TRACEY’S THANKSGIVING SUICIDE
DAVID ARTHUR WALTERS
I certainly understand why my next door neighbor, Tracey Flagler, may she rest in peace, opted out of her conditioned life in South Beach on Thanksgiving Day of 2007. I nearly did the same thing myself one New Year’s Day, so I have no right to blame her. Besides, what person in her right mind would want to live forever in the very world of circumstances that had made her so miserable? In any event, many reasons can be found for committing suicide.
Of course lunatics are not morally guilty of self-murder by reason of insanity. In their absence of mind they lose self-respect and the so-called instinct of self-preservation, and may therefore give effect to almost unimaginable scenes of self-mutilation and self-annihilation. Even an healthy individual might be momentarily seized by a heretofore repressed, fundamental anxiety, and suddenly be driven by a sinking feeling in the pit of her stomach to her demise, throwing herself out of a window, for example, as a woman did during my lunch hour one day in Midtown Manhattan – fortunately the horizontal extent of her leap caused her to land on a taxi cab instead of the crowded sidewalk below.
Relatively sane people have many reasons to end it all. Notwithstanding the fact that thinkers have gone to great lengths to prove that suicide is irrational in itself, self-destruction may be a perfectly logical outcome of a person’s creed or rationale. Liberty is often cited as a sufficient reason to murder oneself if not countless others. People might kill themselves for some professed ideal, or to save the life of others, or perhaps to relieve caretakers of being a burden unto them. Suicidal libertarians might martyr themselves to demonstrate against and shame the authorities instead of assassinating them. Tyrants prize the lifestyles they have obtained at great cost to those who fear and envy them – indignant pride or wounded self-esteem has often provoked suicidal rebellion against one tyrant or another; although their suicide in itself gives tyrants little cause for remorse, perhaps the masses will take the cue and rise up against them. Greedy competitors in the war of all against all covet and hoard the things of this world at great cost to those who would rather make love than war – some people prefer not to set evil against evil, and kill themselves instead.
Abject poverty has always offered a civilized person a reason to embrace the ultimate poverty of death. Today’s religious individualism places the blame for poverty squarely on the I-god individual, who should prefer death to being cast on the street to be publicly shamed. Indeed, the rise of individualism in ancient Greece was accompanied by the increased discussion of suicide – discussions of the subject are believed to result in an increase suicide rate – not only due to social disorganization: if a man was his own best friend, he might rightfully put an end to a life that was not worth living as far as he was concerned.
Later on the Stoic schools condoned suicide, and even recommended it where immortality was disbelieved, for death was seen ever since the beginning of history as the cure for all ills. Unreasonable suicide was deprecated by reasonable men including Stoics, but many Stoics and Cynics who were indifferent to death as evil and life as good would not even scoff today at woman today who killed herself for breaking finger nail: the founder of Stoicism was said to have killed himself over a wrenched finger. A truly indifferent Stoic might do himself in even if he were happy; likewise an unhappy person might suffer indefinitely. Others simply saw suicide as a naked human right.
Homelessness is despised wherever money is God, and some people think God puts homeless persons on the street as a warning. Where money must be had to purchase love, not much can be said for love or for the value of money, and everybody suffers accordingly. And wherever expectations run high, disappointments are accordingly severe. In any event, there is no end to desire.
The bare necessities are never enough, and wants are multiplied with the supplies as advertised. Tracey Flagler, for example, had food, clothing, shelter and a bicycle, but that was not enough: she went to the movies, she watched television, she read magazines, and she served rich and famous people at the restaurant, observing them having a lot of fun, and she read prophets who said the purpose of life is to have fun, and Oprah agreed with them, and Tracey wanted more than what she had, and she didn’t get it, and the prophets said there was no such thing as death, and she apparently threw away everything she had along with the slim chance that everyone is supposed to have in this great nation of ours, the chance to get filthy rich.
We have lately heard that there is a hereafter where all is forgiven, that death is not final after all, that there really is no such thing as death for us, and that our souls are immortal. I happen to know that Tracey Flagler heard that rumor, along with rumors about reincarnation on self-created planets – I read about them in her diaries. I have no doubt whatsoever that it was a factor leading to her premature departure from this planet. A suicide with a reason to kill himself may as a matter of habit feel that he is virtually immortal even though he knows he will actually perish – he believes the future state, even nothingness, is something that will relieve him of his anxiety, hence in that respect nothing really exists for him.
