes of money and boxes of toys, all in an effort to compensate the citizens whose lives we had casually upended in our bid for strategic superiority.

None of the citizens were particularly thrilled about the arrangement, but they grudgingly accepted the compensation and the kids swarmed the boxes of toys.

One mother, though, wasn’t fucking having it.

She pulled her children away from the toys and screamed at us. All the screaming was in Arabic, so I couldn’t understand a word, but she waved her hands and screamed at the top of her lungs while keeping her children away. It put all of us “security” men on edge, even though this was an unarmed woman that I could have physically subdued with firing a shot.

She probably never looked at me directly, but she might as well have been pointing her finger at me specifically.

“You did this, you took my home, you burned my possessions, and now you want to bribe my kids? You’re to blame for this. You’re to blame.”

That’s not necessarily what she said – again, whatever she said was in Arabic – but that’s what I hear when I think of her. I can remember her face when I close my eyes, like she’s standing right in front of me. Over the months and years following, she became the face of what we did and were doing in Iraq.

She is exactly the kind of person that I imagine standing at the southern US border right now. I imagine kind-faced CBP agents handing her children toys while she wails at the injustice of having no home to return to and no home awaiting her. I imagine some young CBP agent, probably no older than I was in 2006, standing stoically while this woman screams at him in a language that he might or might not understand.

This would be an injustice in and of itself, this destruction of someone’s hopes after the destruction of their lives and possessions in their country of origin. But, our country – with the voice of our President – has decided that this woman also needs to be robbed of her children, too, while she is prosecuted for the crime of daring to demand a better life than the one she was born into.

We have room enough for her and her family here. We have money enough – though it is mostly in the pockets of a few who will never be able to spend all of it. We have enough work. We have enough of everything that she and her family needs to survive and thrive in this country.

Except compassion. We are sorely lacking in that.

We have created a culture that sees her and her family as part of an unwashed, diseased horde of barbarians, and we won’t touch her or anything that belongs to her as a result. Through decades of interference in her country of origin – and the region surrounding it – we have created a climate of fear and violence where she comes from. And, through decades of indifference and inaction, we have now created a climate of fear and revulsion in the place to which she flees.

That young CBP agent might care about her and her crying child, as he stands with his gun and his restraints between them and their only hope of a better life. I cared about that woman and her kids as I stood with my rifle between her and the home that she had spent years building and caring for.

The fact that we care does absolutely fuck-all for her and her family. The fact that we care does absolutely nothing to mitigate our guilt in being part of the forces that will throw her possessions on a pile and burn them.

Or, take her children from her and throw them into a very comfortable cage.

I clench my fists when I read about this, but I also turn my eye inward. Because, as much as I want to wash my hands and call myself blameless, I know that I have been a part of this from the very beginning. I have been part of a culture that doesn’t give a shit about this woman and her family – or the thousands of families like her – until the shame becomes so great that we can’t breathe from it.

It took a picture of a crying child to move most of America to action, but this child is not the first and this child won’t be the last to be terrorized by our indifference to their plight.  Until we cease to see them as an “issue” or just as “immigrants” or “refugees” or “illegals”, we will continue to terrorize them. Until we begin to see this woman and her family – or man and his family, or man or woman alone, or unaccompanied child – until we being to see them all as human beings in need of our compassion and our help, we will continue to terrorize them.

We have to care before we see it. We have to care for every second of every day that it’s happening. We have to care no matter who sits in the seats of government – whether they are hateful and spiteful and inhumane, or they maintain compassionate rhetoric. We have to move beyond our empathy into a practical compassion that works for their betterment, no matter what photos come across our news feed.

And, we have to make sure that we don’t place all of our blame on that young CBP agent – or that young soldier – who stand and listen to the cries of the woman and her children. Yes, these people are both to blame for their choice to be a part of the mechanism that oppresses and terrorizes, but they are not the only ones to blame. They don’t exist in a cultural vacuum. They are a result of the choices that our society has made, and that society is as much to blame as they are.

We are all to blame, and we are all responsible for the solution.

When Dying Was Better

CONTENT WARNING: What follows is a personal story involving depression and suicide.

 

*********************************************************************************

 

In June of 2012, I decided that dying was better than going to work.

Some context might be necessary.

I was in the Army at the time, in my 8th year of service. I had 2 deployments to Iraq under my belt. I was a squad leader in a medical unit at Fort Campbell, Kentucky.

I was sleeping between 2 and 4 hours a night. I was awakened by nightmares and kept awake by flashbacks. I was irritable and angry much of the time, and drunk much of the rest of the time.

