Updated: Nov 20, 2021
A month before my mother died in 2017, I got my first tattoo: a semicolon. Ever since, people in random places have come up to me with tears in their eyes, saying thank you for getting that.
Amy Bleuel started Project Semicolon in 2013 to honor her father, who died by suicide:
“A semicolon is used when an author could’ve chosen to end their sentence, but chose not to. The author is you, and the sentence is your life.”
Amy continued her life for four more years, and died by suicide herself in 2017.
It's no guarantee, of course, that the darkness and panic won't overcome you again at some point. And the semicolon reprieve is finite, since we all die in the end. In the meantime, though, this odd collective of people who've chosen life after taking steps to end it will continue to wander the Earth.
When I first saw the symbol, I understood that my decision at nineteen was indeed a semicolon, that I was choosing to proceed rather than to force a closure on my life.
The decision to keep going into the Unknown draws a line between a past holding too much of what is bad, with a future that may contain more of what is good. We don't know. Odds are we'll get some of both, but the decision means we will accept the equation, whatever it may be. In my case, a whole lotta life, a daughter, further navigation criss-crossing the globe and, via imagination, the universe.
I remember during one of my psych ward sojourns, our morning group included a very quiet woman who overdosed and a porn star who walked into the Pacific with rocks in her pockets. That their suicide attempts were unsuccessful meant they were present as my roommates, as we sorted through the debris of our lives. What impressed me at the time was that they had a much stronger life-wish than death-wish; they did not want to die as much as they wanted to live, if life were only other than what it had been...this realization has never left me. Those who wish to die will do so, and I honor their choice and their courage, may they rest in peace.
Recently I heard a podcast about health care professionals whose colleagues had committed or attempted suicide during the pandemic. Those who survived ended up right back in the very system that had driven them to distraction, a system insisting on super-human capacities to remain unaffected by the stress inherent in servicing others. Huh. Re-traumatized by the same mess, the same insanity that got to you in the first place. Refugees know that one. Torture victims know that one. Assault survivors know that one, I know that one. Hell, my abandoned cat knows that one.
All of us wish for more of the good than the bad, in whatever borrowed time we have left. My own borrowed time extends to the present day, and may include my reading your book, or hearing your voice, or seeing your work...maybe even just meeting you in a city somewhere, along some shoreline, or maybe just online...
For that I am grateful.
30 October 2021
NOTE: Twenty countries still criminalize suicide attempts. After returning home from the hospital, the survivor is then arrested and taken to prison.