I seriously considered not publishing this post (not publicly, anyway). It contains what some might consider sensitive material. I don’t know if I can handle having that on my conscience. Then again, maybe talking about this could be good for some people. How am I supposed to know? Besides, there’s already so much of everything already on the internet, it’s not like this one little post will make a difference.
I ask only that you do not read this in a negative frame of mind, or don’t read it if you think it might put you in a negative headspace. I’ll tell you straight-up that this post is about suicide.
As mentioned in a previous post, I’ve been reading A Tale for the Time Being (by Ruth Ozeki) these last few weeks. The book talks about suicide a lot, which has (unsurprisingly) made me think about suicide a lot – not in the sense that I’m considering suicide, myself, but just thinking about suicide. Sure, being the pondering person I am, I’ve contemplated this topic before. I have my views and thoughts about it, but this novel has made me think about it in a different way.
Keep in mind, of course, that I’m not quite finished the book yet, so I don’t know if there’s some twist or whatever at the end that’s going to drastically change things. I’d also appreciate no spoilers please.
Before KF and I went to Japan, she’d told me about seppuku, which is a form of suicide that samurai warriors used to carry out because they believed that it was better to die honourably than to be captured or slain by your enemy. This was possibly one of my first indications that life and death are viewed differently in Japan, compared to Australia or other “western” nations.
There is a part early on in ATTB in which Ruth, one of the central characters, finds a website belonging to a psychology professor who’s researching “first-person narratives of suicide”. Here’s an excerpt from a letter, written by a Japanese man, that Ruth finds on the site:
“…although life is a thing that seems to have some kind of weight and shape, this is only an illusion. Our feeling of alive has no real edge or boundary…
“Death is certain. Life is always changing, like a puff of wind in the air, or a wave in the sea, or even a thought in the mind. So making a suicide is finding the edge of life. It stops time, so we can grasp what shape it is and feel it is real…”
The man who wrote the letter was trying to explain the Japanese mentality on suicide. At one point he says it’s “very popular”, and that there are movies and books that teach people how to commit suicide by various methods. Yes, “suicide manuals” exist, and there are even internet sites that help connect those wishing to commit suicide, so they can commit suicide together. It almost seems like an acceptable thing to do. Almost.
I wasn’t sure what to search (I wasn’t sure I wanted to search anything), but Googling “suicide club Japan” gave me this link to a transcript for a news report on the topic, broadcast in 2005. Not that I couldn’t believe it, or couldn’t imagine it, but I had to confirm that, yes, this is real.
Later on in the novel, there are old letters from a young Japanese man, sent to be a Kamikaze pilot in WWII. In these letters, he talks about a sense of relief in knowing when he would die, and a feeling of agency in having some control of when that would happen (these pilots carried out “death missions” in which they flew their planes into enemy warships, etc). The news report I linked to above also says that these pilots were considered honourable and patriotic for what they did, and this perception/association has persisted.
I really don’t think I’m in a position to say “this is wrong” or “this is fine”. Honestly, I don’t even know why I’m writing this other than to get these thoughts out of my head (writing things down tends to help clear my mind, and this book has seriously made me think about death a whole lot recently).
But it’s interesting, isn’t it? (for lack of a better word)
I saw something on TV the other week about how, over the last decade or so, there’s been a significant increase in suicides committed by teenagers in the US. There was an article in an Australian Pharmacy journal recently about suicide in the elderly population, and how this is not adequately addressed. I remember learning in uni that suicide rates are higher in males than females, but that that’s mostly because males are more “successful” at it. It makes me wonder how widespread suicidal ideation really is.
And something else interesting: There are groups who advocate for the legalisation of euthanasia, to allow people to die with dignity, and to end pain and suffering. Usually, in this context, people presumably think of physical suffering, but aren’t we told to acknowledge emotional/psychological pain as being equally valid? Could suicide then be considered a form of euthanasia? (rather than euthanasia being a form of suicide?) Do you think people who support euthanasia also accept suicide as a personal choice?
I think the reason this has been playing on my mind a lot (other than because I’m still reading ATTB, and death/suicide keeps coming up throughout the novel) is that the whole thing seems reasonable and unreasonable at the same time. Suicide still seems like a devastating and unnecessary thing (it’s like that quote shared around on Post Secret: suicide is a permanent solution to a temporary problem, or something to that effect), but I can understand the other side of it too.
Strangely enough (or perhaps not strange at all), I reckon that thinking about all of this has actually made me less afraid of death. I wouldn’t say that I’m “at peace” exactly, or that I’m suddenly bold and reckless, but simply… less afraid. It’s a strange feeling, and it’s kind of hard to explain. I might leave that for a separate post…