Of course the Judeo-Christian religion scruples against self-killing, citing the sixth commandment against killing while engaging in the wholesale slaughter of foreign enemies who seemingly worship the same god. Remember, “Thou shalt do no murder” is the sixth commandment, properly translated; obedience to God might require one to kill enemies, and killing is not, legally speaking, murder. Mind you that there is no text specifically prohibiting suicide in the Judeo-Christian canon, but the religious still consider it a great evil, not only because life is said to be a gift of God for us to use but which we do not own, but also on the rational grounds that our will to live naturally causes us to fear death, to deem life good and death evil; hence life is the ultimate datum, the greatest good of all goods, wherefore we should revere it and refuse to drink the bitter tea.
According to Plutarch, a rational remedy was employed to cure a terrible affliction suffered by the maidens of Miletos. The ladies were, for some unknown cause, overcome with such a mad desire to die that they hung themselves before they could be prevented from doing so. A wise man moved that a resolution be adopted, that their bodies would be displayed in the shopping center; the malady ended upon the adoption of said resolution.
Besides, suicide costs the society a taxpayer, hence is a sort of theft from the commonweal. We note that, in 1807, twenty-eight Russians buried themselves alive to escape the census, which they believed was sinful.
Let it not be said that one should kill oneself or get oneself killed like the son of God in order to obtain some good, for thou shall not kill, and it is wrong to do an evil to get any good. We project our native instinct to live forever onto a higher personal power, which is a rational power by virtue of being personal, i.e. human: therefore we must find sufficient reasons why God commands us all to live. Suffice it to say that the evil is not in the suicidal act itself but in disobedience to God’s will. Keep in mind that God exists and that suicides will roast in hellfire forever. In fact suicide is high treason, a direct revolt against the almighty will of God. In effect suicide is blasphemous because it seems to detract from the belief that God’s will is in fact all mighty. Further, suicide is a grievous insult to humankind as such.
God does command a few worthy followers to martyr themselves in his name. Jesus was not, then, a suicide but was an obedient son – he would never have committed suicide-by-cop on his own. Yes, indeed, although we are sent here as sentinels, a few of us may be called upon by the Commander to abandon our post. Righteous suicide may be committed for the glory of God, just as humankind wages war against itself in the name of God for the improvement of the race. After all, religion is verily virtual suicide, a denial of that aspect of man’s brutal nature, which includes not only an instinctive urge to fornicate with any woman in sight but also to kill whosoever stands in his way, including his own self. Wherefore self-sacrifice for the love of God and contempt for the perishables of this world including the rotting flesh of the body bag of filth is sometimes warranted for the ascetically inclined.
Suicide is cowardly and ignoble, anti-heroic, a murderous act of sheer desperation. It is better to be killed by an evil-doer or tyrannical authority than to do evil unto oneself by self-murder if one cannot escape from its power. The noble person dies nobly, heroically confronting his undoing, while the ignoble person kills himself to escape what the noble person courageously endures. The suicide does not resist: he is afraid. He despairs and desperately takes his own life. Besides, if there is no afterlife, then this existence, no matter how miserable it might be, is better than nothing. It is better to be miserable than not to be at all.
That might very well be the ignoble and cowardly attitude, one that runs counter to the grain of human nature, which cries out for liberty or death. But most of us are neurotic enough to stick around no matter how miserable we might be, and, notwithstanding the stoical and cynical attitude of pessimistic skeptics, despite our suffering we may expect to be saved from our end right down to the bitter end, which some sweet-lemon prophets advertise as the happiest moment of our lives. The I-god prophets of the Me Era’s popular religious individualism believe individuals live forever at will, intentionally donning and doffing a series of bodies along the way – dying is simply a dramatic scene; death is a farce since there is no such thing.
A discontented person might just move to some other part of the world. But no matter where you go, although that part of the world might look somewhat different, it is the same old world, and there you are, with the same old history, and with the same old stuff to buy thanks to mass production. All of that is quite boring after awhile, and the stuff soon begins to look like so much trash, junk and garbage again.
As for another world, a netherworld or a hereafter which is presumably quite a bit different than this one because it is also inhabited by aliens from other planets who happen to wear medieval costumes as portrayed on Star Trek – why would people want to betake themselves to such a beyond with much of the same old baggage that weighed them down in this one? That would be the continuation of hell on Earth. As for me, I love myself well enough, but I would not take my historical self with me to heaven, I speculated, only to taint paradise and get the vicious cycle going again. History, after all, is to some extent a mistake. It would be best to be born again with the slate wiped clean. But if we arrive with our memories wiped clean, what’s the use of surviving? If I am not to remember my current self on that better planet, if I am to be purified of that naturalized and socialized individual that I think I am now, what do I, as I am, care about that place, other than to be confident that, before I am transported there, my conception of me will be forever laid to rest, even before my body is rendered personally irrelevant and arrives at its final resting place in a grave, or perchance is somehow scattered about – the Hindus and others would leave nary a trace of that sullied cloak behind. May my unsullied soul continue forever without me if it will, and may that continuance be no business of mine for heaven’s sake: Karmic regression or progression is not my concern if I may not remember what transpired before in order to know whether my present state as a werewolf or a demigod is better or worse than my past state.
