I looked into the eyes of a stranger who looked straight back into mine. In that moment, I instantly knew him, and my heart broke for his pain and decision to die. My heart broke because he isn’t in the world. I looked into his eyes and saw through them— I saw that he was gentle and kind and compassionate and that he was sad for the world, for the state of humanity.
I’ve been reading about this man and the circumstances of his death. I read about the closeness he had with his wife and kids and about his medications. Chemicals can do terrible things to the mind, and the ones he put into his body made him unable to think clearly and feel nothing but utter despair.
I’ve been where he was. I’m not counting the time that my long-term depression tanked me—I was able to walk away from that defining moment in the presence of no one but God. The next time, the scariest, I was a passenger in a car, and out of nowhere I fell into a pit so deep and dark that I didn’t want to live. In the blink of an eye, the rug was pulled out from under my feet. I was instantly suicidal. Had I not been in that car, had I been alone, I would have made an attempt on my life. I don’t remember why or how the feeling left me. I think I cried out to God in my mind. I think he yanked me out of it. He certainly lured me from destroying myself the first time.
But this beautiful man, who went from okay to not okay very quickly, succeeded. He died. And I have the feeling that had he not taken that medication shortly before taking his life, he would be devastated by the knowledge of what would have happened.
With few exceptions, the decision to die is not a sane one.
A peace came over me as my sadness mounted. I felt him, and I felt he was okay. I’ve never felt such intimacy with strangers or acquaintances as I did with him at that moment, though I’ve been deeply saddened by their passing.
We are all connected by virtue of being a part of mankind. I would quote Donne, but I feel that his message is a universal truth. Had I not been forced to read his words in high school, however, I never would have understood the deep sadness that I have felt over the deaths of strangers. So if you’ve never read this excerpt of John Donne’s Meditation XVII, and even if you have, here it is. I hope it digs into you and makes you bleed. We should all bleed inside for each other. We should all feel that mortal wound, because it binds us and cultivates love. Remember these words the next time you learn of a person’s death, whether you know that person personally or not—especially if not.
No man is an island entire of itself; every man
is a piece of the continent, a part of the main;
if a clod be washed away by the sea, Europe
is the less, as well as if a promontory were, as
well as any manner of thy friends or of thine
own were; any man’s death diminishes me,
because I am involved in mankind.
And therefore never send to know for whom
the bell tolls; it tolls for thee.