They say it’s the last song,
they don’t know us, you see?
It’s only the last song,
if we let it be.
— Lars von Trier (Dancer in the Dark)
A few weeks ago, I was shaken with the news that a lovely woman I met through my writing courses — Write Yourself Alive to be more exact — and whom I appreciated and admired from afar decided to end her life.
I’ve been wanting to write about it ever since, yet even as I breathe through words, this time they felt futile, empty, useless, not my own…
I’d exchanged words with her that very day, hours or maybe minutes before she vanished, without — especially from afar and through a screen — having the slightest clue that would be the last time we’d say Hi.
Last October, I finally got to meet her in person after years of connecting online, in one of the most beautiful heart-to-heart encounters I’ve been a part of — a spontaneous Writers Meet-up I held in London.
A group of strangers sat across a table at a restaurant for hours as we openly shared about our personal losses, about the darkness that keeps us up at 3:00 a.m., the unassimilated shadows, the regrets we haven’t yet come to terms with, the weight of the hurt, the shame and disappointments we’d been carrying… until that is, our art — imperfect, raw & necessary — gave us a voice, a way, not out but through, a channel to alchemize our fire and lies about our souls into a brighter truth that lifts and trusts and heals.
She was the last one to share her story. She was beautiful but she had a hard time even hearing it, let alone believing it. She was deeply caring, but after giving her whole life to others there seemed to be little left for herself.
She emanated light — a quiet passion in her strength, a stoic grace — yet she believed herself unloved and unappreciated. She talked about the unbearable loneliness, she said some days she couldn’t take it anymore.
I choked back tears. I felt her pain deep in my bones and all I wanted is for her to see herself — for one true minute — through the eyes of everyone sitting at that table, strangers yet in a way more family than most. Yet she could not.
We concluded our meet-up with a combustion of hugging, intermittent crying and laughing like all mad people when they’re loved (or high on art & understanding), improv piano serenades and reading poetry under a full bright moon.
You know, the kind of things you do with “random strangers” you meet through writing courses.
So it’s been raining more than usual on me this month — the melancholia, the open pores of my own longing, the bleeding wounds of our transgressions and transgressors, still longing to be healed, the fragility of the human heart, the deep layers of ache stored in our souls, the constellations of our hurts and joys — one day the light, another the vast emptiness we carry.
I think of how damn little we know or let ourselves be known, when we half-smile and say we’re fine, of all the stories of survival and of sorrow hiding not just in another’s heart but bleeding through our own.
Somedays I’m everyone, and others I could swear I do not know a single soul, and no soul truly knows me. I am my own, yet I’m so not my own.
The universal question I keep echoing like a broken record: “If a tree falls in a forest and no one is around to hear it, does it make a sound?”
If no one hears the truths we leave unsaid, do they exist? Do WE fully exist or are we merely surviving? Dragging our aching truths & failed tries through all the narrow roads of life as if an inconvenience, a burden, a trouble-making vs. a life-giving power.
And I feel sick, like with some ancient fever, because however recherché my metaphors, I can’t protect or save my troubled heart or yours from breaking.
Because no matter how alive our words or art can make us feel THIS TIME, RIGHT HERE & NOW, I cannot guarantee this fragile life won’t be returned to dust with the next heartbeat.
Maybe the beauty in the desolation of it all lies right between our odds of even existing and our impermanence always waiting at the door. Always so close, never quite there, walking this crooked line between the two, howling our truth until we can’t.
I’ve lost too many people in the fires of life already — family, friends, lovers, acquaintances, strangers — none of them islands, all of their stories still a part of mine, and I, of theirs.
The common denominator through all these losses is that it each leaves me wondering, could I have said or done more? When did it stop being my battle? Was it ever? Where exactly does my life end and yours begin? Where do I stop being You?
The part in the movie when I get up and walk away… is it now or was it 15 minutes back or should I just stay till the end? Did anybody get a script for this or are we all eternal amateurs at life?
Who summoned us here and how much can we create, how many can we save, beginning with ourselves, with the little or lot we have left?
John Donne just texted me from the 1600’s to add:
No man is an island,
Entire of itself,
Every man is a piece of the continent,
A part of the main…
Any man’s death diminishes me,
Because I am involved in mankind,
And therefore never send to know for whom the bell tolls;
It tolls for thee.
Beyond the limited and limiting confines of our bodies, these smaller selves that make us YOU, or ME, vs. the greater US we’re taught fear, under our skin we share all of our joys just as we share our suffering, we share the wholeness of this life, just as a piece of us is torn with every single one that leaves the world.
Death’s bell tolls for all, just as life’s trumpet sings for all.
The question that still keeps me up at night… could I have, through a word, a touch, a gesture, changed the outcome of her entire life and those that may have come into the world, through her, as a result?
Could I have loved harder, stayed longer, been more sensitive, paid more attention… Did I miss that second — all that it takes sometimes to save a life — out of distraction, hurry, selfishness or unawareness?
Am I the result of that same second of open-hearted empathy, somebody at some point spent on my father or my mother or all the generations of dream & dust & madness that brought me to this day?
There is a door around each heart guarded (and often heavily locked) by its owner, which cannot be unlocked by anybody else — no matter how hard love can try to break & enter you, or how badly you want it, need it, beg it to save you.
Unless you, of your own accord, decide it’s time to finally forgive yourself for all the hurt you’ve caused or received, and let life fill your lungs anew.
