When someone we care about dies unexpectedly, the feeling is the emotional equivalent of a kick in the nuts. In addition to the pain and low-level nausea experienced, there are the added components of shock and disorientation. That’s because no one ever really expects to get kicked in the nuts; it’s almost impossible to prepare for it in advance or process it immediately afterward. (I know this analogy is only visceral for men, but I’m sure most women at least have an intellectual understanding of how physically traumatic that is.) Sudden death is also one of those things that doesn’t hurt less because we’ve experienced it before.
In fact, for me at least, there is a subtle difference to the experience when it happens repeatedly in a short period of time. It’s beginning to feel like what I understand happens in post-concussive syndrome. I didn’t know until I looked it up just this second, but post-concussive syndrome is what used to be called shell shock. That’s just about exactly right. I feel off-balance and foggy. I’m having even more trouble than usual concentrating on what’s in front of me.
For the third time in just about that many months, someone I know has taken his own life. And I’m finding, as I’m sure many of my friends are, the emotional toll is somewhat cumulative. The pain is a little sharper and at the same time more diffuse. Three months ago I was sad and confused. Today, added to the sadness and confusion are feelings of helplessness and frustration.
Of course, part of the human condition is that we try to make sense of the seemingly senseless, find a point in the impossibly pointless. Recovering alcoholics and addicts (read: me) are usually even more inclined to analyze and dissect in search for answers.
When seeking a spiritual solution for alcohol or drug addiction, belief in at least the possibility of a power greater than us is essential. With that often comes the conviction that everything happens for a reason. Until the moment when what happens seems unreasonable to us. In these situations I find my philosophical views are in complete conflict with my emotional views.
I guess it’s at least good that my vision of the universal force doesn’t include human constructs of good, evil, mercy and kindness. As beings that can barely see a speck of the actual big picture, it’s only natural that we see good and bad and mean and kind in the things that occur in our lives. We have exactly zero knowledge of how the universe works and the force that is behind it.
[When I say that, I’m not impugning anyone’s beliefs. I’m not arrogant enough (well, I’m plenty arrogant but…) to think I know whether your beliefs are right or wrong. I just think that the real nature of the power of the universe is unknowable – beyond human and beyond human comprehension.]
But I think a being or an entity that governs the world and the entire cosmos couldn’t possibly be constrained by or limited to human concepts. If there is meaning to life then there is meaning to all life and everything that happens in every life. If we believe (as many people do) that God doesn’t punish, than it stands to reason that God doesn’t reward either. And if physical, mental and emotional suffering are unavoidable, than in the big picture no amount or type of suffering can be classified as better or worse than any other.
I’ve heard many say that while everything happens for a reason, the reason is often not apparent to us. I think it goes beyond that. I think that the reasons things happen are actually beyond our comprehension and in all likelihood have no correlation to the parts of the picture we can see. Consider this. If our souls move on to another plane when they leave our bodies (I don't know if I believe that, but I know I don't not believe it) then the reason death seems so random and pointless here sometimes might be because the reason exists on the other side.
The effects of any one event reach far beyond and influence occurrences far longer than we can perceive. Certainly my friends that took their lives couldn’t perceive the ramifications of their actions. If they really understood how their deaths would affect the people in their lives (even on the fringes of their lives) and people that they’ve never met, would they have still chosen that path?
None of these men were guys that I spoke to on a really regular basis, even when I lived in the same city with them. I can’t portray them as my closest friends or people that I even knew well enough to suspect that they were in trouble. And that is exactly what I’m so struck by today – that friends / acquaintances so far outside my innermost circle of loved ones can have such a profound effect on me. Three thousand miles away and more than a year since I’d seen any of them face to face.
I don’t know what it means or how it makes sense or what the point of it all is. But I know how it affects the one little speck of the picture I can see. I have a new perspective on how much we all matter in the world. We affect things and people more than we can ever even come close to realizing. The mere fact that you (or I) are alive means a great deal to many, many people.
I’m prone to delusions of total insignificance – that no one (or hardly anyone) would even notice if I weren’t here. But that is, in total fact, delusional. Even when I’m in the deepest pool of my own self-pity, feeling completely alone and that I’m an utter failure, I matter. Way more than I’ll ever understand. And so do you. So I’m going to stay as long as I have any say in the decision. I hope you will too.