The Breathless Surge of Questions: On Suicide

Michelangelo, "Pieta"

Michelangelo, “Pieta”

Michelangelo in fact sculpted three depictions of the Pieta, and the one pictured above was the focus of his attention as he died. The artist’s eyesight was failing him. His sense of touch, those careful hands, would have had to suffice as a guide. It still manages the hew of sorrow, perhaps even better than the pristine version for which Michelangelo is famous. The angle shows a mother struggling with the weight of her son, head bent close to his. All is less serene, and more vulnerable. Even the roughness of it is intimate.

The whole work of art interrupts with its harsh sympathy for sorrow, even nagging – as sorrow does – with the question of what might have been. What might have been, had it been completed, as we’d prefer. The work lives a life cut short, defining itself unbidden with its end.

Any reflection claiming to answer for suicide, to somehow comprehend it, has spanned nothing at all. Suicide strikes us hard because it cannot be understood. It makes no sense. Its internal logic refuses all who would enter from the outside.

I am not going to try to explain suicide. I want simply to say a few words, provoked by the death of Robin Williams (classified as a “possible suicide” for now as I write ).

Rage is okay, if someone you know has committed suicide. Sorrow too. And incomprehensible loss felt deep in the heart, where it seems no one can reach.

There is rage in suicide. Sorrow too. And incomprehensible loss. The terrible solitude of pain so severe, so overwhelming, that a person would rather endure the lonely agony of death than continue living. This is what, among many things, is so very hard to understand.

I do not wonder whether such agony is possible. It is. I wonder why, and the small word echoes into the night and is consumed by it.

I can think of no way to turn around, to stuff my hands in my pockets and wander back home.

Loss should be permitted to be felt as such. As terrible loss. There are some things for which there are no words, some beautiful and some terrible. All that rises up in the place of speech is the perplexing expanse of a heart in the awful depths of its experiences.

Do not rush for words. Let that heart beat with the pain it is in. Whether you want to die, or know someone who did: let your heart beat longer though it hurts. Mine will, with yours, from across many distances.

If you or someone you know is thinking about suicide, you can call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline. “No matter what problems you are dealing with, we want to help you find a reason to keep living. By calling 1-800-273-TALK (8255) you’ll be connected to a skilled, trained counselor at a crisis center in your area, anytime 24/7.” You can also chat online through their website.


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