Often times when I hear of a person passing away, my first thought — before the feeling of loss for the loved ones of the individual and the life that the individual would have led — I feel a sense of relief for the person. That their pain has ended. Perhaps this is morbid and pessimistic, but objectively speaking, and perhaps even to an inherent level, if you are alive you will suffer.
It is, I believe, fewer individuals who never think of death. That the, seemingly, unbearable suffering brings Thanatos (the death wish), and in a valley-girl speak, we think, “Better off dead.” This thought, though holding no intentions and perhaps if thought enough will bring death even sooner, if not a more unhappy life, is merely an extension of the knowledge that we must suffer. As a moody person, a saying I have often repeated to myself is that “a mood will swing longer than the hung man.” And while depressed, things that I normally like and enjoy, seem stupid and tedious, and I know that the next day when my depressed mood has left and I walk in the morning air to the bus for work that the world is beautiful and wonderful and monstrous and horrible all in one, though I believe there is more beauty and hope than the opposite, yet in those moments of pain and depression, it feels like there is no hope, or future, or reason to live, but to suffer.
When I was 16, I started going to a therapist under the illusion that I could figure out why I suffer (in a 20th century psychoanalysis mindset way), figure it out, and never suffer again. I was wrong, of course. In my early 20’s, after some unhealthy behavior, I accepted suffering. That it’s inescapable. I took a weekly Buddhism class, and learned of the universal inescapable suffering we all must suffer. I’m not a fan when people write “we”, but the human heart is universal and we all will get sick, have everything we love taken away from us, not get what we think will make us happy, suffer mentally and physically. Just think: your dog, your mom, your life, your favorite jeans, your best friend, your apartment, your house. There is nothing in this world, including you, that will last. So this ‘object’ (be it a person or thing) we believe will make us happy (definition of attachment) we try and obtain, and if it is taken away, never had, or the illusion is destroyed we lash out in anger at the ‘object’ (be it a significant other who we thought was one-way, but acted in a way that is not the illusion of them that makes us happy, or would fulfill us). But the idea that suffering is inescapable, is actually freeing, instead of depressing, and creates a sense of unity in the world. Because we all suffer the same inescapable sufferings. Even if you’re rich, like say the famous French writer Marcel Proust: he lost loves, like his grandmother and mother, was of ill health, fell out of favor with many friends, and while he was ‘privileged’ and lived a life of comfort, he suffered in a universal sense just like anyone.
Obviously, the course of such negative and Thantonical cognitions could lead to suicide, which is horrible. Though we could never know what a person thinks before killing themselves, I’ve always thought that they regretted it before they died. That they took the steps towards death, and regretted it. Like the depressed person who takes an overdose of pills and then calls 911, or even the jumper from a tall building or bridge, it seems that our life drive (Eros) is so strong that in those few seconds of freefall before the concrete or water that they regretted jumping. Like the death scene of the protagonist Julian in John O’Hara’s novel “Appointment in Samarra.” He is in his garage with his car running, killing himself with carbon monoxide because of behavior that has alienated himself from the community and his business colleagues. But he changes his mind, and tries to stop the chain of events he has set forth to kill himself, only to succumb to the carbon-monoxide poisoning.
When I accepted the inevitable suffering I must face, I also accepted the inevitable joy I will face. All the poems and credos and myths of the world have a darkness and a light, and while we live in this world, as this ‘self’, we are constantly in a state of balance and flux between the two. Every morning I remember this, breathing the air, seeing the sun, the commonness of concrete or a skyline, the passengers of the bus. I’m amazed at the potential of life. A potential that will inevitably cause suffering and joy.