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This was originally written for The Buffalo Chip Gazette, an annual publication for the Sturgis, SD motorcycle rally. Evidently Bob Newland, the editor, thought it was too tasteless even for a bunch of rowdy bikers. Hm. I think I'll take that as a compliment.

In Praise of Suicide

(With certain exceptions)

One night last summer, my significant honey and I were awakened by a flat, emphatic boom. With 2:00 a.m. grogginess, it took us a moment to realize what we'd heard.

"That wasn't thunder."

"No. It wasn't thunder."

The sirens that howled past a moment later confirmed it.

Turns out a young man in our neighborhood had decided to commit suicide that early morning. He closed all his doors and windows. He disconnected the gas line from the stove and waited for the house to fill up.

But it's tedious, waiting for gas to suffocate you. Uncomfortable. Smelly, too. You have lots of time to think about what you're doing, and you start feeling disgustingly sick long before you feel comfortably dead. Somewhere during the wait this individual (apparently well-lubricated with Budweiser) had a change of heart. No, he didn't want to die after all. He wanted to live!

So he re-connected the gas line, opened the front door...and sat down to enjoy a cigarette.

They found pieces all over the neighborhood for weeks.

Now there are some who would call this a tragedy. I call it (to borrow the phrase used by Larry Niven and Jerry Pournelle in their novel Oath of Fealty) evolution in action. Anyone who lights a cigarette with his house full of natural gas is saving the human race from the certain dumbing down that would have occurred had he lived to breed.

And I'm sorry-I know you aren't supposed to say such callous things out loud-it was also great entertainment. Certainly the most exciting thing that had happened in our area in years. Brought folks together. Created a sense of old-timey neighborliness as householders got together to chew the fat and kick through the rubble. Gave journalists something to natter about for a day or two besides "gun violence" and "right-wing extremists."

That young man did the right thing, even if he didn't intend it.

A few years ago, I had a friend named Matthew who also met an early death. Now, Matthew's fate was quite decisive, no wishy-washing or second thoughts about it. He blew his head off with a shotgun.

This, too, was called a tragedy.

Well, I liked Matt. He was a sweet-natured, intelligent boy (21, but emphatically still a "boy") who loved small, furry animals and who tried desperately to please everyone. But since childhood he had been stumbling heedlessly from one disaster to another--most of which involved Matthew finding himself in jail.

When asked why he stole that car, or why he broke into that store, Matthew was never quite sure. It just seemed like a good idea at the time. Or at least, he supposed it had seemed like a good idea; sometimes he couldn't even remember.

As you may gather, there were a few chemicals lubricating Matt's activities, as well. But it was more than that. Matt was fey.

You know that word? It's an old one that means something like "touched by the fairies." A modern rendering might be "born loser." In short, Matt was a vague, wraithlike man-child who would have been doomed to wander life forever, never quite touching reality, surely never getting a grip on it-if he hadn't taken the one decisive, purposeful step of his existence. Picking up that shotgun.

I submit that folks who commit suicide-or whose casual actions doom them-are almost always doing the right thing. They are saving themselves, and indirectly saving most everyone else, a whole lot of grief.

Now, let me quickly clear up three possible misconceptions.

Sure as God made some people crosseyed, a few illiterates are going to accuse me of a Hitlerian desire to rid the world of the "unfit." Bushwah. No human being has the right to decide the fate of any other, and it ain't my business nor yours to decide who's "fit" to live and who's not. But I will defend forever people's right to determine for themselves whether they're fit to live, and to do themselves under if they decide in the negative. And I won't cry if Mother Nature helps them along with that decision, as she did with our young neighbor who went out with a bang.

Somebody's also going to accuse me of being unsympathetic to the emotionally troubled. On the contrary. Twice, I came this close to suicide myself. This close. I couldn't do it for whatever reason. Cowardice, I thought at the time. Cockeyed optimism, I believe in retrospect. Whether my death would have been the right thing or not, you can judge for yourself. I can say only that I've been down there in that emotional pit. I know the territory. And I still won't cry for anyone who chooses to climb out on the death side rather than the life side.

Finally, some do-gooders will point out that both young men in my examples were on some form of drug, and that if they'd just had "help," they might have chosen to lead bright, happy lives. Yawn. Yeah, lots of people do quit drugs and get happier. Just as lots of people stay on drugs and are perfectly happy, too. And the rest of us can be miserable or happy while unstoned, cold, sober.

Some people use drugs. Others choose to give up their sovereignty over themselves and let drugs use them. In either case the person is following his or her own choices. I don't care if you teetotal or mainline Drano. You're in charge, and what you do with your life, drugged or undrugged, is your own decision.

All of this, of course, goes against the current fashion. We are supposed to call everything we don't like a "disease," mourn every idiot who dies by misadventure, and hold everyone responsible for everything except the person actually doing the deed. We are supposed to ban the guns with which someone might commit the most efficient suicide. (Hmmm, can we ban natural gas, as well?) And we are supposed to help, help, help endlessly, whether we want to or not. And whether the helpee wants to be helped or not, which is even worse.

I say, hooray for the folks with the guts to make their own life and death decisions, and a tip of the hat to those self-destructive bravos who have the mercy to die young before they do a lot more inevitable harm to themselves or others.

Now, that's not to say I favor suicide. I certainly didn't favor my own when I reached that long-ago decision point. I merely favor choice, and respecting choices, and recognizing responsibility for choices. And that brings me to the final, entirely self-serving, conclusion of this little screed.

Recently, I wrote an irritating book called 101 Things to Do 'Til the Revolution. It's irritating, that is, to people who like power and imposed order, and who don't like us members of the rabble thinking for ourselves. (More relaxed folks have told me the book is quite a lot of fun.)

Acquaintances have suggested that this book is going to get me in certain kinds of trouble. My publisher says I'll end up in jail. An attorney says the charge will be sedition. Several friends have suggested I'll be "Fosterized" or die by "Arkancide." Personally, I feel this latter prediction is overly dramatic. Goodness, if the political powers-that-be Fosterized all their critics, they'd be building graveyards as fast as they're now building prisons.

The simple fact is, I'm probably too insignificant to Fosterize. At least, for the moment.

However, if you do hear a report of my death...if, perhaps, you learn that I tied myself up, carried myself into the woods without getting dirt on my shoes, and shot myself in several hard-to-reach places with various calibres of handgun...I hope you'll remember that I think suicide is a fine idea. But not for me.

1997 by Claire Wolfe. This article may be reprinted for non-commercial purposes, as long as it is reprinted in full with no content changes whatsoever, and is accompanied by this credit line. The article may not be re-titled, edited or excerpted (beyond the limits of the fair use doctrine) without the written permission of the author. For-profit publications will be expected to pay a nominal reprint fee.

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Wolf Tracks

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28 November, 1997