Friday, December 07, 2007

Saved by Strauss

I came near to killing myself. I saw no other way out. Why didn't I do it?

When I was in my twenties I suffered a period of intense depression, what psychiatrists term clinical depression. One day I resolved with conviction to kill myself. I still remember clearly the details of that dark and tormented period, the days leading up to my contemplated suicide.

A phenomenon that a number of people have noted while in deep depression is the sense of being accompanied by a second self--a wraithlike observer who, not sharing the dementia of his double, is able to watch with dispassionate curiosity as his companion struggles against the oncoming disaster, or decides to embrace it. There is a theatrical quality about all this, and during the several days after I decided to kill myself, as I went about stolidly preparing for extinction, I couldn't shake off a sense of melodrama--a melodrama in which, I the victim-to-be of self-murder, was both the solitary actor and lone member of the audience. I had not yet chosen the mode of departure, but I knew that that step would come next, and soon, as inescapable as nightfall.

I watched myself in mingled terror and fascination as I began to make the necessary preparation, spending part of a couple of afternoons in a muddled attempt to bestow upon posterity a letter of farewell. It turned out that putting together a suicide note, which I felt obsessed with a necessity to compose, was the most difficult task of writing that I had ever tackled. There were too many people to acknowledge, to thank, to bequeath final bouquets. And finally I couldn't manage the sheer dirgelike solemnity of it; there was something I found almost comically offensive in the pomposity of such a comment as "For some time now I have sensed in my work a growing psychosis that is doubtless a reflection of the psychotic strain tainting my life" (this is one of the few lines I recall verbatim), as well as something degrading in the prospect of a testament, which I wished to infuse with at least some dignity and eloquence, reduced to an exhausted stutter of inadequate apologies and self-serving explanations. I should have used as an example the mordant statement of the Italian writer Cesare Pavese, who in parting wrote simply: No more words. An act. I'll never write again.

But even a few words came to seem to me too long-winded, and I tore up all my efforts, resolving to go out in silence. Late one bitterly cold night, when I knew that I could not possibly get myself through the following day, I sat in my room bundled up against the chill. I forced myself to watch the tape of a movie, one of my favorites, The Year of Living Dangerously. At one point in the film, which is set in Indonesia in the mid-1960s, a character plays a phonograph recording of a song by Richard Strauss, one of the Four Last Songs, titled "Going to Sleep." There came a soprano voice, and a sudden soaring passage on the violin.

And my ardent longing shall
the stormy night in friendship
enfold like a tired child.

Hands, leave all work,
brow, forget all thought.
Now all my senses
long to sink themselves in slumber.

And the spirit unguarded
longs to soar on free wings,
so that, in the magic circle of night,
it may live deeply, and a thousandfold.

This sound, which like all music--indeed, like all pleasure--I had been numbly unresponsive to for months, pierced my heart like a dagger, and in a flood of swift recollection I thought of all the joys I had known. This I realized was more than I could ever abandon, even as what I had set out so deliberately to do was more than I could inflict on those memories. And just as powerfully I realized I could not commit this desecration on myself. I drew upon some last gleam of sanity to perceive the terrifying dimensions of the moral predicament I had fallen into and I resolved not to kill myself.


Shiv said...

gary --

dont know if you've discovered this yet:

hopefully you'll find one sharing similar sentiments...

Desambientado said...


Happily you will find many beautiful things during our litle staying here. Life will make you to appreciate wat you do, such sharing your excellent writing with all of us.

Anonymous said...

Gibran: the prophet on Love:
Then said Almitra, "Speak to us of Love."

And he raised his head and looked upon the people, and there fell a stillness upon them. And with a great voice he said:

When love beckons to you follow him,

Though his ways are hard and steep.

And when his wings enfold you yield to him,

Though the sword hidden among his pinions may wound you. And when he speaks to you believe in him,

Though his voice may shatter your dreams as the north wind lays waste the garden.

For even as love crowns you so shall he crucify you. Even as he is for your growth so is he for your pruning.

Even as he ascends to your height and caresses your tenderest branches that quiver in the sun,

So shall he descend to your roots and shake them in their clinging to the earth. Like sheaves of corn he gathers you unto himself.

He threshes you to make you naked.

He sifts you to free you from your husks.

He grinds you to whiteness.

He kneads you until you are pliant;

And then he assigns you to his sacred fire, that you may become sacred bread for God's sacred feast.

All these things shall love do unto you that you may know the secrets of your heart, and in that knowledge become a fragment of Life's heart.

But if in your fear you would seek only love's peace and love's pleasure,

Then it is better for you that you cover your nakedness and pass out of love's threshing-floor,

Into the season less world where you shall laugh, but not all of your laughter, and weep, but not all of your tears.

Love gives naught but itself and takes naught but from itself.

Love possesses not nor would it be possessed; For love is sufficient unto love. When you love you should not say, "God is in my heart," but rather, I am in the heart of God."

And think not you can direct the course of love, if it finds you worthy, directs your course.

Love has no other desire but to fulfill itself.

But if you love and must needs have desires, let these be your desires:

To melt and be like a running brook that sings its melody to the night.

To know the pain of too much tenderness.

To be wounded by your own understanding of love;

And to bleed willingly and joyfully.

To wake at dawn with a winged heart and give thanks for another day of loving;

To rest at the noon hour and meditate love's ecstasy;

To return home at eventide with gratitude;

And then to sleep with a prayer for the beloved in your heart and a song of praise upon your lips.