383. Counterintuitive

Here’s a disturbing question for you:  When do folks suicide most often– summer, winter, spring or fall? Most folks think winter and the holiday season is ripe for suicides. That may be, but it’s spring that consistently hosts the most suicides in both the Northern and Southern hemispheres. (You know they are opposite, right?)According to the CDC April and May show a marked increase in suicides in the U.S. and other northern countries, and that suicides actually decline in the bleak winter months. One study I saw clearly demonstrated Monday as the favored day for suicides to occur. Maybe those folks just didn’t want to go to jobs they really hated. Hmmm, you’d think quitting or calling off might have been more effective.

Not to make light of suicide. I feel deeply for folks who are in such a pain filled state that they can only think of destroying the pain container instead of destroying or managing the pain. It’s the all-or-nothing approach to problem solving, similar to burning down your house to make sure you eliminate the pesky mice that run around your kitchen at night. Undeniably, it works; but this solution obliterates the plaintiff, bailiff, courtroom, reporters, judge and jury. It’s an odd sort of justice that obscures the original injustice.

I recall a local anesthesiologist who offed himself on an examining table at the hospital to protest real or perceived maltreatment. The thing is, we’ll never know what the rest of the truth  was because he executed himself as he executed his strange justice. I do not recall if it was a Monday in spring or not. Doesn’t matter. His job was to anesthetize patients in surgery and to revive them afterwards. It’s supposed to be a round trip ticket not a one way. Which is why single passengers who buy one way airline tickets with cash attract so much attention from the TSA. The guys I know who do this are not terrorists; instead, they are repossessing cars or delivering machinery. In any event, they are coming back… unlike Dr. Doom, who fully anesthetized himself forever.

Sad and disturbing. No one can grasp the unbearable weight that moves a finger to pull a trigger of the cocked pistol at one’s temple. Follow the triggered nerve back to the tortured brain that has been rehearsing this exit strategy. Almost all suicides are completed alone, which reduces the risk of revival or interference. Still, what an airless bedroom closet or bathroom it must be as the suicider sits and builds up the critical and final momentum for the ultimate terminus. Like waiting to vomit and then ride the terminal wave out of consciousness, where the constant is becomes the eternal is not. The pain and hopelessness must feel like giant aliens that must be destroyed.                                                                                 Image result for giant alien pictures

The demoniac self named “Legion” in the Gospel of Mark 5, had so many unclean spirits driving him that he smashed rocks against himself and ran around tombs naked and screaming near the pig herds of the Gerasenes.  His repetitive insanity was ended by Jesus with a command, “Come out of him, you unclean spirit.” The legion of unclean spirits came out and complied. They asked Jesus not to torment them and begged to be cast into the nearby herd of pigs. He complied and they possessed the pigs, leading 2,000 to hurl themselves into the Sea of Galilee and drown. That’s a lot of bacon, folks.

One life was saved, one mind restored. And you’d think that the folks around the Gerasenes would be pleased, but they weren’t. They begged Jesus to get back in his boat and leave. No thank you or praise or worship, nope. Just fear simmered in the melted grease of confusion. It’s been said that miracles don’t produce faith; rather, faith produces miracles. I agree. Despite witnessing the overcoming of supernatural forces, the locals wanted no part of this Savior. Counter intuitive again. If you don’t want the problem nor the solution, then really, what do you want? More confusion, I suppose.

 I recall a story of a young man’s suicide with a pistol. The parents were devastated, yet they gave the gun to the victim’s younger brother.  I’m not a gun hater, but if your older son overdoses on oxycontins do you give the rest of the prescription to his little brother? Or if the one hangs himself, do you give the remaining noose to his kid brother? Seems counterintuitive again. The math of suicide is not that hard to do, if you simply possess the courage to do it.
Despite the common terminology, no two suicides are identical. Some are grandiose exits with letters full of anger and bitterness. Some are murder/ suicides involving children or partners, parents or pets. Somewhere in the convoluted thinking the perpetrator believes the survivors can’t make it without him/her, or he/she can’t make it without them… and it’s better to make it a package deal. Some are desperate hangings while the family is away. Even when clear reasons are attached to suicides, survivors ponder the WHY? I suppose this question comes from the valuing of life on the one hand, and the incomprehensibility of destroying oneself on the other hand, which is literally no longer there.
Guilt and shame follow suicides as surely as the million WHYS. Yet, if survivors look hard at the evidence, it is usually not their fault. The fault is most often in the suicider’s brain, where he/she solves a temporary  problem with a permanent solution. Overkill is a fair comment, I believe.  Intuitively healthy minds seek survival and generativity. Counterintuitively, unhealthy minds seek death and the cut off of their loved ones. A life well lived is a beautiful thing. A suicide is, no matter how meaningful or dramatic, is a disaster.

