DIARY OF A COUNTRY BOOKSELLER
I have no argument with suicides. I know that life is not for everyone. At a very specific point along what becomes an interrupted line suicides decide that all bets are off. They decide they no longer have a dog in the fight. How they make that decision is not much of a mystery. We know that the killer is exhaustion and the weapon is contempt. As Ivan said to God in The Brothers Karamazov, "If you exist, I respectfully return my ticket."
I was the merest of acquaintances to Lynn VonDemfange, whose suicide the Citizen reported recently. I met her at a small dinner party about a year ago and since then only exchanged pleasantries on street corners. My impression was that other women probably didn't like her very much and that men, if they are old enough to know of Nelson Algren, would follow his advice to avoid "eating at a place called Mom's, playing poker with a man named Doc, and falling in love with a woman who has more troubles than you do." Lynn seemed like one of those women.
She was also witty, attractive, and someone with whom I rather enjoyed talking. She loved old movies and we animatedly agreed that no one looked as good in a gabardine suit as Gary Cooper. She liked Robert Mitchum a lot and thought that Tracy's and Hepburn's life-long love affair was just about it. No wonder Lynn had trouble discovering a man who measured up.
Walker Percy, in his fine non-fiction book Lost in the Cosmos: The Last Self-Help Book, said that the only cure for depression is suicide. "This is not meant as a bad joke," Percy wrote, "but as the serious proposal of suicide as a valid option. Unless the option is entertained seriously, its therapeutic value is lost. No threat is credible unless the threatener means it."
A powerful thing happens if we take Percy at his word. The choice "to be or not to be" becomes a genuine choice; we are no longer stuck with only "to be" and all the related questions about how, in the least painful way, "to be." Choosing "not to be" means you get to skip counseling, narcotizing, amending, boozing, and the myriad other ways of coping with the pain of being. Choosing "to be" means not getting to skip anything that gets you through the night.
And what happens when one chooses not to be? In Lynn's case, in every case I suppose, trouble and care go away. The rest of us will have something to talk about for a few days. Friends and relatives will grieve for a while or feel disgraced for a while. Financial institutions will resent the inconvenience of unpaid and hard to collect debts. Lawyers and morticians will be pleased for the work. Psychiatrists will be unhappy for the loss of work. And so it goes.
Accept suicide as a real option and the reverse happens too. Yes, you say, suicide is a viable and available option. But you chose "to be" for the moment. Since you have the option of being dead, you have nothing to lose by being alive. You can kiss your wife because you don't have to. You can go to work because you don't have to. You can say thank you God, because you don't have to.
Lynn VonDemfange was a writer, an artist, a wife and a member of our community. She was a serious person. She exercised her option. And now, let us kiss our wives and husbands and go to work.