Sunday, July 07, 2013

A Suicidal Short Story About My Eighth-Grade Teacher

The subject of suicide had come up in class, not because anyone had killed themselves but because such discussions happen often among 13-year-old Catholics, who are just getting smart enough to wonder how well the church rules work in real-life situations. It might have seemed as though we were testing our teacher, and we may have been, but we were generally interested to find out exactly how much you could do without being condemned to Hell, and we’d therefore force her to walk us through the morality of scenarios such as “What if a bad person tricked you into thinking you’d killed your entire family, and you became so grief-stricken that you killed yourself? Would that be suicide or would that be murder? What if the bad person had planned the whole thing specifically with the goal being to make you kill yourself? Would you both go to Hell?” Now that’s a fictional example, because I can’t remember what led into the suicide talk, but I can clearly recall once asking her about the morality of working in a factory that made electric chairs, given the church’s stance against capital punishment. “What if you just swept the floors there?” “Okay, what if you made the part that actually kills people but you had to take the job to take care of your family?” “What if you son grows up to the a saint?” No, I don’t know why this seemed important. I probably just didn’t want to do work.

In a similar way, I vividly recall how the suicide conversation ended. This is more or less a direct quote from my teacher: “When people kill themselves, they think, ‘Oh, they’ll miss me when I’m gone. They’ll feel so bad. They’ll feel so sorry.’ But you don’t know that. For all you know, after you commit suicide, everyone will be dancing. They’ll be saying, ‘Hooray! Glad she’s gone!’”

Don’t ask me why, but that memory popped into my head today. For a long time, I thought it was a rather nasty way to think about suicide, with your family literally dancing on the grave you put yourself in, but now, at thirty-one years old, I think my teacher may have had the right tactic. In explaining something as dicey as suicide to a bunch of thirteen-year-olds, it was actually fairly reasonable advice: Don’t give them the satisfaction of killing yourself. Hang around and be a pill longer. That’s the real revenge — your enduring existence.

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