Sara Teasdale, Suicide, Stay Here With Me, and Spread the Love

Today, I read a poem by Sara Teasdale*, who was born in 1884 and took her own life in 1933.

anna-mutwil-square-photo

Since There is No Escape

Since there is no escape, since at the end
My body will be utterly destroyed,
This hand I love as I have loved a friend,
This body I tended, wept with and enjoyed;
Since there is no escape even for me
Who love life with a love too sharp to bear:
The scent of orchards in the rain, the sea
And hours alone too still and sure for prayer—
Since darkness waits for me, then all the more
Let me go down as waves sweep to the shore
In pride, and let me sing with my last breath;
In these few hours of light I lift my head;
Life is my lover—I shall leave the dead
If there is any way to baffle death.

I am weary of people taking their own lives. Who am I to be tired of this? It is the ultimate, singular choice one can make, and saying I’m tired of it isn’t quite it. It may sound weird or crass or flippant, and I mean none of these. Only that the poem felt true and haunting and when I looked her up, to see when she lived, I also read how she died and felt a thud of disappointment. Damnit. That’s the word that came to my lips with a shudder and a sigh; too many die this way, alone in the end as no doubt each of us will be, but the strange combination of power and self-determination and despair and disregard and hopelessness that I believe must accompany any suicide makes me unbearably sad.

I don’t know anyone who hasn’t been touched by suicide in some way, whether by first-degree or six. As a topic, it feels untouchable, and surely not what I set out to write about today. Maybe it’s one of those things We Don’t Talk About, because it’s depressing, or scary, or too personal, too remote or too close to home, too many things. But it is real, and stark, and the living go on living, and not one of us can ever inhabit the body or mind of another in that place, that moment.

There is a wonderful resource, Stay Here With Me. Here’s how the two founders, spoken word poet Andrea Gibson and activist Kelsey Gibb, describe its mission on Facebook:

Stay Here with Me seeks to present an interactive, safe space offering collective support while encouraging individual healing to keep those who visit alive today, and wanting to stay alive until tomorrow.

Working to prevent suicide by decreasing the isolation, shame, and suicidality related to the trauma and mental illness experienced by so many, while providing education and skills training about positive alternatives to actions of self-harm and suicide.

For some reason today, this feels important to name. To do my teeny-tiny part in sharing support and help for those in crisis.

I myself am not in crisis, which comes as a great relief in its truth. It’s more like I’m circling back around to calm and capable from a place that is achy, porous, and tender, way more touchy than touchy-feely. I’m loving life “with a love too sharp to bear,” and also feeling over-saturated and wrought, unable to ring another drop of doing out of my tired body and psyche.

In thinking of teachers and friends who decided to leave without goodbyes, I have that sudden urge to tell every last person I love that I love them, not to miss a moment of it, and at the same time, to draw in, to sit quietly in the backyard among the songbirds and the budding trees, just breathing through a wave of remorse for the times I was impatient or felt horrid towards my kids or less than kind in general.

I understand what it is, to want to escape. And I find that in no longer digging for buried truths, I’m able to see life for what it is around me, which is many things, though none of them hidden. The Dog Days Are Over–that song came on from my phone out of the blue the other day, when I was in the elevator at work, the one that moves so slowly from the ground floor to the third floor. My phone was in my coat pocket, and I couldn’t figure out how the music turned itself on. And of course I thought, this is a sign of something though I didn’t know what, except this: The dog days ARE over.

There is one day after another of feeling great fortune to have even woken up, with nothing really to fix or unearth or admit. Sometimes it feels like too much to bear, but it isn’t. It’s ever-changing and even the over-saturation shifts and fades then brightens again, which never fails to strike me as miraculous.

Light, shadow play, spring, doing my best, for days or weeks at a loss for words, and also filled with every poem I’ve ever written, every wrong turn that led to the exact right corner, every stranger at an intersection whose face I recognized from another lifetime, from a dream, from a subway ride in another city when I was so much younger, and every day more and more stiff, short grey hairs showing up on my head surprising me. Sometimes I’m just surprised, to see myself in the mirror in the mornings. Older. Not always familiar. Yet here. Alive, from the inside out.

Hopeless moments come. And hopefully they leave. The need to flee rises up and can also come to rest–though rest may be a privilege amidst life’s many demands.

And love–love that is really love–comes and stays. It holds your hand, and calls you back, and gives you space, and curls up close. It reminds you who you are, and tells you what you need when you yourself can’t say.

I wish this kind of love for every single child, man, and woman on the planet. It’s a tall order, and if it’s not on the menu then this is my letter of request. My plea.

* Sara Teasdale (1884 – 1933) was a Missouri-born poet afflicted with poor health from birth. She loved one man but married another, divorced, lost her best friend to suicide, and eventually committed suicide herself. She won the first Pulitzer Prize for poetry in 1918.

Image by Anna Mutwil

4 thoughts on “Sara Teasdale, Suicide, Stay Here With Me, and Spread the Love

  1. writer553 says:

    I shared this on FB and twitter, Jena, So important. Because not talking about suicide only gives it more power. And causes people in despair to retreat more, fearful, ashamed, isolated. You are so right, Let’s talk about it. Suicide is not a bad word: it’s a sad word.

    Like

    • Jena Strong says:

      Tricia, it’s so true. Suicide, depression, mental illness–the stigma attached to these is still so prevalent and paralyzing. Thank you for your comment, and for spreading the love.

      Like

  2. dhenryb says:

    I have been much touched by suicide as I was growing up—-a dearest uncle, my favorite and close high school teacher—-and sudden death of two cousins and father at 6 1/2 years of age—–well, I believe there are so many people who you can reach out to and places to find meaning and get help. I have. Sara Teasdale’s writing reminded me of Virginia Woolf’s suicide—especially as it was portrayed in the wonderful film “The Hours” by Nichole Kidman…..Well, thanks for writing on this subject. We need to keep talking and making community so it’s there for all who need it to find it……..

    Like

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