My entire life was fueled by grief and rage (a phrase that I took from my first attempt at therapy after my deployments.) I was grieving losses from my first deployment, feeling guilt from just being alive, and angry at God and the Army for killing my comrades and making me miserable. I was ashamed of the uniform that I put on every  morning.

So, a few days after my anniversary and another sleepless night, I decided that I would rather die than spend one more day feeling like that.

************************************************************************************

This is the part where a great chorus of voices cries out, “But you had so much to live for! You had a wife, you had 2 kids, you had a good job serving our country! Why would you think of killing yourself?”

Last post, I mentioned that suicide felt like a selfless act to the person considering it.  That was true for me on that morning in 2012. I had spent weeks convincing myself that my family was better off without me. In fact, in what I thought was an absolute fit of selflessness, I planned how to kill myself in such a way that it would look like an accident. That way, my family would still get my life insurance money.

The road that I took to work every morning is lined with utility poles. Without really thinking about it, I had spent weeks staring at these poles, deciding which one would be easiest and best to drive into at high speed. What speed would I have to reach to break my neck on impact? Would it hurt? Would it mangle my face so much that my kids wouldn’t recognize me?

When I finally made the decision one morning, it felt like relief. I got dressed for work like normal, took a last look at my wife and kids, and drove away from the house.

*************************************************************************************

When I’ve told this story before, particularly in front of religious audiences, I always add God as part of the reason I decided not to wrap my car around a pole. I always say that it was the presence of a church on the way (a church that my family still has membership at) that changed my mind. “God said no,” I proclaim to Christian listeners.

The truth is much less mystical: I just didn’t want to die.

I spent so much time thinking about killing myself, planning to kill myself, and I had never really considered the actual dying part. What was that like? Would it be like I had always been taught, a flash of light and my dead grandparents at the end? Or, would it be eternal fire for not leading a moral enough life? Or, would it just be nothing – no light, no flames, just a crash and a sleep that I never woke up from?

God, that was fucking terrifying.

Seconds before I swerved my car into the pole that I had chosen, I decided that I’d much rather figure out another way to stop hurting.

***********************************************************************************

I checked myself into a hospital, which was the worst ten days I’ve ever experienced outside of Iraq. The only thing that I learned there was how to stay out the hospital in the future.

I came out of the hospital expecting to be better, which almost makes me laugh now for all of its naivete. I came out expecting to experience compassion from my friends and family, and while I certainly experienced it from some, I mostly experienced indifference and confusion.

I came out of the hospital expecting that I would never feel like killing myself again. In fact, I thought about it almost every day, and I made at least two more plans – including a really scary hour being parked on a hill overlooking a river.

I’m mostly better now than I was back in 2012, but some days almost feel as bad. It’s hard to remain around when the world is constantly kicking you in the nuts with how awful it can be.

But, the awfulness of the world is part of what keeps me kicking around. I’ve met so many people since that morning in 2012 who feel the same way that I did, and it’s easier now to see the plea in their eyes to help them stay alive. I’ve managed to talk a few out of wrapping their cars around poles, or jumping off bridges, or shooting themselves in the face, or swallowing a bottle of pills.

Some days, I don’t know why I’m so keen to keep them around. Maybe it’s just the need to show some of the compassion that I didn’t experience. Maybe it’s that I need the company of people who recognize how awful a person can feel, who manage to live through all the ways that the world tries to break us.

Or, maybe it’s because I still hold on to the idea that there is something about life that makes it worth trying.

Or, maybe I’m just full of shit and scared of the actual dying part.

Who really knows? And, if it keeps some of us alive, do the reasons really matter?

 

COMING SOON: I Clench My Fists While Reading the News

 

STFU

 

MAJOR CONTENT WARNING: This post discusses suicide and mental illness in frank terms. Some of the views expressed might be offensive to someone who has lost a family member or friend to suicide.

Also, I use some very vulgar language at the end.

 

***********************************************************************************************************************************************************

 

 

 

When someone that lives in the public eye ends their own life, it becomes a kind of cultural event. Everyone has a eulogy for the person, how they were affected by their contributions to society. When Robin Williams died, there were hundreds of veterans who enjoyed his USO shows at one time or another, and they all talked about how important he had been to them at the time. Anthony Bourdain’s travles. Kate Spade’s fashion. Chris Cornell’s music. (Here’s a more complete list of celebrity suicides in the 21st century, if you’re feeling both nostalgic and morbid.)

We mourn in public for our celebrities, and so we comment in public. Our comments run the gamut between profound and useful to sentimental and dubiously helpful to ugly and hateful.

