I read an article the other day that asks if the suicidal are selfish. It got me thinking and tweeting, and I found myself remembering moments from my childhood.
I was in grammar school the first time I wondered if the world would be a better place without me. I remember the moment, the thought fresh as frigid winter air, frightening as the face of a demon. I was in church, sitting alone and waiting to confess sins for the first time in my life, horrified about how to tell the priest that I am a little pervert—this would put me in my first communion class. It means I was eight years old.
The memory is gray and cracked, like a black and white photo that survived a war. I can still depend on it, and there are layers that I know to be true. I knew with certainty that the world would, indeed, be better off without me. I was not merely a sinner, but most of the time I provided nothing of use to anyone. If I was useful, it was to make satisfactory public displays, to recite things before groups, to demonstrate my memorization skills (which, in childhood, were phenomenal, far better than what I can memorize today), things that made various adults in school and home glow with pride. Beyond this, I was constantly in need.
I needed food, and I had a gluttonous appetite. I needed clothing. I needed friendship, even if I often preferred to be left alone. I was mostly a burden, and without Jesus I would have been doomed to a horrible eternity of fire, a furnace my imagination raised easily: the space in the heart of a campfire larger than Chicago, deeper than a fallout shelter. If I died without confessing my sins, I’d burn forever. As I burned, trees would grow without me. Stores would still work. Busses would keep lumbering around the neighborhood like drunks.
I didn’t imagine suicide, not really, although I did imagine dying. What would it be like? Would I really be forgiven for everything before I died? I realize now that I had never believed confession led to forgiveness—it was just a temporary post, a kind of way-station where my secrets were examined and evaluated by an elder, but in reality the sins were always there, shoved into a pillowcase I carried on my shoulder like a runaway. Even if I dumped the case, the next perverted thought was looming, coming even as I counted how many I had harbored up to that point. There was no escape, neither in death nor in life. I had nowhere to go except into my own perversions.
My opinion of myself has changed only slightly. Since childhood, I’ve been influenced by Camus, Beckett, Dostoevsky, Pink Floyd and The Cure. I look at myself as a massive consumer of resources, a burden to the system, a mouth in need of energy. I need lights and heat. I need transport. My impact on the world is mostly to its detriment. The universe is better off without me. If I disappear, the sun will burn on one side of the earth as the moon glows milk-white on the other.
Is this an idiot’s thought? If it is, it proves, again, that the the world has little use for yet another idiot.
How are ideas like this—including the concern about whether or not I am useful—born? Is this my natural state, or did I learn to believe this?
And is it really unselfish to wonder if you’re necessary. What if it’s actually the height of megalomania? If I believe I am worthless, isn’t it because I assume I should be worthwhile? And if I I think I should have some value, isn’t that the mark of a self-inflated twit? A twit assumes value is measured in absolutes. He remains blind to the obvious reality: there is no measure of anything that is not contrived.
I attended a Zen lecture yesterday that reminded me how desperately we all cling to delusions of security when there can be no security in an impermanent universe. I was reminded that we are not separate from what we perceive. So, quite obviously, if we feel we provide nothing “of use” to anyone, it’s because the universe provides nothing “of use” to itself. Worrying about your value is like worrying about the value of sunlight. And worrying about death is like worrying about giving the flowers enough water. The thoughts are equally contrived.
At times like these, I like to go to sources of unfathomable beauty. The Brahms Horn Trio. Things like this have no meaning beside themselves. They are, in that way, like petals fallen from obliterated peach blossoms, perfect metaphors for reality.