The annual rate of suicide in Ireland has gone up 15% since the economic collapse of 2010. The stringent conditions the EU has demanded in return for a huge bail out have affected the lives of people who had huge debts to the banks. They could not cope and so the ended their own lives.

I suppose most of us have had first hand experience of suicide either in our own families or among our colleagues or among the people with who we live. I have. One of the saddest was to find a boy, near where I live, aged 12 or 13 hanging from a tree because of some upset in the family.

The urge to end it all comes to both young and old and when it happens it is devastating for relatives and friends. Long ago the church used to be harsh and refuse such people the ordinary rites associated with passing from this life to the next. We are more understanding today.

I have this image often before me of an episode in the life of Antoine de St Exupery, a pioneer pilot in the 1930s. His job was to fly the post from Rio de Janeiro to Patagonia. In those days planes were elemental and flimsy and the winds from the Andes kept blowing him out to sea like a leaf in a gust.

He was a wonderful writer and describes the struggle to get back over the land where there would be some hope of survival if he came down (as pilots often had to in those early days). At one point he says, ‘man measures himself against the obstacle.’ It is a telling saying which we all know is true. We prove ourselves in exams and all the other defining moments of our journey.

But what if we fail an exam or any other test along the way? Does it really matter? Of course it does in the immediate future. Watch Nadal as he lost to Jokovic last Sunday. But we have to put ‘failure’ in its context. In God’s care for us I sometimes wonder if there is such a thing as failure. In his view we never really fail.

We just don’t get it right this time – either because of our academic or technical or moral inability. And the Christian would say maybe it is a good thing that I ‘failed’. There could be some hidden blessing there. St Paul seems to have thought like this.

The biggest ‘exam’ we face is, of course, life itself. Someone who decides to end it before time may have ‘failed’ to cope with pressures – work, financial pressure, psychological forces, medical condition, any number of them – which others have only a remote clue about. He or she played and they lost. ‘It looks like a disaster to us’ (Wisdom 3:2) but how do we know?

So when we hear that someone has decided to end it all far from any kind of judgement we can only look to them with enormous compassion, a word which literally means to ‘suffer with.’ What they have done, or perhaps better, what they have found themselves under enormous pressure to do, is only something that is part of our human story; one that is full of tragedy and hope.

Post published in: Opinions & Analysis

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