As someone who has experienced suicidal ideations personally, I have compiled a short list of comments made after suicides that I find to be extremely unhelpful. Some of these are things that I have said myself. Some are things that you might have said in a way that you thought was helpful. It’s not my intent to be condemnatory with this list (except where I am explicitly condemnatory.) Thousands of well-intentioned people before you have made comments like these, and I reserve the right to be utterly, completely wrong about all of it.

This list also has the honor of being the only Facebook post that I have ever had deleted.

 

“It was such a selfish decision. Think about their parents/siblings/lover/spouse/children/cats/dogs/pet hamsters.”

This is not the worst comment ever, but it’s close. It has, at it’s heart, a real concern for those left behind when someone ends their own life. It is heartbreakingly true that suicide has victims. These “secondary victims” are often left with feelings of guilt and shame – made no better by less well-intentioned people who ask questions like “How could you not have known?”.

But, the flip side of this coin is that the decision to die by your own hand is made for perceived selfless reasons. Someone who is terminally ill and relies on a family member as a caregiver tires of being a burden. Someone who suffers from depression or anxiety no longer wants to “bring everyone down.”

The logic in such an argument is probably skewed (though I would argue that a terminally ill person might have a better view than a caregiver in this area.) Intention matters, though. Calling someone selfish for making a decision that they thought was unselfish is – wait for it – selfish in itself. You’re assigning more value to your feelings than to the feelings of the person making the choice.

This isn’t an argument for suicide. I have counseled suicidal people many times in the past, and I spent many of those hours trying to convince someone that they weren’t a burden. But, this is an argument that can only be made before a suicide happens. Making this comment after the suicide is completed is useless and mean-spirited.

 

“They lost their battle.”

Winning and losing don’t have any place in a discussion of illness, whether mental or physical. I am guilty of using this language in the past, and I truly thought that I was being helpful at the time. I called depression an illness which is “sometimes terminal.”

This language is harmful for two reasons. First, it can demoralize the person who suffers. People “win” when they display the most skill or effort in a contest. They “lose” when they fail to do enough. Imagine suffering depression, and having your suffering compared to a battle or a contest. No matter how much you struggle, you’re still depressed. Why aren’t you winning? Are you not doing it right? Are you not trying hard enough?

(The same logic applies to physical illnesses, but I have never suffered an illness serious enough to comment with authority.)

The second reason that I find this particular comment harmful is because suicide is a choice.

Suicide is a choice, not a battle that is passively lost. The person that committed suicide is not a victim of a crime. Those left behind might hate the choice. They might firmly disagree with the choice. That doesn’t make it less of a choice. Don’t take agency away from someone, just because you don’t like the choice that they made. The dead deserve better than that.

 

“Suicide is a coward’s way out.”

Let me say this really clearly and loudly, for the people in the back.

Fuck. You.

Seriously, fuck you.

Why would someone say this? Who would be mean-spirited enough, hateful enough, to say this about someone?

People end their lives for a lot of reasons, but the most common reason is pain. That pain can be physical, psychological, moral, or emotional, but it is agonizing.

Would you say something like this to someone with cancer, you feckless sack of shit?

Would you say it to a veteran of war who can’t sleep more than two hours a night because of nightmares, you puddle of dog vomit?

Would you say it to someone with chronic pain so severe that they can’t walk, you purulent cyst on the anus of society?

Would you say it to a child who sleeps on the streets because their parents kicked them out for being gay, or transgender, or anything different, you festering fucking garbage dump?

Everything in our evolutionary make-up demands survival. When someone makes the choice to kill themselves, they first have to fight through millions of years of instinct and fear of the unknown. You can call that foolish, you can call that wrong, but don’t you dare call it cowardly. Unless you have stood at the edge of that particular abyss, you have no fucking idea how much courage it requires.

AGAIN, I am not lauding suicide as a correct choice. I am not speaking to the morality of it. I would never tell someone that they were brave for considering it, just like I wouldn’t tell someone that they were a coward for considering it. In fact, when talking about suicide, I would prefer to leave all adjectives describing motivation out of it. But, when we’re talking about someone who has already killed themselves, can we not use the worst possible language?

*****************************************************************************************************************************************************

 

I know that we mourn when someone ends their own life. I have had to mourn someone’s decision too many times, just like I have worked to talk someone out of that decision. I am not asking you, as a reader/friend/parent/lover/spouse/sibling to keep your mouth shut, either before or after a suicide.

I’m just asking you to think about what’s about to fall out before you fucking open it.

 

If you or someone you love is suicidal and wants help, you can find resources at this link.

 

Here’s a video of a sad song that I love.

