Saturday, June 16, 2018

To be or not to be

Jessica Hooten Wilson on Walker Percy and "Living as an Ex-Suicide":
.... The Declaration of Independence calls for the pursuit of happiness, but we define “happiness” as pleasure, achievement, or fortuitous circumstances. When we have all that we’ve ever wanted, then, we are surprised to find that we are still unhappy. Human beings seem paradoxically able to find enjoyment in bad environments, and sadness in pleasant ones.

If we do not literally kill ourselves, many of us are spiritual suicides, living in despair, and those of us who are not contemplating suicide, Percy labels “non-suicides”....

.... To combat this culture of death, we must acknowledge that the world is deranged, that we are not alienated individuals, but we are all born to trouble as the sparks fly upward. The Russian dissident Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn reminds us that if humans were made to be happy, we would not be born to die. Perhaps, we were not made for this world. Perhaps, earthly happiness should not be our primary pursuit. Perhaps, we should search for something more, and that search is life.

For Percy, we are wayfarers and pilgrims, and he always used “we” because, in this search, we are not alone. Yet, most of the time, we do not know this. We struggle to make it through a Wednesday afternoon. There seems to be no point or meaning, and we contemplate ending it all. Percy would say this is right. Consider suicide. Follow along with Percy’s thought experiment:
Suppose you elect suicide. Very well. You exit. Then what? … Your fellow townsmen will have something to talk about for a few days. Your neighbors will profess shock and enjoy it. One or two might miss you, perhaps your family who will also resent the disgrace. …The priest or minister or rabbi will say a few words over you and down you will go on the green tapes and that’s the end of you. In a surprisingly short time, everyone is back in the rut of his own self as if you never existed.
Seems like a poor option.

But, what freedom will come after this! After contemplating suicide, with all of its finality, tragedy, and consequences, then, life suddenly becomes livable. Once you realize that living is your choice, your preference, you are, in Percy’s terms, an “ex-suicide,” one who now “opens his front door, sits down on the steps, and laughs. Since he has the option of being dead, he has nothing to lose by being alive. It is good to be alive. He goes to work because he doesn’t have to.” Suicide is not the natural outcome of depression, though it’s the only “cure.” By considering suicide and not electing it, we reaffirm that to be is better than not to be. ….