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When you're at the brink, it takes courage to live on

 A sad woman looking outside her window. (Courtesy)

The other night, as I surfed through the turbulent seas that are social media sites, I stumbled across a news item about a man who had taken his own life. Too much horrifying news of late, I sighed. I lingered momentarily, then swept the post aside, seeking more interesting news.

Later I learnt that the man was an old friend and colleague, a buddy I would call once in a while and have one of those chit chats - those fleeting, yet meaningful exchanges that men often share. I returned to the post, now seeing it through a lens of grief and disbelief.

No longer just another story, it held a weighty reality that I couldn’t fully grasp, as suicide has always confounded me. In my undergraduate studies, we delved into the dark subject of suicide in sociology. We studied the various types of suicide, from anomic to altruistic to egoistic.

We explored famous personages who committed suicide, from Marilyn Monroe to Ernest Hemingway to Sylvia Plath. In elevated terms, we debated whether suicide is an act of cowardice or bravery.  I was now ready to handle any news of suicide - so I thought.

Then one weekend, a classmate vanished. We searched the places we frequented together until, finally, we found his lifeless body floating in the university swimming pool. He had chosen a watery grave, drowning himself in despair.

All my academic understanding of suicide became useless. I couldn’t comprehend why he had to do so considering he came from a well-to-do family. Still, grappling with grief and confusion, I mourned my friend Ngugi, despite him being the cause of my grief.

The second case of suicide that haunts me involves a man from the village. He began his day as he always did, tending to his daily duties in his homestead. Then, as the sun dipped in the West, he made his way to the river and plunged into the raging waters.

His wife, overcome with grief, questioned why he didn’t tell her where he was going when he casually sauntered to the river to take his life. But in retrospect, did the man know where he was going?

Those who choose this path seek to end their suffering but inadvertently pass their pain on to those left behind. Suicide creates ripples that extend far beyond the initial act, inflicting sorrow and loss upon those who survive. Yet, we empathise, for those who end their lives are not driven by a desire to die, but by an overwhelming urge to escape their torment. In my quest to comprehend suicide, I turn to the ancient Taoist philosophy of ying and yang which holds that pleasure and pain are intertwined, inseparable.

Together they come, and when one sits alone with you at your living room, the other is asleep upon your bed. When one dominates, the other one retreats leaving the soul in a state of anguish. 

One then is tempted to seek an escape route, which might end up being brutally final. In such moments, as Albert Camus suggested, it takes greater courage to endure life than to relinquish it.

Farewell, A.K. Your absence leaves a void that echoes with the loss of your wit and wisdom.

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