Dying enigmatically

Catching up with material from earlier in the week, I discovered a BBC Culture article, Sylvia Plath: the literary icon destined to remain an enigma. Six decades after her death, there still seems a readership for such speculation, (admittedly, by reading the piece, I must be among them).

But isn’t every person an enigma?

Back in the 1990s I had a friend in Northern Ireland who twice attempted suicide.  On one occasion someone realized he had taken an overdose and called an ambulance.  When they arrived at his house he was still conscious and he sent them away.  Without the power to physically arrest him, they had to wait until he had slipped into unconsciousness  before re-entering the house and taking him to hospital.

He was eventually to die as a result of an assault by Loyalist thugs who decided to break into his flat and beat him with baseball bats with spikes driven through them because he was gay.

Had he survived, I wondered if he would have again made an attempt on his life.  We had once discussed the issue.

“If you are feeling bad, anytime. Just pick up the phone. Just call.”

He had shaken his head. “If I was able to pick up the phone, I wouldn’t need to call.”

Only one person seemed to accept him as he was – his mother.  On the eve of his funeral, she phoned.  I did not know her, but he must have mentioned me at some time and my odd English name must have remained in her memory.

“I just wanted to talk to someone who knew him,” she said.

We talked – about his love for books, about his constant studies, about his love for films and music, about laughter.  What we did not do was to try to analyse, or explain, or rationalise, because neither of us had an understanding of what might have prompted his suicide attempts, nor had we the vocabulary to express how we felt at his murder.  He was a quiet, private, gentle soul; it seemed inexplicable that anyone would have attacked him.

For a while afterwards, I would call at the nursing home in which she lived and she would recount some fresh set of memories, some piece of quirkiness from his young days.  Mostly the visits were about sitting and listening, sometimes sitting in silence; there was not much that I could contribute.

News stories of tragic deaths seem beset by people needing to comment, as though it were possible to reverse events by some process of lengthy analysis.  Should the person dead be prominent,  then the comment will endure for years. But who cares what  so-and-so says?

Why is there always felt a need to have the answers?  Why must there always be a search for significance or meaning or purpose?  People are enigmas, and will remain so.



This entry was posted in The stuff of daily life. Bookmark the permalink.

4 Responses to Dying enigmatically

  1. Chris says:

    I am apparently three people. Version One is the type you want to have along; diligent, hardworking, amiable and able to get the job done. Version Two is at best ‘all right.’ A strange fellow, harmless, odd habits and can be got along with at a push. Version three has others setting dogs on me.

    Can’t help but feel that the perception of others relies on their own personalities and quirks.

    I am just me really. Put me into whatever category from above you wish; I am exactly the same person, and your view is your view.

    • Ian says:

      I always liked the ancient Greek idea of “person” as being a mask that is worn. I spent more than thirty years as a clergyman and realized that there were so many parts that I had to play that I was sometimes unsure who I was! Like you, I felt the same person on the inside, but I wondered how that person should be projected.

  2. Sackerson says:

    How very sad.

    Einstein said something to the effect that he looked out at the universe and could comprehend but when he looked inside himself he saw only darkness. And yet: https://www.brainpickings.org/2016/11/28/einstein-circles-of-compassion/

    • Ian says:

      Theoretical physics has the advantage of dealing with stuff, although some of that stuff is very strange. If Einstein was baffled, there isn’t much hope for lesser mortals in uncovering enigmas.

      One of the most intriguing discussions I have with Year 7 students is where inside their body the person they were might be found. Most suggested the brain, but then said they felt they were separate from the physical stuff inside their head. None of us has a clue as to how we could answer.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *