At the suicide prevention training class, the teacher says; Who in this room has ever considered suicide? I raise my hand quickly. And one other person. Everyone swivels to face us.
Hasn’t everyone wondered? I say. Doesn’t the person who thinks, sometimes think, I could turn this wheel a little left and I’d be over the cliff.
When I first learned meditation, I told Mike, a Zen teacher, that sometimes I feel like dying. He said, yeah, I have those thoughts too. Sitting is a good remedy. Big deaths, small deaths. Why say these are my thoughts? They could drift in from anywhere. Do the thoughts belong to you? Who is the you that wants to die?
A therapist though, would make the phone call.
And this was that class. We were learning a method— the best method.
The teacher asks; Who knows someone who committed suicide? Gradually we all raise our hands.
An early Buddhist sutra tells this story : A man is shot with a poisoned arrow. He doesn’t ask; what kind of arrow is this? Where was it made? Is it shellacked; where did you get the paint? To what degree is this arrow sharpened? Was it made in the North and by who? The wounded person wants the arrow out of his body!
Like the story, our class isn’t for considering the right to our own death, the strange thoughts that jump in our brains. Our class isn’t about counseling our grief for our dead clothed friends. And mostly keep the focus on the person in trouble. The worst thing you can do is talk about yourself. There is one goal, to stop a person from attempting suicide.
In Amy Bloom’s short story, Silver Water, the protagonist is diagnosed with mental illness. Her loving family knows and supports her, even in her extreme behavior. * Several attempted suicides, hospitalizations and therapists come and go. One night after swallowing pills she went into the woods. Her sister found her still alive and had to decide what the right action was for that moment.
In the Anti-Suicide class, we learn to say the words; Have you considered suicide? (Apparently this is relief for the suicidal person to hear.) We practice in pairs. I hear soft voices and the words, You. Suicide.
We each get a thin booklet and a thick booklet and watch a training movie. Man and woman in restaurant booth. Man says to suicidal person; your life is so rich and reminds her of her accomplishments. The teacher pauses the film. List the people who care about the suicidal person, she says, and rebuild a life, thick with meaning and successes. The person came to us for a reason, not an expert. Drop everything and stay.
A young woman in our class says her partner repeatedly threatens to kill himself if she leaves him. The class groans with the thought of being manipulated like this. The prevention expert counselor says to assume the multiple threats are real.
Chris couldn’t finish cleaning his trailer to prepare for the event. The vacuum cleaner was plugged in. I picked up the job where he left off. I held the handle where he had. I wish there was something I could have done. As if my bowl of soup, delivered at the right moment, would have saved a life.
When Zen Master Kobun Chino dove in after his daughter with shoes and heavy coat on there was talk about how they were found, holding each other, spoons. His students painted water colors and wrote poems. Then I learn they weren’t holding each other. The pond was so shallow a tall person could stand up and water wouldn’t reach her chin.
Bill lit himself and his car on fire in the field behind Tom’s house, behind the Circus Center. Was it a performance; why did he do this? This is the same person who lit a candle next to a photo of his mother each morning. I think, what does “same person” mean.
If it’s slow is it suicide? If you took a chance, like Glenn when he didn’t fill the tank and he was flying and there was weather and had to crash land.
My brain starts her shut down. The boundaries of regular knowledge become frayed and a sort of puffiness fills the edges. A washed over mist. My thoughts scatter and language isn’t easily available.
Barbara says on the phone, the veil between worlds is thin.
I’m alone at Union reservoir with the dogs and pelicans and tiny iridescent minnows. I have a small headache since day before. Lake stretches out and mountains wave on and sky whooshes. I’m the only human. I want to connect with something other than my taste buds, spins and thumps.
The great field of sitting, The big free. The soft float of it. Like a tremendous float in the Macy’s parade. Like a slow- moving extra huge beach ball rolling across.
If I yank on your sleeve and say can we talk, first of all, sorry to be a burden, and second, no need to build my life back up like leggos, and list my accomplishments, and tell me who loves me.
Ask me what I saw today and tell me your day.
A young woman stands in front of the corn field off of Jay and the Diagonal. Off white shirt, lifted to show her pregnant belly, hands on her belly, long black hair, red full- length skirt. October sun, belly, corn stalks, a few wisp clouds and sky with its various blues. A woman stands in front of her, snapping photographs.
And tonight, before the rain, two cop cars flashing blue, stop a man with good posture. He stands behind his old truck, upright, one arm behind his back.
And now, the dogs curl up on meditation cushions after their wrestle, and Chloe, who usually sleeps quietly, faintly barks, in her sleep.
Or read something, the last line of a poem—maybe one like this:
nobody, not even the rain, has such small hands.**
~ o ~
* Silver Water by Amy Bloom
somewhere i have never travelled, gladly beyond
- E. Cummings, 1894 – 1962
somewhere i have never travelled, gladly beyond
any experience, your eyes have their silence:
in your most frail gesture are things which enclose me,
or which i cannot touch because they are too near
your slightest look easily will unclose me
though i have closed myself as fingers,
you open always petal by petal myself as Spring opens
(touching skilfully, mysteriously)her first rose
or if your wish be to close me, i and
my life will shut very beautifully, suddenly,
as when the heart of this flower imagines
the snow carefully everywhere descending;
nothing which we are to perceive in this world equals
the power of your intense fragility:whose texture
compels me with the colour of its countries,
rendering death and forever with each breathing
(i do not know what it is about you that closes
and opens; only something in me understands
the voice of your eyes is deeper than all roses)
nobody, not even the rain, has such small hands