I’m flying out of Baltimore in a few hours to travel to icebound NH. Taking the whole family, booked the flight a few days ago, but I can’t say I’m really excited. See, I’m going north to attend the memorial service for my cousin Russell O’Brien. Sad in and of it self but made sadder still, or maybe just compounded by a greater sense of grief and guilt, because Russell took his own life.
Now Camus convinced me that a man has the right to take his life. I believe it. Know that that escape is available eases the burden of the absurd. If the inherent purposelessness of life (in the cosmic and metaphysical sense) becomes unbearable, if the million slings and arrows that flesh is heir to becomes to painful and too much there is always that final and solitary escape. Knowledge that the pain can always be ended can be the thing that makes pain bearable, especially when there is so much purpose (earthly, tangible, physical) written write into life, down to the smallest measure.
I can’t blame Russell. He left us. He wasn’t beholden to those left behind. He didn’t owe us, his family, friends, colleagues anything. Certainly not his life. Not his suffering. Don’t discount that. One can never know the contents of another’s heart, the depths of his solitude and pain. He didn’t owe us any debt so great that he was required to carry on. He didn’t have to stay. In the end he didn’t. We had no hold on him.
He didn’t owe us, but I wish he hadn’t gone. I feel we owed him. We owed it to him to let him know that we wanted him around. To let him know how much his continued presence was worth. To let him know that he had folks to turn to. Kith and kin and home and hope. We owed it to him to let him know that he always, always had a place to turn. That no situation was so desolate that there wasn’t hope. That was what we owed Russell if we wanted him to stay. That was the price. Now we pay a different price.
I’m not trying to assign or accept blame here. That’s not the point. What we owe each other, always, everyday. If we want to ensure the continued presence of those we love, of those we hold dear. If we want to be assured of seeing that familiar face at the next wedding, the next christmas. Our obligation, if we want that, is to make sure that no one we love, no one we’ll miss, becomes so lonely, so hopeless, so desolate, that the deprive us of their company forever.
Russ didn’t owe us his life. We owed him. We owed him every expression of caring and reassurance that might have saved his life, given it sufficient meaning, sufficient value that he fought down the hoplessness, the absurdity, and the desolation, and stuck around to embrace one more time, then another, until things weren’t so desolate anymore and he could go on.
Russ is gone now. We don’t owe him anymore, and even if we did we could never repay. But we can pay that debt forward with everyone else. That was why I rushed to buy a ticket to the tundra. We can come together and settle that obligation to each other. Every day, leave no one you love, no one you value in doubt as to their importance in the scheme of things. Fix their value in your heart. Fix their value in their heart. Don’t wait until tomorrow. Our tomorrows may be shockingly limited. Tell them now. Embrace them now.