298. From Vigils to Vigilantes

It’s a thin spiral line that threads across the evolving concepts from vigil to vigilance to vigilantes. Let’s begin at the center of the spiral. A vigil is a period of intentional wakefulness spent watching and usually praying when sleep would be expected, e.g, staying up all night watching the Holy Eucharist in a Catholic Church. Or the Victorian habit of a death vigil, where watchers would observe a dying person, waiting for the precise moment when the soul left the body. ..WATCHING THE DEAD:

Supporters of Chan and Sukumaran lit candles during the vigil in Sydney's Martin Place which reflected another vigil held at the port town of Cilacap opposite the island where Chan and Sukumaran were put to death at 12.25am Sydney time

“It is no longer the custom to watch the dead — an excellent omission, for many of those vigils were unseemly in their mirth. Some friend or relative sits up in order to give the dead any attention necessary. The preparation of the deceased is always attended to by some kindly friends who are not members of the family, and that agonizing duty is spared the afflicted ones. It is more thoughtful for someone to volunteer to remain with the family, through the long sad night hours. It makes the grief and loneliness of the house less oppressive.”

Since the vigil concept predates electric lights, candles are de rigueur for vigils… to light up the darkness in a dynamic dancing fashion. Klieg lights just won’t do. Too constant, artificial.

 At the center of this spiral is a single open-eyed sentry who wills himself not to close his eyes beyond an instant shutter blink.  A vigil in Roman times was a sentry, always on the look out.  I recall little vigil lights in the Catholic Church I grew up in, red glass glowed to show a prayer in actuality. I noticed in St. Patrick’s Cathedral in New York on a recent trip that they are still used to represent a deceased loved one or a prayer, as if to say, “I’m still thinking of you, watching, waiting, missing you. You are on my mind.” Each candle is a dutiful little soldier on watch against the creatures of darkness.

Now step out and over a few orbital rings to the planet Vigilance. It’s a state of constant scrutiny, awareness, attention or observation. Imagine a Secret Service agent scanning a crowd for bad guys rushing the White House.  Never mind; that’s a bad example. Note that vigilance is not a natural state of being; it is forced, learned, and acquired somehow through experience. Often times that experience includes fear and the activation of our reptile brain, the fight or flight part that exists to ensure our survival. We expect our TSA agents, police and soldiers, prison guards and doctors, airplane pilots and food inspectors to be vigilant. But we all know, expecting vigilance does not equal getting vigilance. Human beings fail. So we have vigilant security systems that are machines, and they fail also. Let’s face it: even determined hyper-vigilance fails sometimes, no matter how many layers of redundancy are wired in. Flight 370 is still missing without explanation. The Twin Towers are also missing with explanation. What we know and don’t know defeat our delusion of vigilance and invulnerability.

The B side of Vigilance is that it’s exhausting and tedious. How many tubes of toothpaste must one inspect before his mind becomes fried or twisted? Never forget, never … becomes remember sometimes. At least be symbolically mindful.

“No, I don’t think it’s cancer.”

“A pilot wouldn’t crash his own plane? That’s absurd!”

“Those guys? I know they’re convicted serial killers, but they’re always nice to me. More pie, Bubba?”

Remember the Alamo!  (to rent a car) Remember the Maine! (for vacations) Never forget Pearl Harbor, (their sushi is excellent).  We forget. Vigilance combusts and exhausts like the spent oil in a vigil lamp. No one likes to admit it, but the sooty proof is everywhere.

And finally we come to vigilantes, the self appointed marshals who bust loose when life seems unjust and out of control. There is no test or credentialing involved. No court or magistrate. Just bring your anger or fear or inflated ego to a neighborhood watch or police auxiliary. George Zimmerman comes to mind. He was just a guy with a gun who wanted to “help” society. Or maybe he was a loose wing nut who made himself judge, jury and executioner. In any event he killed a young black man on a rainy Florida night… because George inserted himself into the crosshairs of a community watch. He chose to use violence to protect the property of society. He ignored the police warning to back off. And finally he claimed he had to kill that young black man in order to protect himself and our way of life. It was an odd moment of juris prudence when he was found not guilty of Trevon Martin’s death, strangely inspiring another vigilante a few years later to try and make justice out of chaos.

