The natural progress of things is for liberty to yield and government to gain ground. —THOMAS JEFFERSON, 1788

Something about the meaning of life (and death)

La via del tren subterraneo es peligrosa.

La via del tren subterraneo es peligrosa.

Forgive this departure from the usual daily grind. I am taking liberties here partly based on the excellent example set by Renee Nal yesterday. If you haven’t read her post focusing on a thoughtful birthday gift that two Romanian teens created for their mother, it’s here and I urge you to read it. Besides, if you’re looking for hard, up-to-the-minute news, I refer you to LU’s “Around the Web” section, which has a freshly minted capsule report on a rise in public masturbation in Vancouver.

Back to my musing. Yesterday, around 1:30 p.m., I resolved to take action regarding a cough that had been dogging me for about a week. I phoned my doctor’s office, the receptionist shoehorned me in for an appointment, and I immediately headed uptown on the subway. As I was standing on the platform waiting for the train, I heard an announcement over the public address system that downtown service was delayed because of an accident.

I didn’t give the message much thought since I was traveling in the opposite direction.

I arrived at the doctor’s where I waited about a half hour before I was escorted into his inner sanctum. There he diagnosed my condition as mild bronchitis, prescribed an antibiotic, and sent me on my way.

When I reached the platform of the downtown train, it was a mob scene. A train packed with passengers sat motionless in the station, its doors open. The accident that had been barely penetrated my consciousness earlier now had my full attention. The PA announcer explained that service was delayed indefinitely. Because my mind works in the unusual way that it does, the first thing that occurred to me was that someone had jumped.

My hunch was confirmed when I got back to my desk and read that a Cornell University professor named Donald Tobias had flung himself in front of a local as it pulled into the station. His head was severed.

He was not the only New Yorker to choose this horrible mode of self-destruction yesterday. A young man in the Bronx also suicided by jumping onto the tracks as a speeding train entered the station. He, too, was decapitated and, according to eyewitnesses, the severed head tumbled off the elevated track to the street below.

What is striking about the way these men chose to go out is that it has made each into a footnote. Consider the aftermath of their demise, not to those who knew them but to the strangers in the vicinity. The Post notes that in the Bronx incident, a father needed to shield his daughter eyes from the bloodied head rolling along the street.

To others in subway stations away from the accident scenes, the men’s deaths were little more than an inconvenience, a disruption in afternoon travel plans. Whatever good either may have achieved during his lifetime is trivialized by the sensationalism of his exit.

So much for my deep thoughts. Thanks for listening. I think I’ll go reread “Bartleby, the Scrivener.”

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Howard Portnoy has written for HotAir, NewsBusters, Weasel Zippers, Conservative Firing Line, RedCounty, and New York’s Daily News. He has one published novel, Hot Rain, (G. P. Putnam’s Sons), and has been a guest on Radio Vice Online with Jim Vicevich, The Alana Burke Show, and The George Espenlaub Show.

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  • teejk

    A very selfish way to “end it all” isn’t it? Blood/guts and in the public eye for all to witness. I feel for the families in those situations (contrary to what you may have read, I do have some feelings).

    • Howard Portnoy

      Wait, you have feelings? You’re making me feel guilty for all the times I sent you to the penalty box without dinner (and, to add insult to injury, the dinner on those nights was fried perch).

  • cozmo

    What a strange subject. Kind of a downer. Yet it was on my mind last night.

    A coworker of my wife drove to an elementary school to shoot himself in the head (it was way before school, but disrupted the day, made the news and everything). His life partner was fighting cancer, and on the dead guys insurance. He was canceled at the policy renewal and it wasn’t because of 0bamacare.

    I once had a tenant. Cute girl, very friendly. She put a hose in her car one new years eve. The tenant on the other side had a hot tub, and a bunch of us went over there to relax. My brother and I found her…too late. Her friends and family were devastated. New Years eve is my wedding anniversary. She did it on our fist anniversary. Our pain wasn’t as bad as her families, but it kind of puts a damper on that date.

    Heard a saying a long time ago that suicide was a permanent solution to a temporary problem. I would add that it is a final act of selfish cruelty for those who care the most.

    • Howard Portnoy

      Kind of a downer

      Sorry. Not my intention, I can assure you. Just thinking out loud.

      • teejk

        I am in charge of doing downers here! We will never eliminate suicide but there are more private ways to do it (e.g. I smoke). Getting on the evening news and in the NY Post adds an element of embarassment to the grief for those left behind.