A couple of weeks ago, I was discussing the heavy subject of suicide with a new person in my life. The best description of suicide I have come across is a famous quote by David Foster Wallace – a writer who, sadly, ultimately lost his own battle with depression.
“The so-called ‘psychotically depressed’ person who tries to kill herself doesn’t do so out of quote ‘hopelessness’ or any abstract conviction that life’s assets and debits do not square. And surely not because death seems suddenly appealing. The person in whom its invisible agony reaches a certain unendurable level will kill herself the same way a trapped person will eventually jump from the window of a burning high-rise. Make no mistake about people who leap from burning windows. Their terror of falling from a great height is still just as great as it would be for you or me standing speculatively at the same window just checking out the view; i.e. the fear of falling remains a constant. The variable here is the other terror, the fire’s flames: when the flames get close enough, falling to death becomes the slightly less terrible of two terrors. It’s not desiring the fall; it’s terror of the flames. And yet nobody down on the sidewalk, looking up and yelling ‘Don’t!’ and ‘Hang on!’, can understand the jump. Not really. You’d have to have personally been trapped and felt flames to really understand a terror way beyond falling.”
― David Foster Wallace
What I take away from this quote – and what I shared with that dear person – is that no one can possibly know the depth of another person’s agony. No one will ever know how hot that fire is without being in it.
This dear soul, however, like many, had a tendency to call suicide selfish.
How can a person be so concerned with their own pain, that they’d just end it all, leaving all of their loved ones behind and transferring that pain to their still-beating hearts? Leaving them with the guilt that they couldn’t make them happy enough – a guilt they’ll carry with them forever. Don’t the suicidal think of others?
This isn’t an uncommon opinion by any means. And it isn’t a nonsensical one, either. Of course suicide could seem selfish when you look at the surface. The suicidal are leaving everyone behind. Everyone who is left behind will be left with pain and guilt in their hearts – forever.
But what if we go deeper than the surface?
What if we try to understand that the suicidal are so consumed by that hot fire, that they feel like nothing can save them?
What if we try to understand that the suicidal have looked for every way out, but the smoke is blinding them?
What if we look at their jump as a way to notice the flames, instead of resenting them for trying to save themselves?
What if instead of placing blame on them for not being able to escape alive, we work to fight harder to save the ones who are still trapped?
I’ve been in that fire. I hate that damn fire. It gets unbearably hot. I couldn’t focus on anything but the heat. I was too overcome by being burned alive – from the inside out – to even consider anything else.
After discussing this quote, the fire, my own thoughts and experiences, I got a very simple response,
“That’s why we need firefighters.”
And then I realised that sometimes, it really can be that simple.
And then I remembered as I lay there choking on the smoke, contemplating freeing myself and jumping into that cold air outside, a firefighter came and saved me – many times.
Once it was my ex-boyfriend, pulling a tired/drugged out me from the bathtub that was lulling me into an endless, fireless sleep.
Once it was a teenager on the internet, talking to me when no one else was.
Once it was a pair of paramedics, watching me protectively as I lay quiet in bed, almost at my end.
Once it was a toddler, obliviously smiling at me on the platform as I considered a deadly jump.
I have made every attempt to turn my negativity into positivity – to look at all the pain I’ve been dealt with, and the ways I’ve learned to cope – and bring that new positive perspective into other people’s lives. I have learned to fight my own fire – with and without the help of others – and it’s my job to spread those lessons around.
So. This is my request to you reading this:
Be a firefighter.
Be a positive energy.
Be a smile.
You might never know how many fires you fight – but I can assure you, you will win at least one.
And isn’t that more than enough already?