To be

Since Delia embarked upon her solo voyage into the well believed or the unknown or the void (depending on your own predilections) I have talked with several similarly bereaved men and women about my own, unaccompanied new journey. Almost all have wondered, as have I, whether the journeying on could be worth the bother. But suicide is such an ugly word, ranking as it does alongside all other breaches of man-made Christian Law, that it is never a word to be used in personal conversation. Besides, there are, after all, a number of euphemisms.

Suicide Is Painless is the song that opened all 251 episodes of the smash-hit TV series M*A*S*H*. It was composed by Johnny Mandel with lyrics (purportedly) by 14 year old Mike Altman. It begins…
Through early morning fog I see
Visions of the things to be
The pains that are withheld for me
I realize and I can see
That suicide is painless
It brings on many changes
And I can take or leave it if I please

… and ends with …

A brave man once requested me
To answer questions that are key
Is it to be or not to be
And I replied 'Oh, why ask me?' …
'Cause suicide is painless
It brings on many changes
And I can take or leave it if I please
And you can do the same thing if you please

Now suicide may or may not be painless (other than to that necessary band of lawyers, officials and undertakers for whom there can be no pain, only profit, in the death of a stranger), but it is certainly not painless to those who cared and are then left behind by he or she by their own hand gone.   

Anyway, I like the Shakespearean reference in the M*A*S*H* song. The following is an exchange between the spirits of Burns and Shakespeare taken from my unpublished novel / play Two Gentlemen in a Far Away Land …

Robert Burns: But this ‘perchance to dream’ - your Hamlet’s far famed soliloquy? To be, or not to be: that is the question:  / Whether 'tis nobler in the mind to suffer / The slings and arrows of outrageous fortune, /Or to take arms against a sea of troubles, / And by opposing end them? To die: to sleep; And so forth.

William Shakespeare: Was there ever a man or a woman since the dawn of humanity who did not sometime have such a private conversation with him or herself as did my Prince? Physical life: the single thing allotted to each of us at our worldly birth. At certain times it seemed more a curse than a gift. Who did not sometimes wonder: is not my life my very own to maintain or to reject, either way of my own free will?

RB: That Vale of Tears could and did at times seem so very desolate. For myself there were times … however there were also heights on either flank topped with supreme joy and pleasure. To surrender one’s own life may have been the obvious choice but there was always the possibility of things improving. Hope does spring eternal, as was truly said. And besides, how could anyone alive know that what comes after death is not worse, perhaps far worse, than ‘soldiering on’, as they say. Those mythical flames, Will! All that church talk of hell and damnation!

WS: Of course, even though we could not know and still cannot, even here. But you yourself had little public sympathy for the taking of one’s own life, witness your little verse, the one entitled ‘On a Suicide’ Earthed up, here lies an imp of hell, / Planted by Satan's dibble;  /  Poor silly wretch, he's damned himself, /  To save the Lord the trouble. By the way, talking of hell I wonder whether Signor Dante is here with us?

RB: Dante? I hope so. Should he not have been directed into his own Inferno. We must call to him, Will. Hemingway definitely is here although he took his own life as did his father before him and his father before him and of course that aged fount of human wisdom, fine old Socrates. And there’s many a soldier or non-soldier or icon of religion here who ‘sacrificed’ his or her life for one thing or another. Francis Feeble, Henry IV part two: By my troth, I care not; a man can die but once; we owe God a death.... He that dies this year is quit for the next. Suicide by any other name, William! But enough.


Suicide is still taboo; I believe that taboos are or should or will in time be recognised as worthless relics of our past. Far from stepping carefully around these ‘horrors’, or pretending their non-existence, much better for the human spirit / soul and comfort to confront them. And thus to carry on doing one’s best in truth and goodly humour. As I shall surely try to do, myself.

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