Victimized by the Dead – I

Is an art, like everything else.
I do it exceptionally well,
I do it so it feels like hell.
I do it so it feels real.
I guess you could say I’ve a call.
Sylvia Plath

What would be your immediate reaction if you happen to find somebody in the act of committing suicide, say his feet kicking down the strangling rope?[1] What will you do? Will you save him/her? Will you flee frightened? Will you be just unconcerned and indifferent and walk away? Will you stand and watch him/her kicking off his/her feet away and die? Or feel annoyed? The sight will most probably trigger your amygdale wildly (in degrees varying from person to person), which (if it does not send flight signal) will hijack your locomotor reflex into the action of stopping the rope’s killing action.

However, if your mind is fast enough (as is generally the case) to assess the situation in the split seconds, your action will come accordingly. What should I do? Should I shout for people to hear, and save him/her? Should I flee this place? Does it concern me? Whether your locomotor reflex is hijacked or your volition determines what to do, I think in both cases your eventual action will be the same in effect – to SAVE. But why? Why should you save him/her when he/she has been so committedly attempted to finish his/her own life?

Studies of suicide have so far been focused on the mentality of those who commit or attempt to commit suicide, and trauma treatment on the survivors, which is perfectly all right. Though of a different perspective, sociological studies of suicide put (when they study the social causes more and effects of suicide less) their eyes more or less on the mentality of the person concerned. However, though I love them and am really sorry for them in their sorry conditions, and though I have no ill opinion about suicide (which is more personal than social), I at times cannot but tend to socially hold those who commit or attempt to commit suicide morally responsible for at least the destructive psychological effects of their action upon those who happen to find them in the act of taking their own lives though they have damned everything, even life itself.

I was confronted with such a situation in 1998 when I had just recovered from some sort of trauma, and was in constant search for rest, stability, happiness peace or ananda which brought me to an ashram in the woods on the outskirts of Kakching, an ashram with only a very old priest in it. It was a little away from here, in a bush by the side of a narrow path which led me to my bower that I happened to find a man kicking his feet in mid air under a pine tree branch. I felt my amygdala rush which was different – I was mad and angry. By reflex (?) I rushed up to him, held both of his legs onto my chest and shouted for other people nearby to hear. Four timber sawers came running and one climbed the tree and untied the rope. We were early enough – he was alive. We saved him. But a couple of the sawers slapped him and gave him a good dose of verbal spanking from being angry due to his attempt to commit suicide. I also was angry, but differently. Thus, I held his chin, brought him to look at me, and told him firmly but calmly, ‘If you want to end your life, nobody can do anything. But you are traumatizing others if your being in this act happens to be found by them.’ With that I left the scene. I was angry, but helpless, and I knew to them I was like some young saint taking pride and pleasure in giving moral advices.

There is no adequate totalizing explanation of the world; rather everybody has his/her own narrative. Nobody can know the facts of the lives of other people, and he/she, therefore, cannot know/understand the lives of others as they are. What seems to be knowledge and understanding is just a convenient interpretation of the facts from particular perspectives. Thus, we cannot feel how terrible/unlivable life is to him/her (the person who commits or attempts to commit suicide) in his/her specific context exactly as he/she feels, and it is never possible for us to live his/her sad life for him/her by way of helping him/her. So life/living is totally a non-transferable, individual ontological activity, and thus if it becomes extremely inclement we are left with just one choice out of two possible – live it or leave it. So, if one chooses to end one’s life, because one cannot carry its weight any more, then can you struggling under the weight of your own life yourself bear the other’s cross heavy as much as yours? For me, I cannot. Sound selfish? Even if it sounds like ‘selfish’, this is something mathematically impossible – a container can contain only as much as it can contain, and no more. In this sense what we falsely think to be rescue is at times not less than a meddling.

Yes, there are psychologists and psychiatrists who are always there to help one out to whom life has become psychologically an unbearable burden. But if you are just a common person, or a person of any other sort who has another calling in life other than psychology, psychiatry and those in this line (though you have some knowledge of this sort), you will feel the necessity of your being more or less psychical help to him/her being imposed hard on you by his/her involving you without your assent. You will feel your life, its momentum being threatened to be hijacked from your purpose/calling while they are never right in doing so. In fact I like psychology, psychiatry, neurology and suchlike, and my light self studies in these fields even proved to be of great use when I could stop two of my friends (who approached for my help) from taking life-taking measures. (I have many friends and neighbors who committed suicide.) But here is something that really makes the difference. A talk is good and it is all right to do among friends. That makes friendship really meaningful. But finding somebody (stranger or not) in the act of suicide is really tormenting and traumatizing; this inflicts in you a feeling of unjustified responsibilities being imposed forcibly on you, responsibility of your having to carry his/her burden with you (if you save him/her) and simultaneously the moral responsibility marked guilty conscience (born of the general tendency of human beings’ instinct to stay alive and the instinct to save others from dangers) you will have in not having saved one from death (if you have feelings of one’s having to choose from the two possible options above) while you could clearly do so.

In both cases you (if you are not willingly practicing psychiatry) will feel anyhow but good. If you have saved him/her and see him/her living a life with which he/she is fed up, you will be self-conscious and will never feel the triumph of having saved someone, but will feel somehow sorry for having perpetuated his/her miseries. If you saved him/her once and foiled his/her suicide attempt, but later on find that he/she has finally committed suicide, then you will feel perpetually insulted, for which in some way you can never forgive him/her. (Later on I heard that the man I once saved committed suicide at another place after three months.) But feeling displeased with someone dead is itself a helpless torment. This is perpetual victimization.

In all these, there is always the possibility of the one who commits or attempts to commit suicide seeing (from his/her lack of knowledge) an ant-hill as a threatening mountain, though one’s knowledge is what definitely determines the dynamics of one’s life. One sees with one’s eyes alone; one simply cannot see with any other’s eyes.

[1] People who take their own life by hanging kick their feet before death if they do not execute the hanging in the scientific way as is prescribed by the law which ensures immediate execution for the least possible experience of pain on the part of the victim by special material arrangement to affect immediate distortion of part of the spinal chord at the back of the neck from the rest.


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