Saturday, September 21, 2013

To Live is an Act of Courage By Jennifer Michael Hecht

(google images; internet cache)

We need a boot camp of the heart and of the psyche.

In "Les Miserables", Victor Hugo writes a few striking sentences about profound inner pain and our duty to bear and live through it:

"You want to die, I want that too, I who am speaking to you, but I don't want to feel the ghosts of women wringing their hands around me. Die, so be it, but don't make others die. ...Suicide is soon as it touches those next to you, the name of suicide is murder."

While people are at their lowest points they are often isolated by shame about their troubles. We need at least to know that inner pain is common and always has been.

Beginning (with excerpts and link)

Strong, fierce, smart, and talented, Ajax is one of the greatest warrior heroes in classical mythology. He wins every campaign and every battle he enters, earning the name Ajax Unconquered. Yet as Ovid tells it in the Metamorphoses, “Unconquered, he was conquered by his sorrow”: he dies when he chooses to fall on his own sword.

His suicide happens after the greatest warrior of them all, Achilles, is killed, and Ajax and Odysseus defy all common sense in retrieving his body from their enemies, the Trojans. Both show extraordinary valor. Ajax does most of the fighting while Odysseus grabs the body and rides away to safety. Afterward, a council decides that both deserve to inherit the magical armor Achilles had worn. Forged on Mount Olympus, the home of the gods, this armor is both extremely protective and a symbol that its wearer is the greatest warrior alive. To settle the question of who deserves it, the two heroes battle each other, but the result is a tie. At last, they make their claims in words, and because Odysseus speaks with more eloquence, the council awards him the armor. Ovid tells us that Ajax’s disappointment was what caused him to kill himself. In a play about him, Sophocles writes that Ajax is so miserable that he falls into a stupor in which he imagines a flock of sheep to be warriors, and he slays them all. When he awakes and sees what he has done, he is so ashamed that he cannot bear it, and he dies by his own hand.

The terrible irony is that all of this is about armor, yet Ajax succumbs to the foe from which no piece of armor could have protected him: his own envy, rage, shame, and regret.

Throughout history, artists and writers have depicted “the sorrowful Ajax” because the story is so heartbreaking and so very human. At times, we are all—every one of us—our own worst enemy.


Today’s military faces a tremendous crisis. We are losing more soldiers to suicide than to combat. Some of this is attributable to PTSD (post-traumatic stress disorder) but a recent Pentagon study covering the years 2008 through 2011 showed that some 52 percent of those who committed suicide had never been deployed to a combat zone. Last year, military personnel killed themselves at a rate of about one a day. Veterans are killing themselves at a rate of almost one every hour, about 22 a day. Recently the rise in military suicide was so extreme that it made the front page of The New York Times and the cover of Time magazine. The rate is higher this year than it was at this point last year.

The suicide rate is also escalating in the U.S. population at large: 10 years ago it shocked observers by reaching 30,000 a year. Now it is almost 40,000. Around the world and in the United States there are more suicides than murders. For those under 40 years of age, it is one of the top three killers. For older people it is one of the top 10, though their rate of suicide is the highest (other diseases begin to compete for numbers). Women attempt suicide more, but men succeed more often—probably because they have greater access to guns, which is one of the surest methods.

In the civilian population matching the demographics of the military (considering age, sex, and race), between 2002 and 2009 (the latest year for which we have reliable numbers) the suicide rate increased by 15 percent. According to Pentagon numbers, the military suicide rate in the same period increased by 80 percent. Even this disparity may understate the problem, since the Pentagon counts as active duty people who were active for only a few days in a given year, making the rate far lower than it would be if officials counted people who were active for at least six months, for instance.

The problem is not only very real, but in some ways it is also new. Ever since we started keeping track in the late 19th century, the military has shown higher suicide rates than the rest of society as a whole, but when you compare the same part of the population—considering age and sex, for instance—the military has usually had far fewer suicides than civilians. Commentators have sometimes attributed that to the screening process required to get into the military, but it persists across periods when the military is willing to accept a much broader swath of citizens. A better explanation may be that camaraderie and a sense of purpose insulate soldiers from some of the anguish of life. Across the military and the wider population, suicide usually declines during wartime. People feel united and purposeful when under a terrible outside threat.

Why haven’t our recent wars provided that protection? Some groups analyzing military suicide, such as the National Center for Veterans Studies, have suggested that military life is more isolating than it used to be: more soldiers live off base than in the past, and those on base may have their own rooms and their own televisions, instead of residing in traditional group barracks and communal rooms. It is also worth considering that the kinds of wartime consequences so common today—brain trauma and PTSD—are especially threatening to people who are already prone to depression or volatile mood swings.

But clinically depressed people are not the only ones who kill themselves. Many soldier suicides come in response to a bad situation: a broken marriage, a financial crisis, legal trouble, or some other reversal. A recent Pentagon study showed that about half of military suicides had experienced a failed marriage, frequently just months before the victims killed themselves. Another report showed that most suicides occurred in people under the age of 25. Family and friends who have lost someone to suicide often report that the person had legal or financial troubles, or both; that they were struggling with drugs or alcohol; that they came back from the war deeply changed; or that they were frustrated at not being deployed.


By and large, people kill themselves today for the same reasons Ajax does: because life can be disappointing, unfair, and painful, and we often respond by doing things that make us feel ashamed in the morning. The extent of the misery Ajax experiences is in large part because, as a great hero, he expects so much of himself. These days we expect a lot. We live in a culture that makes us all want to be special, and the math on that will never add up. We all feel terribly let down sometimes.

If someone is besieged by suicidal thoughts, it is important that he get help from a mental health professional. Talk therapy can work, bringing real insight. Antidepressants can take the edge off the pain as a person figures out her life. But we can also draw on the inner resolve of the individual, and on the history of ideas.

To save our future selves from suicide, we have to do some work now. Boot camp and additional training get a soldier ready for war. In situations where most people would freeze and give up or run away, soldiers are trained to fight the fight and try to get out alive. People do not often speak of it, but the inner life of soldiers and civilians alike can be so brutal that it too requires training in advance of a crisis. We need a boot camp of the heart and of the psyche.


Other Excerpts:

Characters in literature often tell each other not just that suicide is wrong but also that we must set our minds to struggling against it. The narrator of Herman Hesse's novel "Steppenwolf" says that some people must struggle against suicide the way a kleptomaniac must struggle against theft.

From G. K. Chesterton, the English author of the novel "The Man Who Was Thursday", wrote in "Orthodoxy", a book of Christian apologetics, that he categorically rejected suicide on moral grounds:

"In all this I found myself utterly hostile to many who called themselves liberal and humane. Not only is suicide a sin. It is the ultimate and absolute evil, the refusal to take an interest in existence; the refusal to take the oath of loyalty to life."

(On the Snowball Effect)...Suicide is so prevalent that most people know someone who has done it, and this normalizes the act as a valid way of dealing with pain. One death causes more deaths, and eventually we have a culture of death.

Staying alive is INARGUABLY a kind of heroism. To train for this future heroic act, choose now that you will not let a moment's misery murder you. Spend some time thinking about this oath of loyalty to life. If ever a thought of wanting to die flickers through your mind, do not suppress it in horror, but rather let yourself look right at it and know that it is not an option. Then if suicide is ever dangerously on your mind, you will be used to rejecting the idea. Remember that you owe it to the community to be strong, to wait it out. You also owe it to your future self.

OR Just:

Funny Strange

By Jennifer Michael Hecht

We are tender and our lives are sweet

And they are already over and we are
visiting them in some kind of endless
reprieve from oblivion, we are walking
around in them and after we shatter
with love for everything we settle in.

Thou tiger on television chowing,
thou very fact of dreams, thou majestical
roof fretted with golden fire. Thou wisdom
of the inner parts. Thou tintinnabulation.

Is it not sweet to hand over the ocean's
harvest in a single wave of fish? To bounce
a vineyard of grapes from one's apron
and into the mouth of the crowd? To scoop up
bread and offer up one's armful to the throng?

Let us live as if we were still among
the living, let our days be patterned after

Is it not marvelous to be forgetful?

(This poem originally appeared in the October 2003 issue of Poetry magazine. And read an older BIO at . You may want to go to the post
just below to see what historical (yet up-to-the-moment) challenge Jennifer Michael Hecht is writing today...)

Wednesday, September 18, 2013

Re-Post (My Poem to my Lover)

See the original here:


Since soon I will be returning (geographically) to the father of my precious children, my constant and encouraging supporter -- I wanted to post this poem (I wrote for my lifetime husband and lover) just one more time. Perhaps he will realize how deeply I love him by this little gesture and just maybe others will recognize their own relationship or goal in some of these lines.

My Dale is much deserving of a new poem as soon as I can get the right space and time because during these last seven months my long absence with my Mom.

Outside of the short romantic and intimate time he gave to us for our vacation (encouraged by our four amazing and supportive adult children) Dale -- and our 'long-distance' relationship -- have continued to reveal even more colors and depths.

See you soon, my dearest!

Your Connie

Compatibility of Opposites

By Connie L. Nash (for my precious and irreplaceable lover/husband, Dale) First "published" in April, 2013

Never have I experienced
the magical glory of contrasts
until this particular morning
deep inside new mountain spring
where wildwood forest gardens
await the few who venture in...

Everywhere you look you find
all manner of colors, textures, shapes
tirelessly unfolding, whirling, imploding
world within worlds.

I never noticed before
by what steady grace
the ageless y chromozone trees
stand so rooted, so content and giving...
how those guys appear without the need to prove themselves
to all the the soft and curvy hangers on -- nor do they
pose for the oogling male upstarts --
who are leaning from their newer places.

Tufts of silk grass circle and soften those thick old trunks.
Tri-colored ivy dance lines cup dew and last night's rain --
mirroring sunrise while they wind and hug those muscular limbs.

Tall and tiny truths line the rocky paths.
Find the starkest or quietest or most intricate of beauty
around every boulder or corner.

Just look, breathe, listen anywhere in such an intoxicating place
where undulating patterns keep repeating yet with endless variations.

Silvery birch and beach branches lift their princess like arms and sway
against a strong burst of wind. Instantly, invisible curtains open --
the sky embraces a full sunrise -- rare in these woods --
paint-brushings of deep ripe mango spread out against
purplish blue wisps and disappear -- the sun rises.

If you were here, like me, you might silent your soul
in awe of childhood memories...
little bells are quietly ringing from their mini-orchards.
Like me, you might begin to sing along...
"White coral belles upon a slender stalk,
lilies of the valley by the garden walk,"

Turning around to walk back,
you might feel yourself melting into the flat long clouds overhead --
this morning, they look like fancy wings like on cars from the fifties.
against a cumulous parade of fluffy angels and elephants...

The sun adds more dappling to the deep-down fresh exhibits...

Where is the tension between the opposites?
Where is the warring or competition?

I only sense a merging into the whole...
a submitting from, to, and in all things...
yet without any loss of who or what each particle wants or
needs to be.

Surrounding all is a fierce mercy and tender unmovable force...

Come with me and see the secret, wild gardens giving out their gems,
Every wonder-er, sick of "civility",
Come here...

(I wrote this spring 2012 and rewrote it with deep gratitude and affection just now for my husband of 41 springs -- who also loves forest places.)


CN said...
Please feel free to suggest changes since this is pretty much a first rewrite draft.
Friday, April 12, 2013 Akhtar Wasim Dar said...
Lovely, a wonderful gift for your husband, and a priceless gift for the readers, and I feel we have been deprived of this beautiful talent that you have, because you find other issues more pressing and demanding and the poet, the artist in you wait just for special occasions for manifesting!

This is a beautiful piece, very imaginative, very picturesque, highly sensuous and emotionally very touching, the sort of material that I love :) 

Saturday, April 13, 2013 robert said...

This is so very lovely. Very beautiful. I love it.

I love the line: "so rooted, so content and giving..."

All good wishes,

I cannot adequately express how important and relevant and wonderful it is to me that you know that surrounding all is a fierce mercy and tender unmovable force. Thank you for this and for the merging of opposites and the submitting from, to and in all things. You are a poet and I am a very fortunate and grateful man/husband. Dale

Saturday, April 13, 2013 CN said...
How gifted I am to receive from such dear friends encouragement as this. You have so enriched my own understanding of life and the unconditional love of the Divine with your own selves. I also appreciate -- more than I know how to let you know -- your own exquisite expressions of truth, beauty and guidance.

And how blessed beyond expressions to recognize with each new day and week and year what a truly loyal, flexible and accepting husband you continue to be to me, dear Dale.

My overwhelming gratitude as well to you for being the best of fathers with our sons and daughter. (Add to that your faithfulness with our dear sister, Deb, our precious Mom Ruby and your care for so many, many others.)

The dimensions of love are beyond the capacity of my imagination and they keep getting deeper, wider and higher. Sometimes it feels good to say so "outloud".

Sunday, April 14, 2013 Unknown said...
What a treat to read this Mom, it made me feel like I was there, on a long hike with you! I am happy to the point of silliness to have such a wonderful family and two incredible parents who love each other more every day. so proud of you and all of the "compatible opposites" of creativity, depth, giggling, insight, gravity and levity..that you have within you and that you give to everyone you meet. love you soooo much!

Sunday, April 14, 2013 Unknown said...
and I agree with Akhtar! we are so often deprived of your beautiful, beautiful poetry, yet, in a sense, what could be more pressing and healing than this?

Sunday, April 14, 2013 CN said...
Dear Daughter,

What a joy to come today to see your beautiful comments. You are such a lively healthy addition to our family -- such a peacemaker and life-bringer wherever you are.

And a real asset to the world at large. Many smiles...

You and Akhtar sahib -- along with others -- are both helping me to re-assess how I spend my moments.

Monday, April 29, 2013 Shaidi said...
Greetings dear Connie,

This is absolutely lovely!! Bless you both and thank you for sharing this with us all.

Much love,

Wednesday, May 08, 2013 CN said...
Dear Shaidi,

You and other friends and loved ones here sure are encouraging my poetic side.

So great to see you came by.

All my best for your own work as well.

Let me know whenever you do a new post. (Or any others you want me to see.)

Friday, September 6, 2013

ALL Praises to the "Incorruptible and Righteous Judge of the World..."

Posting this brief item as a blessing to our Jewish readers upon the completion of the Jewish New Year High Holy Days,


I especially like this description of one aspect of The Holy One contained in the Mussaf Prayer of Rosh HaShanah (with wisdom and reminder for ALL of Creation)

Malchiyot - Kingliness:

G-d is the incomparable King of The Universe. The destiny of humanity is to come to this realization. Whereas human kings rule in accordance with the principle of :"might makes right," G-d is the Holy King, Who is, at the same time, beyond comparison in His power, "Vas er vil, Tut er" - "Whatever He wills, He can do," yet He is also the Father of the orphan and the Judge of the widow, Who is always on the side of the powerless.

He is the Incorruptible and Righteous Judge of the World, Who favors no one, and cannot be bribed.

He is the true G-d and His word, the Torah, is true and eternal.