The other day I saw a picture on FB that had a gun next to a Bible. The accompanying message was something like, “I have to be armed to protect my religious experience now in the post-Charleston shooting era.”  How on earth do you justify guns with the Bible or the Bible with a gun? I just cannot imagine Jesus carrying a firearm. It’s an absurd proposition. Even when Peter went all vigilante in the Garden of Gethsemene and cut off a soldier’s ear, Jesus healed it in peace. A bit ironic that all the disciples were supposed to hold a vigil that night, but each fell asleep, leaving Jesus alone and unguarded. Odd that the one who could not hold the vigil, who would deny his savior three times later that same night, was the very one who went all vigilante. When things appear to be out of order, it is tempting to exercise control, even violence, to reset equilibrium. But what you wind up with is some sort of Fascism that honors violence and celebrates the end justifying the means to it. No, stick to the single candle and fight the creatures of darkness that way.


121. Solacity

Quiet, fabulously quiet on the outskirts of a city that claims a million residents. Just me and the dog, Sweet Kermit, walking to the dead end of Pima Farms Drive and then up to the trail head that leads into Saguaro National Forest. No traffic, there’s no place to go. Houses hunkered low to the ground blend into the dusty brown landscape. Each adobe finished house is a muted desert color:  cactus green, sand, putty patina, pale sage,  alabaster, salt, bleached bone, rusted iron, ocher, faded plum. Faint sounds only reinforce the ambient quiet. A dove coos on an overhead powerline. Anonymous birds flit fearlessly in thorny bushes. The crunch of gavel beneath my shoes. Kermit’s excited breathing. Tucson, you are as beautiful as a sleeping baby. Which is why I am here, to hold my sleeping granddaughter as she grows by the hour.

A huge hawk sails overhead soundlessly. Thousands of feet high in the blue sky a fighter jet might as well be a snowflake for all the rumble and shake it does not cause down here. The glorious February sun beats down on my dark tee shirt as an easy breeze blows west to east. I love this vast open saucer surrounded by stark mountains to the east and prickly cactus-covered spires behind me. I feel the urge to get higher, to breathe it all in, to gaze on the splendor that God has wraught here in the desert. There is a palpable spirit here, one that the Native people celebrate by burning sage in a fire at dawn to honor their ancestors. Unfortunately for them the European settlers did not embrace them or their quiet spirit, and moved them to less desirable, more arid lands. The new folks burned their ancestors and celebrated, i.e., expropriated, the sage and the mesquite, the land and the water.

Water is everything in the desert here just as it was in Jesus’ time and place. Just like Psalm 1 says,

1 Blessed is the one who does not walk in step with the wicked or stand in the way that sinners take or sit in the company of mockers, 2 but whose delight is in the law of the Lord, and who meditates on his law day and night. 3 That person is like a tree planted by streams of water, which yields its fruit in season and whose leaf does not wither—     whatever they do prospers.

Water is the universal symbol for life. Along with breath, you have half of what you need to sustain life. Earth and fire, I guess, are the remaining two. I recall a piece of survival literature that showed how long a human can live without oxygen, heat, water, and food. It’s about three– three minutes without oxygen; three hours without a regulated body heat; three days without water; and three weeks without food. Fascinating that survival requires the four prime elements–air, water, fire, and earth (from which we get food). In denying these elements to others, we condemn them to something less than life.

So I wonder about the Native people, when they first encountered the Christian explorers and then settlers… how did it go? Was there respect given and received? Did the first White men in Arizona seek wisdom from the folks who had inhabited this harsh climate for thousands of years? It does not look that way. And did these Christian settlers share Jesus with the Native folks or impose Him with guns, whiskey, and bullets? I’m no historian, but I think the Grand Canyon could not contain all the tears of the Native people of what we call the United States. How ironic that people groups who themselves had fled Europe’s corrupt aristocracies and state religions would deny Native people their culture, their faith, and their lands. And the descendants of these settlers repeat their forefathers’ sins by denying modern immigrants any shelter, food, water or air. Human nature has not changed much if at all since the time of the Old Testament prophets, so it seems to me. I’m pretty sure that if Jesus had been the first non-native person in the Southwest, there would be a lot more sage smoke at dawn and a lot more love among the cacti today.

Today as Tea Party Rightists rage on in paranoid frenzy and knee-jerky legislators push for guns in teachers’ hands, I wonder why we can’t just enjoy the silence together. There is beauty and truth in abundance outside this solar kissed city. Breathe it in, again and again.  May my children’s children and yours yield their fruits in season, never wither, and always prosper.