All the reasons for and against suicide seem to add up to nothing for certain. If one does not embrace life as a premise to be upheld and revered in all circumstances, whether by commandment of a god or not, then a number of options present themselves. Given the warring history of the human race, the consensus seems to be that the quality of life is more important than life itself.
Tracey Flagler tried very hard to appreciate the quality of her life, which was no doubt better than that of untold millions of inhabitants of this planet, and the fact that she tried so hard makes it evident that it was not for her in the first place. She was young and attractive and passionate, a fun-loving girlfriend to her boyfriends; she was always able to find good jobs serving delicious food; she picked up hundreds of dollars in tips almost whenever she wanted to; she had a modest studio two blocks from a beautiful beach. But none of that was enough. She suffered terribly for the dearth of some ineluctable thing that she thought was the purpose and point of life, namely fun or joy. She never had enough fun, and thought the lack was due to a shortage of stuff. The pop prophets reinforced her faith in fun and in the notion that it can be purchased. Her notebooks reiterate endlessly the impoverished terminology of the instant success cult: I, want, fun, joy, me, feel, source, Oprah, money, stuff, famous, Madonna, eternal, rich, universe, attraction, vibrations…. And then there are the almost pathological perseverations, the fearful chanting of positive affirmations – unfortunately, we cannot make ourselves appreciate something simply by affirming the appreciation that we don’t really have over and over again.
The handwritten menus, the lists of ingredients in various dishes, that I found in Tracey’s notebooks are far more mouthwatering, and led me to believe that her life would have been richer if she had focused her intensely passionate nature on the objective details of things, on the consideration of other people, on the study of some liberal art she might have some interest in – a course in academic philosophy might disenchant her of the popular delusions.
At the bottom of Tracey’s being there was an awful want, a terrible desire, a craving so intense that only a Buddha or a withdrawing drug addict could fathom it. Of course the inchoate desire she suffered was not unique. We have it in common, but we manage to cover it up, put it on a leash, subdue it, repress it, ignore it, or just accept it and suffer it. Some suffer it more than others, and poor Tracey simply could not tolerate the suffering. She wanted to believe the hype that the purpose of life is a constant joy that can be had in hand, instead of admitting the truth, that human nature is suffering, and that without it even fleeting joy would be impossible. She had her doubts about the eternal joy business: she expressed her anger at the false prophets from time to time: “I HATE you, I HATE all of you!”
That is not to say that overt suffering is a good thing or that we should suffer needlessly. Freud was right: Neurotic people cling to their misery in self-defense no matter what paradise is promised. Sometimes we suffer only because we want to, although we don’t know it. I developed a habit of asking myself, when miserable, “Do I want to make myself miserable?” No? Then I dwell on something else, and that’s the end of that. Thoughts do influence matter, that much is self-evident, but the magic of positive thinking needs the right means.
Tracey thought a million dollars would afford her more leisure to have the kind of fun she wanted to have. Most of us without a million bucks would not mind having a million or more. If only everyone could get their hands on a million dollars, our world would presumably be a much better place to live in provided inflation could be held to less than two percent per annum. Yes, a million dollars would make room for more fun, but fun at doing what? If I had a million dollars I might quit my day job tomorrow and invest my time in saving the world with success books. Ideally they would be written, edited and published by yours truly, under my Three Stooges Publishing imprimatur. I already have the first book in mind, How to Make a Million Dollars for Somebody Else. I shall submit it for approval by Oprah Winfrey’s book club. I can see myself now, chatting with Oprah on her show, explaining how the world would be a much better place if everyone would try to make a million dollars for someone else rather than for themselves, and I shall suggest that she use some of her $2.5 billion to sponsor a brand new reality show called The Pot Latchers. I shall bring along Tracey’s One Million Dollar Bill coffee mug and some her catnip tea for people who like to see magic stuff, and I shall bring along Penelope, her teddy bear, too. Ten percent of the profits would go into the Tracey Flagler Foundation for Stray Cats.
Oh, Dear Tracey, I did not know you when you were here, but I know you well enough now, and I miss you. You were welcome here. You thought you were a weirdo; you thought that you did not fit in here because your craving was not satisfied, you felt nobody could make you whole or fill your hole. If only you had known that South Beach is for weirdoes, and that you would have fit right in here, we could have had fun suffering life together. We could have had fun riding in limos. We would have gotten on the Oprah show. We would have opened up an erotica boutique, a tattoo parlor, and a night club on Washington Avenue. Yes, we would have suffered, but we would have had a great deal of fun even thought that is not the purpose of life.