The Agitator #129: Lives of quiet desperation
by Oliver_Halle
 The Agitator
August 14, 2014 09:45 AM | 489 views | 3 3 comments | 16 16 recommendations | email to a friend | print | permalink

Henry David Thoreau once wrote about the mass of men who lead lives of quiet desperation. The sad death of actor Robin Williams on Monday reminded me of that quotation, how so few words capture so well what goes on unnoticed by all of us concerning our family, friends, co-workers, and other associates. Little do we know of their daily struggles, whether it be financial difficulty, business failure, health issues, addiction and substance abuse, and so much more.

Based on my own inquiries, most people don’t know that three times more people commit suicide than murder. That is a staggering number. This is something that became personal to me when my father abruptly ended his life in 1966; in his own mind he could not outrun the demons that chased him from the Third Reich. Suicide of a close relative or friend never leaves you. Many believe that it is an extreme act of selfishness, that the person cared more about himself than his family, friends, and others affected by his death. Nothing could be farther from the truth.

I have known personally way too many people who have committed suicide. And I’ve learned a lot about the subject over a lifetime. One thing I am absolutely convinced of is this: The person choosing to end it all, most of the time, is in extreme, incomprehensible pain---mental or physical. They have a laser beam focus on escape, and that focus is so narrow that they don’t see anything whatsoever on either side of the beam. The target at the end of that beam is relief.

I am reminded of the 1964 Bobby Goldsboro song, “See That Funny Little Clown.” Everyone thinks he’s happy because on the outside he’s laughing, not knowing that on the inside he’s dying. I’m sure many people who knew Robin Williams would not have known that he was in mental extremis, that whatever tormented him was about to do him in. How many people do we know who could be a Robin Williams?

One observation frequently made by those left behind is that the person seemed calm, like nothing was wrong, that up to the end everything was normal. Little do they know that many of these victims have already made their decision, that it’s a done deal. The only things remaining might be the date, place, and method. It is the finality of that decision that provides the person a sense of peace.

The single greatest presumption we make in this world is that life is worth living. No one has crossed the great divide and come back to say that that presumption is wrong---or not. We take it on faith that we are fortunate to have been born and lived. What each of us can do is to try and make everyone’s life just a little more meaningful. A smile to a stranger having a tough day can work wonders. Generosity where it can really help could save someone’s day. A kind word at the right time can be uplifting. As Maya Angelou said so eloquently, “…people will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel.”

Perhaps being our neighbor’s keeper, committing random acts of kindness in small ways, could save lives that we will never know about, lives that can’t be statistically measured.

Comments
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Pete Borden
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August 15, 2014
Oliver, you would be surprised how often we agree. However, as a columnist, I am sort of uncomfortable blogging another person's writing, whether it is to agree or disagree, so generally I don't.

However, the loss of so close a friend recently, combined with other brushes with suicide in my life made it a subject in which I am profoundly interested.

I found your comments to be sensitive to the human misery that results in suicide and to the human misery that is the result of suicide.

Keep up the balanced blogs. Even those I disagree with, I find balanced and fair.

Have a nice day.

Oliver G. Halle
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August 14, 2014
Pete,

The world stood still today because you and I completely agree on something. Thank you for sharing your experiences, insight, and wisdom. You said it well. BRAVO ZULU!
Pete Borden
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August 14, 2014
Two of my younger cousins ended their lives before they were 40 years old, both due to marital problems and the prospect of hurting their children.

Three uncles, in later life, and all three going through the agony of chemotherapy, also chose to end their lives. More recently a good friend and fellow civil war buff, Bill Nimsgern took his life. He had been in unbearable pain for some time and his doctor told him it was only going to get worse.

In order to judge the actions of any of these people, I would have to "walk a mile in their shoes." which, of course, I have not done.

The same is true of Robin Williams. We cannot know what demons, physical or mental, pressed this brilliant mind to make the decision it made.

My good friend, actress Mariette Hartley has devoted her life to suicide prevention following the suicide of her father. Each year, she and her husband, playwright Jerry Sroka, spend countless hours raising funds for maintaining suicide prevention centers , as well as personally doing counselling.

Nobody has the answer to the prevention of suicide, but the expression of kindness and courtesy to everyone, in both words and deeds, could be a step in the right direction. It sure as hell can't hurt.

So, I join with Oliver in imploring you all to "be the sunshine in the lives of all you meet." It might be that your kind word or deed is the one that turns someone away from thoughts of self destruction.
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