To Be or Not to Be

By , November 10, 2011

If you’re reading Mary Oliver’s Twelve Moons as a lunar calendar with me this year, it’s the full moon, time for Beaver Moon—The Suicide of a Friend.

This is not a pleasant subject, but, like many of her poems about death, it has a stark beauty that can’t be denied.

Suicide is a particularly serious problem here in Alaska, and at no time more so than winter, when so many are affected by Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD). I don’t have the stats to quote, but Alaska’s suicide rate is extremely high.

moon halo

Three nights ago, there was a pretty impressive halo around the gibbous moon over the homestead (Photo: Mark Zeiger).

I seem to be an exception to most Alaskans. I’ve had to think long and hard to recall whether I’ve known anyone who committed suicide. I don’t believe anyone close to me has, unless I’m blocking something out. I can certainly recall a few times I’ve sat with friends who struggled to deal with the loss of their friends or relatives through suicide. That’s as close as I ever hope to come. All of the suppositions Ms Oliver expresses in her poem are familiar to me.

I did clean up after a suicide once. Shortly out of college, Michelle and I rented from her employer, and I served as building superintendent to defray our rent. A young woman slit her wrists in her apartment, and the owner and I had to remove the blood-soaked carpet. The building was outfitted with propane stoves. All I could think about was how lucky we all were that she hadn’t tried to gas herself, perhaps accidentally blowing up the building in the process. Such unintended consequences frighten me.

Raised as a Christian, I’ve never been able to believe the doctrine that suicides are bound for hell. That apparently is based on the concept that life is God’s greatest gift, and that a suicide rejects that gift. It seems more likely that a compassionate God would understand and forgive those who find that gift too great a burden, don’t you think?

I’m sitting alone in the cabin, writing this while listening to one of the most beautiful versions of the Fauré Requiem I’ve ever heard. This isn’t doing much to set an ebullient morning mood. Luckily, I made a double batch of oatmeal raisin/chocolate chip cookies Monday. I may need to go in search of the bottom of the cookie jar. Hope the coffee holds out . . . .

2 Responses to “To Be or Not to Be”

  1. Charles says:

    Yes. I recently had a long standing friend kill himself with a .357 magnum. no one had any idea there was a problem–and still don’t know “why?”

  2. Mark Zeiger says:

    Sorry to hear that Charles. That’s the thing that scares me–family and friends not knowing the reason. It’s human nature to blame oneself, it seems.

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