We had walked down by the entrance to the harbor at the edge of the world, the farthest tip of Long Island. I was looking for "sea glass," my wife's latest obsession, those bits of tossed bottles now ground smooth with an opaque glow to them. It's solo venture; another person casting shade over the beach detritus makes it difficult to see the special way the light hits sea-softened, smooth old glass.
But this time, she came up and opened her purse. It was full of rocks. "Look at these great rocks I'm going to use as paperweights," she said.
"Okay, Virginia Woolf," I joked, because she and the rocks and the sea made me think of Woolf filling her pockets with rocks and walking into the sea until she drowned. A strange suicide, a woman's suicide, I suppose. So they say.
I wasn't in a morose mood. It was a bright morning, and the small waves came in quickly, had even lapped over my shoes and made me jump back and laugh.
It was the explanation of suicide that I was suddenly thinking about. Take Woolf, for example. I haven't studied her closely, but I've been in enough English classes to have heard that her self-death was the result of an imminent World War II and/or a difficult, loveless marriage with her husband, Leonard.
I suspect it was neither. Our brains living inside of our societies force us to impose reason on the most unreasonable, irrational acts. We must accede to that thinking for our own survival. We must subscribe to the ultimate logical fallacy--if B follows A, then A must have caused B. So we latch onto, in Woolf's case, both the absolutely global and the supremely intimate.
Do we ever consider that another part of the human mind wonders, What happens if I fill my pockets and walk into the water? Do we remember that so much of what we do, the choices we make, result from minuscule events that took place mere moments before? When Mersault kills the Arab in The Stranger, he says that he did it because the sun was in his eyes. How can we disprove that, when an unpleasant encounter right before I meet you determines much of the way I treat you?
Lately, I've been watching The Top Of The Lake, an Australian mystery miniseries of the darkest order. I don't know yet how it turns out, but one of the opening images of a fully-clothed young teenage girl walking into the lake apparently until it swallows her up until a voice calls her back is such an affecting one that it is difficult to get out of my head.
The show, like the rest of us, wants to infer, so far as I can tell, that something bad has happened to the girl which makes her want to go under and not come back up. Not that she just might be "testing the waters," so to speak.
A friend of mine, divorced, cared for his sick father for weeks and decided to sell his home back home and to come live with his father. But when he went back to close up his affairs, he died, and died under circumstances that might suggest to some that he wanted that to be the end. Did he? Was the prospect of caring for his father too overwhelming, even though he had done that very thing for weeks? Was he looking for a way out? There is no way to know. Did he push himself too far as a lament or even as a celebration of a life chapter about to close? Did the stress of care take him down?
We have to know. And even if we can't know, we have to fashion a theory that makes us feel comfortable about him and us and where he might be and where we aren't. How nice to be able to say that it was accidental, and therefore lumped into the understandable randomness of all that surrounds us. Or wouldn't it be great if things just became more than he could take and so he acted? We might not like the choice he made, but we can make sense of it.
I've had a fair amount of experience with suicide and all I've learned from all of it is that there is nothing to be figured out. There is no sense to be made. We have been crafted, as a species, to continue putting one foot in front of the other until the energies of our bodies make that no longer possible. Maybe we aren't doing much more than walking with our heads down looking for shining things in the sand, but we are walking, we keep walking.