Thursday, August 28, 2008

A long life -- some folk never learn

I have never been in that place in life where I have wanted to kill myself. Almost. Many of the folk Malcolm Forbes writes about in They Went Thata-Way did kill themselves. Depression due to one thing or another. He reports that Hemmingway had already written in 1926: “The real reason for not committing suicide is because you always know how swell life gets again after the hell is over.” Two years later Hemmingway’s father shot and killed himself. Hemmingway himself wondered how he might kill himself. He might jump off an ocean liner, or pull the trigger of a shotgun “with his toe.” Is that how a hunter would use a shotgun to kill himself?

In the late 1950s, Hemmingway’s inclination toward depression deepened following a couple airplane accidents in Africa. In 1961 he was admitted o the Mayo Clinic for electricshock treatments to treat the depression. Over the following year he was released, was seen to be acting suspiciously with his shotgun, was readmitted, and released again. Whereupon, back at the house in Idaho, he put his shotgun to his forehead and pulled both triggers. I do not know if he pulled the triggers with his toe, but I doubt it.

Earlier that year he had written: “A long life deprives man of his optimism. [Better] to die in all the happy period of unillusioned youth, to go out in a blaze of light, than to have your body worn out and old and illusions shattered.” The phrase “to go out in a blaze of light” suggests what he might have seen in the instant when the shotgun exploded into his forehead.

For myself, I have yet to be deprived of my optimism, do not recall that my youth was any happier than my old age is, and have not had any serious illusions to be shattered. In short, it is today pretty much like it was then. It’s probably the case of some folk never learning. One afternoon in a field outside Ojai, under some oak trees, Krishnamurti re-marked in an aside that we all want to go on living. He said: “I don’t know why.” And he paused and sort of looked around at the trees as if he were passing through a moment of wonder.

One noonday in the early 1960s I was driving the family Ford on the freeway from South Los Angeles toward Hollywood. Those were the days when I was seeing pictures on Hollywood Boulevard without benefit of theater. As I approached the overpass at Western Avenue (I think) there was a sudden inclination to drive the car headlong into one of the concrete pilings holding up the overpass. It was very close. The energy for it surged up through the shoulders and into the chest. It was over in an instant. But that could have been it. Even at the time I did not understand why I would do such a thing. I was under a lot of pressure from all the film I was watching while I walked the streets, but I found it interesting too. I would not have thought that I would give it up for anything. But there I was. No thought was involved. It was a gesture from the body. It lasted only an instant, but there it was. I was moving very fast.

In the event, it’s been a pretty swell life. Some folk never learn.

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