Friday, April 25, 2008


A young man I knew slightly killed himself three weeks ago. I never learned any details, save that he was unhappy, and had taken himself off his antidepressants.

He wasn't special; a nice guy, average height, curly brown hair, glasses and a fairly good smile. He spoke well, was obviously educated, looked like he might hang out at coffee shops where people still play acoustic guitars. Father of two girls, husband to a woman I've never met. Son, maybe brother, nephew, cousin. Nothing extraordinary, I suppose.

But still.

What prompted him? What pushed him towards this final action? Did he believe in an afterlife, something better than was available to him now? Was he seeking to become one with the universe? Or did something occur that made the very concept of existence impossible to maintain? Were his actions an act of ultimate control, or ultimate loss of control?

I have nothing against suicide. It's an option. I have little respect for those who talk about it ceaselessly, and a grudging admiration for those who quietly make a choice and carry it out. I do not see the benefits of courage or bravery in the face of hopelessness. Why we cling so tenaciously to life is beyond me; I imagine it has to do with the familiar versus the unknown, and I am sure that there must be times when the familiar is so dreadful and unforgiving that the unknown is preferable. So could it be a final desperate act of affirmation? A last shout to say, "This is my life and I'll do what I want with it!"

My mother and one of my sisters died of cancer. In the end they were in terrible pain and had absolutely no control over their environments, so the medical staff in the European hospitals where they died allowed them to overdose on morphine. It was an act of kindness, barely legal, gratefully accepted.

And yet the very doctors who helped ease them into the next stage, those same physicians kill themselves more than any other profession, according to Newsweek. They have the best attempt to success ratio, and nationwide about 400 commit suicide annually.

I have no idea what to make of all that.

Here's installment 15 of Wasted Miracles.

Chapter 4

The Isadora was a big ship, long as two football fields and at 32,400 tons, the largest of the Royal Scottish Line. Some 510 crew members saw to the every need of both the machinery and 973 paying passengers. Several years ago, the ship had grounded itself near Nantucket, an ignominious event that had occurred in less than 12 feet of water as the Isadora was returning to Boston from a week-long cruise to Bermuda. The fact that every mariner plying this route knew about the Crown and Shield shoals made the then captain the butt of endless jokes. He was an old man who should have been retired years before--the company had a weak spot for its more ancient employees--and, and there had been ample warning that the man’s failing eyesight and proud refusal to wear glasses had caused the incident. He had simply misread the nautical charts. To the Royal Scottish Line’s dismay, the aging captain had added insult to injury by insisting the passengers be evacuated from the Isadora, which had been completely unnecessary--there had been no real danger--but made each and every guest eligible for a refund.
Three Coast Guard cutters, seven salvage tugs, two ferries and two oil-cleanup boats also had to be paid for their time and expenses. The grounding of the Isadora was reported by all the major media, resulting in dozens of cruise cancellations by travelers who, already fearful of the sea, did not wish to tempt fate. It was, all in all, the costliest cruise ever undertaken by a Royal Scottish Line ship.
Captain Roderick Stuart, when he took command of the Isadora, had spent days and evenings reading the details of the incident in the ship’s log. He had asked for and been given access to the company’s records of the event, had paid a visit to the shamed captain to hear the tale firsthand and had pinpointed the almost exact moment of the former employee’s first mistake in a disastrous series of human errors.
Captain Stuart felt, and rightly so, that he had single-handedly rebuilt the ship’s and the line’s reputation. Under his watch, every cruise had been letter-perfect. He had avoided confrontations that might have alarmed the passengers in his safekeeping all the while ferreting out the drinkers and dope users in his crew. Each and every one suspected had been dealt with discreetly and relieved of his or her position. Captain Stuart was acutely aware of his duties as judge and jury aboard his floating nation, always acted with the impartiality he believed should be held sacrosanct by any court, and allowed for the possibility that he might have committed errors during his judicial proceedings. These he dismissed in light of the greater good achieved. Often, during his meetings with his mistress, he sought her opinions on matters relating to laws of the sea. He believed the harshness of the dictates might be tempered by a woman’s empathy.
Today, the eighteenth day of the cruise, he was particularly gratified to have been sought out by an elderly couple who wanted to get married the following day. The gray-haired woman had giggled and explained that they had fibbed on their cruise application. They were living together and not legally wed. Now they would consider it an honor for the captain to officiate the ceremony.
It would be Captain Stuart’s seventh wedding at sea, and he was inordinately pleased.

1 comment:

  1. awful about the suicides, have known two people who have done that - both men. Makes you wonder whether they were bottling it all up.