 

COMING SOON: My own choices, and how I live with them

Living In A World That Constantly Sucks

The highlights of this week’s Adventures have been:

 

President Trump Acts Like A Shitgibbon.

I Get My First Facebook Post Deleted

Anthony Bourdain and Kate Spade Commit Suicide

 

I’ve never actually watched Anthony Bourdain’s shows. I recognized his picture. I knew he did food shows. But, I have no personal connection to Anthony Bourdain. Or Kate Spade.

do have a personal connection to suicide. It’s a constant companion to me. I have flirted with thoughts of it for most of my life, and I started a more committed relationship with it in June of 2012. This week in June of 2012, incidentally.

So, while I don’t know anything about Kate Spade’s fashion line or Anthony Bourdain’s food shows, I give a shit about them. I care because they decided to do something that I have frequently thought about doing.

I might not relate to the pressures of celebrity, but holy shit do I know something about the pressures of just living in a world that constantly sucks.

If you parse Anthony Bourdain’s public statements, you get a picture of a guy who really Gives A Shit about the world around him. Gave A Shit, that is.

Take for instance this quote about a visit to Gaza:

“I was enormously grateful for the response from Palestinians, in particular, for doing what seemed to me an ordinary thing, something we do all the time: show regular people doing everyday things. … The world has visited many terrible things on the Palestinian people, none more shameful than robbing them of their basic humanity. People are not statistics. That is all we attempted to show.”

Or, this quote about after being offered a warthog’s butthole to eat in Namibia:

“What am I going to do, refuse him, embarrass him in front of his people, look ungrateful? That changes the whole tenor of the relationship. I mean, when somebody’s offering you food, they’re telling you a story. They’re telling you what they like, who they are. Presumably, it’s a proud reflection of their culture, their history, often a very tough history. You turn your nose up at that important moment, the whole relationship changes, and it will never be the same.”

(You can check out these quotes, and others at this link.)

(And, lest you think that I’ve forgotten, you can see some cool Kate Spade quotes about travel and personal empowerment of women.)

I can’t tell you why these two brave and beautiful souls decided to shuffle off this mortal coil. I can’t tell you that it’s because the world sucks so bad right now, or that the world has sucked for a little while longer than the last two years.

I can tell you that my thoughts of suicide have increased since we our nation started really, publicly shitting on immigrants.

Or since videos of police shooting loads of innocent people became part of my social media timeline.

Or since President Trump… did anything.

Again, who really knows why people kill themselves? Mental health is probably a better indicator than overall World Suckage. Alcohol and drugs definitely don’t help. Access to guns is part of the problem.

But, how do we live in a world that is so intent on being awful?

humbly suggest that we stop being happy.

Seriously, let’s not worry about being happy anymore. Let’s Embrace the Suck, a lesson that I was taught on the streets of Ramadi, Iraq.

Life isn’t a series of really joyful events rudely interrupted by awfulness.

Life is really a series of fucking awful episodes that are pleasantly punctuated by moments of joy.

If we have any hope of living in this world, we need to embrace the idea that life mostly sucks – then suck in all the joy that we find.

You might think Anthony Bourdain’s death is tragic, but the man traveled the world. He saw some of the worst places and conditions on Earth, but he always found a way to eat food and enjoy good company. The world didn’t suck less for him than it does for others. He just decided that joy didn’t require a perfect world, or even a good world.

Joy requires an embrace of the suffering and hard work that life demands. Joy requires a purpose that doesn’t rely on happiness.

I might die tomorrow or in 50 years. My cause of death might be old age, illness, or even suicide. (That day is not today, Dear Readers, so don’t worry about me in the moment.)

When I go, no matter how I choose to go, it will be after a life of being compassionate, helpful, funny, intelligent, well-read, and well-fed.

I have no intention of chasing happiness, no matter how bright and shiny a treasure it is. It’s illusive. It’s destructive. It’s impossible to ever achieve.

There are things that are far better than happiness, and far easier to experience.

Here’s to Anthony Bourdain. Here’s to Kate Spade. Here’s to the tens of thousands of Americans who will take their own life this year.

Someone loves you. Someone misses you. We’ll try to make a world that sucks a little less.

 

If you want help with suicidal thoughts, here are some resources

From Canada or US: If you’re in an emergency, please call 911

You can contact the US National Suicide Prevention Lifeline on 1-800-273-8255 or the Crisis Test Line by texting HOME to 741741

Young people in need of help can call Kids Help Phone on 1-800-668-6868

If you are in the UK, you can call the Samaritans on 116123

 

 

Here’s a fun video to watch that doesn’t suck

 

********************************************************************************************************

Coming Soon: Why Your Comments After a Suicide Are Unhelpful