Monday, December 16, 2013


I seem sometimes to know a lot of dead people. I suppose it's a result of knowing a lot of people. But this dead person wasn't, herself, a friend but the daughter of a friend. I attended her memorial, the way I think many people do, not from a sense of obligation to the deceased but out of love for the living.

I have, at best, a complicated relationship with suicide. I don't understand the overwhelming hopelessness I presume it results from. Overwhelming hopelessness, this I understand, but my own experience of it suggests that ending life only guarantees things never get better, and as depressed as I get, I never completely forget that everything, even hopelessness, changes.

But it isn't about my experience. It's the experience of someone for whom only the unknown brings some comfort, and who may ultimately be braver than the rest of us. There are experiences of life, I'm certain, that only ending it can soothe. And while we struggle to figure out what to make of such decisions, we are most honest when we admit we never will.

On my drive further out of the rim for the service I heard John Lennon singing "Imagine" which itself always fills me like a good hymn. The service was full of people I know but hadn't seen for long whiles and the family whose hurt I'd come to share. We spoke and hugged and chanted. But mostly we sang.

It was in that I felt most connected. I have a rough, uneven voice that is unpleasant to hear, I know, but I love nonetheless to sing and sing loud with others. The songs were deeply steeped in the generation most of us were a part of, some Lennon/McCartney, some Dylan, the almost obligatory soulful "I'll Fly Away."

And then one I didn't expect but fit the tenor and the mood of yearning to receive and give comfort: "Hallelujah." With his nicotine and whiskey rasp Leonard Cohen is the songwriter for the funerals of junkies and suicides, and I surprised myself by the lyrics I'd memorized by listening intently even when I didn't realize I had been. The mournful strains we attempt at hitting the right notes on the chorus, and the inability of most of us to do so, is as good a simile for our lives as any.

I keep coming back to my drive there when, in the snowsquall that had started and turning down the radio that was still playing "Imagine," I pulled over to a car stopped on the side of the road to ask if everything was all right. Everything was and in the world I imagine we take time and effort to ask that question, especially when we know the answer will not be "yes."

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