"People seemed to run out of their own being," says Philip Roth's Nathan Zuckerman in American Pastoral, as he considers a privileged and seemingly fulfilled woman who lurches into self-destruction.
Maybe we can't do much better than this -- some people use up their being-rations -- to account for the wave of university student suicides over the last couple of years at, among other schools, Caltech, NYU, Cornell, and now, with Cameron Dabaghi's death, Yale.
Last night, students and faculty gathered on a Yale quad. They held plastic cups with candles inside of them, and they talked about Dabaghi.
One of his friends read this Emily Dickinson poem, which suggests that after death we understand someone more clearly --
By a departing light
We see acuter, quite,
Than by a wick that stays.
There's something in the flight
That clarifies the sight
And decks the rays.
But another friend called Dabaghi's dramatic leap from the Empire State Building "a complete shock... a mystery," which is more commonly how it feels when someone like Dabaghi - young, smart, intense, athletic, funny - literally hurls himself, in a last bizarre burst of athleticism, out of existence. Unlike the quiet bedroom suicides of the old and sick, the suicides of the young and physically healthy can be shockingly public and absolutely unanticipated.
Then too, there's the determination Dabaghi brought to his jump. His insistence on stopping the world feels like an insult, a slap against existence. Poised on being's pinnacle, he penned an apology and raced off of it. If what he was, what he had, wasn't enough, or wasn't the right stuff, what is? Or did he, as Philip Roth suggests, simply harbor less being than most people? What does that even mean?
College-age people who aren't in college kill themselves much more frequently than those enrolled in school. Suicide rates in general in the United States have been flat for a decade. And suicides at high-profile universities - especially public suicides in iconic settings - get far more press attention than other sorts of suicides. Few people are aware, for instance, that last October two students from St. Cloud State University killed themselves.
Yet having said all that, there's a potency to these particular acts. They are baffling, frightening, and supremely demoralizing. They leave us all - they particularly leave university students - scrambling to reconstitute the reasons why it's obvious that life is a good thing.
Camus says that's where philosophy starts, with this question that cuts to the bone. The question of suicide.
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