Wednesday, 16 September 2009

Things, stuff ... life and the rest of it

"... since we have all been but a hair's breadth from death since birth, teach us, O God, how close we are to that life in all its fullness that Christ alone can give ..." (Funeral liturgy, United Reformed Church)

I've hesitated to even begin to write this post but feel I should try and that I should try to be honest ... that's not easy, this goes to the core of all sorts of things.
Years ago I used to work as a volunteer for Oxford Samaritans in the UK. Support for the distressed or suicidal just a phone call away, 24 hours a day. I remember that at the time there was a report about the Samaritans that caused a bit of a silly media stir, surprise that research showed those volunteering with the Samaritans were more at risk of suicide themselves than the population as a whole. Perhaps there's a feeling that if you help other people it will somehow protect you, not continue to make you vulnerable.

From the moment we heard about our friend Suzanne's death I have been trying very hard to watch what I say. Too easily and too often, in stupidly banal situations such as the stresses and hassles of work or trying to get a Gaz de France employee to actually answer the phone, thoughtless easy words slip from my lips "I'm going to kill myself". For the past week I have been trying to stop myself saying that and it has been surprisingly difficult. Often what now comes out is "I want to die - no I don't mean that". It's not easy to live with this injured, pained part of my psyche that is so insistent on verbalising - perhaps particularly not for my entourage. It is also not easy to write about because there are also joyful, creative, contented and very strong parts of my psyche which also spontaneously verbalise quite a bit more. I don't want to be, nor am I, defined by these frightening, horrible words that slip from my mouth all too easily, nor do I want to try and generate sympathy for myself. But I did want to say that for me as for every human being those are thoughts I sometimes have.

Living through this grief at this time is teaching me that saying that short destructive sentence is almost my security blanket. If I say this often enough surely I won't do it. But at a deeper level it is also an expression of the intimate knowledge that from the moment of birth we are but a hair's breadth from death. In some wierd and I'm sure rather pathetic way I'm probably trying to say "hey despite this tough exterior I'm vulnerable too". Saying those stupid words also has a further dynamic for me I think, it gives me the impression of energy, doing something ... hmmm many who commit suicide do so because of a similar dynamic, by doing this I take control.

In recent months I have been so enjoying reading Grace Jantzen's writings - perhaps because of my own obsession with mortality. Her insistent kicking away at the Western male philosophical obsession with death, her opening up of a different paradigm - we are not mortal but natal - speaks very deeply to me, yet it also shows me how very much further I still have to go - as a feminist, as a Christian, as a human being ...

If you are feeling suicidal, please pick up the phone, knock on your neighbour's door, make an appointment with your doctor. Try to talk it through, with a person, with God, it will be a start. All of us are vulnerable, even when things are going well, life is not always easy. As they said on Hill Street Blues - "take care out there".

And here are some extracts from the beginning of Isaiah 43 which give me solace and some sense of groundedness even when everything seems to be pointlessly shifting away.

Do not fear, for I have redeemed you;
I have called you by name, you are mine.
When you pass through the waters, I will be with you;
and through the rivers, they shall not overwhelm you;
when you walk through fire you shall not be burned,
and the flame shall not consume you.
Because you are precious in my sight,
and honoured, and I love you.

And thanks to all who listen to me.


Mrs Redboots (Annabel Smyth) said...

Poor Jane. It is dreadful - a friend of ours killed herself earlier this year. She wasn't someone we knew well enough to know she was in trouble - we were friendly whenever we met, but didn't like each other that much, so seldom sought each other's company - but even still, we have felt guilty and unhappy that she did this dreadful thing.

I have been suicidal in my time; I'm older now, and know that going to sleep temporarily is a far better option - but I can understand the temptation. All the same, I know what it would do to my family and friends....

Jane said...

Thanks Annabel - strangely Suzanne's landlord has just phoned me and told me (amongst other things) how much he appreciates my laughter ... his balcony looks over our garden ... my laughter is loud ...
I am in many ways fine, just trying to be honest and lay ghosts to rest as best I'm able