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A poet's secular injunction against suicide

Posted by Christopher Shea  January 14, 2010 10:33 AM

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Last month, an acclaimed poet, Rachel Wetzseon, 42, committed suicide, leaving many of her friends and colleagues reeling. At the website The Best American Poetry--affiliated with the book series--Jennifer Michael Hecht, a poet who teaches at The New School, makes a stab at a secular injunction against suicide that would replace, or augment, older religious ones. The post begins with a sociological observation, not a polemical one: the idea that suicide will keep one out of heaven does not seem to have the power it once did. And, of course, it is irrelevant for non-believers. Writes Hecht:

I'm issuing a rule. You are not allowed to kill yourself. You are going to like this, stay with me. When a person kills himself, he does wrenching damage to the community. One of the best predictors of suicide is knowing a suicide. That means that every suicide is also a delayed homicide. You have to stay. The reason I say you are going to like this is twofold. First of all, next time you are seriously considering suicide you can dismiss it quickly and go play a video game (or something else meaningless and fun, it's when we try for meaning that we go crashing into the existential wall--the universe is absurd, to get along with it, you should be too). Second, and this one's a little harder to describe, if you are even a tiny bit staying alive for the sake of the community, as a favor to the rest of us, I need to make it clear to you that we are grateful that you stay. I am grateful that you stay alive.

Since I started thinking about this ... I started thinking about how if I'm grateful that you haven't killed yourself (even though the fact of it only recently came into my mind), then you are also likely grateful that I haven't killed myself (whether consciously yet or not). I have found that thinking about this can feel like a multitude of invisible arms linking to support me ...

The truth is I want you to live for your sake, not for ours. But the injunction is true and real.

It is worth reading in full.
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