Lives matter

Your death is only something that happens in the lives of others. This, according to Sherlock Holmes, but I am remembering it over a breach in time. As I recall, it led to an argument against suicide, by way of a neat leap into the supernatural. You “take your life,” but from whom?

My distant memory of this, came recently, when I was told that an old friend had killed himself. He swam out to sea from a beach in Thailand, my informant explained; and kept swimming.

Once upon a time he was a good Catholic boy, indeed lovable and inspiring in both his humility and his courage; reliably honest and conscientious. He left no note. The possibility that my informant got it wrong, I still entertain. That it was suicide, was something he assumed; but so did some coroner.

There are no more events in this Rob’s earthly life, but he continues to be an event in mine. My happy memories are dimmed, even “cancelled”; yet they could be revived. I know of many other puzzling deaths, on which the worst construction is placed — the poet, Randall Jarrell; the philosopher, Jean Daniélou SJ — who died leaving questions. Not all were suicides. Some died by accident, in unedifying circumstances.

The prevailing view, is that death doesn’t matter, except as a misfortune to be avoided. We should remember the happy times for themselves. But if death doesn’t matter, then life doesn’t matter. It is reduced to fragments; like a beetle, crushed. The whole person, when he “ceased to exist,” ceased ever to have existed. He was a biological epiphenomenon. His story was that of a bad novelist.

Whereas, Catholics (for instance) pray for “a good death.” On the concept itself, we are invited to meditate. Unlike those who adopt the prevailing view, we do not long for “closure.” That is a deletion; a suicide of mind. In thinking on this, we revisit a fissure that dates from the Reformation. Catholics continue to pray for the dead. Protestants were taught that this is a vanity: the fate of the dead is out of our hands. Think deeply on this, and light is cast upon the Catholic doctrine of “transubstantiation”; the difference between a little wafer being the body and blood of Christ, or being instead just a symbol.

A reason to believe that Rob — who in his time saved at least one human life, from a beach — never intended to kill himself, is that he understood the Catholic teaching. He came from a fine Catholic home; received a fine education at Notre Dame. He was not a “symbolist.” He had also endured much worse than the bad luck that had been recently afflicting him (involving a betrayal).

But who am I to guess the content of another human soul? Perhaps, he was medically depressed; and if so, he was probably inclined to hide it. Who knows, who knows? Perhaps he never committed the sin of Selbstmord (the candid German term), but was in effect murdered by psychotropic drugs? Perhaps he had “simply” lost his faith: in which case his lost faith also cost him his life. Perhaps it was an unexpected ocean current, that dragged him out of sight. I cannot know the answer, yet can know that the answer is important.

What we can do is pray. In the Catholic view, this makes a difference.