Nobody else can ultimately save you from yourself. Nobody else will save you BUT yourself.
There is no shortcut back to you other than through the same backdoor you exited that day, when you subconsciously decided that you were not enough to save. And every story since only confirms the shitty deal you made.
With whom & why so unforgivable your story? Why take this script? Why not rewrite it?
The irony is that whether you do or don’t the world will still go on. The difference is that SOMEONE needs you in it.
So please decide to stay despite the forces pulling you right out. Please hold on to this life, however terrible the night, do not give up before the dawn. Do whatever you must to keep you warm until morning.
Recycle this pain into something worth your suffering, recycle this emptiness into a new creation, recycle this hurt into a story that doesn’t require your ending. Simply because you can.
As for my part, if I could just rewind today back to that Sunday, if I could travel back in time, I wish my words did more than just a greeting.
I wish instead of reading post-factum Suicide Notes, we wrote each other pre-dawn Unsuicide Letters more often.
I wish instead of Hi or Fine or How Are You, I’d told the truth, she’d told the truth, we’d all just tell the real, fucking truth about our lives — not feeling less for feeling deeply, sad or empty, not hiding just because we hurt, holding our ache up high like prayer flags, instead of shaming it with scarlet letters.
For those of us who’ve known real darkness, while lost in the valley of the shadow of death, our logic often fails us, sometimes there REALLY is no light, no logical belief, no factual reason to keep going. Nothing you say or do to me deep in that cold night of the soul will make me jump for joy and put a smile on my face. Don’t bother.
But what I found works in my case is not striving for joy & heaven but simply lessening the load of hell and getting through the day, freeing myself from the foreverness and the impossibility of my burden, to merely learning to be right here & now, and carrying it for just ANOTHER DAY.
And as you’re getting through THIS DAY, take action. Creative action — your truest medicine against despair.
It doesn’t matter how you move, just move. In movement there are no excuses, no exaggerations or apologies, no if’s or maybe’s or someday’s. In movement there is only NOW. There is no THINKING, only DOING.
When words won’t do, when hearts won’t mend, when thoughts won’t matter, when it has all become too saturated, overused, untrusted, ineffective, obsolete, try STEPS, try TRUTH, try TAKING ACTION.
Stop contemplating, fearing, feeling, thinking about doing or not doing — and just do something HERE & NOW — do what will keep your heart engaged in beating.
DO NOT CHECK OUT, DIVE DEEPER.
I won’t try to convince you NOT to kill yourself, because what do I know… I really don’t.
Just don’t do it today. Today we’re here, warm & personal & moving, despite all our alienation and resistance. Today can be survived, today your sadness can be danced through to this music.
Forget tomorrow. Nobody has tomorrow, not even those who seem to have it all.
You’re not alone TODAY if you can read these lines.
We may be dead tomorrow, yes, no one survives this human roller coaster, we’re all headed that way, sooner or later.
Just NOT today.
Do me a favour and please forward her, wherever she might be, this letter.
You know, the bit of Her in Me, in You, in Us, in someone else you know — maybe she/ you/ them/ I will read it just in time to not give up TODAY?
Please don’t go yet. Today is NOT the day you die.
You are not your past, the mistakes you’ve made, the happiness you’re feeling cheated out of.
You are not the hurt you still carry, the losses that keep piling, the stories of survival they forced you to accept as yours. You’re not the cage, you are the bird that sings it open.
You are the the storyteller, the creator, the hand behind the wheel. Even when all the roads are blocked, new ones are waiting to be walked into existence — by your feet.
There’s poetry still dripping from your fingers, miles of metaphor & skin to be explored, a truer world sprouting like grass among the ruins of your life.
It’s just the way it is down here. Some will leave you & others will stay. Some will break you & others will love you back to life. Just show them, as you show yourself, the way back in.
And all this waiting, this aloneness, this becoming, this exile from yourself is just another stubborn way the spirit takes you home, in human chests, where you belong.
You haven’t seen it all. There’s beauty still in store that will collapse your lungs, there’s laughter trapped inside your bones, as if they’d never known the taste of breaking, there is new life you will create unlike the one that trapped you, there’s trust as if you’d never lost a damn person or thing, and you will bless the fires that brought you to this love.
Know that the lack of music can also be a song, the emptiness prepares you for the rising, the darkness can’t be spared but it can be danced in, and all these disappointments are but sidetones of a truer love affair with life.
Don’t go like this. Too bright. Too short. Too soon. Your loss diminishes me. Your life is an unfinished chapter in my story. You ache is burning through my lines. You may feel ready to let go, but we are not.
Wherever you are. Whoever you are. However we got here.
I love you. I know you. I am you.
After publishing & sharing this article, I was pointed to this this wonderful short film by Bradley Bell based on a poem by Charles Bukowski that pretty much sums up the sentiment behind these lines.
Before you go, click play:
your life is your life
don’t let it be clubbed into dank submission.
be on the watch.
there are ways out.
there is a light somewhere.
it may not be much light but
it beats the darkness.
be on the watch.
the gods will offer you chances.
you can’t beat death but
you can beat death in life, sometimes.
and the more often you learn to do it,
the more light there will be.
your life is your life.
know it while you have it.
you are marvelous
the gods wait to delight
P.S. Know anyone whose soul might need a lift TODAY?
Please interrupt their darkness with this song.
***In sweet memory of Michelle Knowles***