There are any number of clear cases in which someone shouldn’t kill herself—and on the other hand many cases in which the barrier is more porous, such as with “end-of-life management.” Hecht makes it clear that she isn’t writing about the quadriplegic centenarians who live with constant pain. Quoting Rousseau, Hecht asks, “Have you not learned that you could not take a step on earth without finding some duty to fulfill, and that every man is useful to humanity, by the very fact that he exists?” What about the people who’ll never move again, or the people not only useless to society in general but a serious drain on its resources? Hecht tells us again and again that “it is the nature of existence that … happiness will return,” that “even depression is not permanent,” that “there is always hope for a better life in the future,” but what if there actually isn’t? These cases may be the exception, but isn’t it the nature of the suicidal mindset to think of her pain as exceptional, to think that her suffering outweighs the harm she’d do to others by killing herself? What could we say to her? How could we save her? Hecht’s muddled logic has not taught us philosophy, and, worse, it gives her readers the false impression that the problems are easy. They are anything but.
There was this big, thick tree in the middle of a curve on the road, just a couple miles from where I lived as a kid. I remember my mom telling me about an incident where some guy, after getting dumped by his girlfriend, told her, “This is the last time you’ll see me alive,” whereupon he drove down the road and accelerated into that tree. My mom grimaced and shook her head as she bemoaned why anyone would do something so stupid. Can’t they see that no relationship is worth that? Having, on many occasions both harrowing and trivial, coldly contemplated under which circumstances I would consider ending my own life, I didn’t feel fit to judge. True, we do severely underestimate our ability to adapt to changes we would never willingly choose to endure. That guy would almost certainly have gotten over her and probably even found a new girlfriend soon enough. But maybe it wasn’t about his present or future happiness. Maybe he just wanted to hurt her worse than she’d hurt him — ♫ I want this blow to scar your eyes, I want this pain to go away♫ Maybe it was a frenzied, desperate attempt to regain control over his destabilized life by, paradoxically, ending it. Or maybe no amount of rational thought would have overcome the influence of his particular upbringing combined with the chemical surge of stress and fear coursing through his brain at that moment. As with anything, there’s no counting the variables that went into producing that scenario, and no god’s-eye perspective from which we could manipulate them. As much as I generally appreciate Hecht’s output, I suspect a book of secular exhortations against suicide is, like my mother’s rational certainty, just another way we attempt to cast a charm over fate, an amulet made of words, a hopeful talisman against the omnipresent darkness.