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September 09, 2012, Sunday

A true philosophical problem: suicide

“Should I kill myself, or have a cup of coffee?” Albert Camus

Have you ever attempted suicide? Have you ever found yourself wrestling with thoughts of terminating your life? Have you felt yourself losing your courage to live? These are very disturbing questions. Yet, nowadays, committing suicide is a growing problem, and it’s worth talking about it openly to raise awareness.

I was on the George Washington Bridge (GWB), which connects two states, New York and New Jersey, on foot last Monday. It was fantastic to walk on the most traveled bridge in the world. To me, as someone who is from Istanbul and has passed over the Bosporus and Fatih Sultan Mehmet bridges -- two unique bridges connecting two continents, Europe and Asia -- several times by vehicle, it’s not special to cross from one state to another by bridge. Yet the idea of walking makes an exciting difference.

Since it was Labor Day, a large free-flying American flag was right there greeting us. The weather was just perfect for a revitalizing walk. The breeze from the Hudson River was rapturous and charming. The kids were riding their bikes while we were walking.

When we had arrived right in the middle of the 4,760-foot-long “Great Gray Bridge,” I put one foot on the New York side and one foot in New Jersey. I opened my two arms, as if ready to give a big hug. Next, I turned to the river and felt the soft touch of the breeze on my cheeks like a gentle caress. I was feeling infinitely and extremely free. That feeling made me suddenly comfortable. I thought some people may want to literally fly in this ecstatic mood, and it would not be too difficult since the railings are low enough to jump over. By that time, we had passed a sign saying, “In crisis call a help hotline.” It was put there to prevent a possible suicide. We continued walking. My husband stopped to take a few more photos, but I preferred exploring. Our friends went ahead of us to catch the kids on their bikes.

All of a sudden I saw a young man less than two meters ahead of me, on the other side of the railing. I couldn’t believe my eyes and needed an assurance of what I was seeing. I shouted, “What is he doing?” twice. Nobody heard me, except that young man. He looked me in the eye. I couldn’t read anything in his face. Was he sad? Was he frightened? Did he know what he was doing? He turned his face to the river, stretched back twice as if he were getting ready for a challenging jump, then leapt into the air. Everything happened in the blink of an eye. I ran to the fence as though I could catch him, but instead watched him glide in the air, then saw him crash into the river’s blurry water. He died. His motionless body started floating right after it met the water. I was in shock. I felt worn out and devastated by not having been able to save him.

We called 911 right away. Police came to take a report within a few minutes, and a police boat in the water took his body in less than half an hour. Everything went too fast for me to consciously acknowledge what had happened, even though I had a part in the play. Thank God, our kids didn’t see anything, but unfortunately we had to introduce them to a new word, “suicide,” as we were on our way back.

After that overwhelming experience, I conducted research into suicide in the US. One notable discovery was that almost every month a person jumps from the GWB. Something has to be done about those low railings right away, to prevent further possible suicides.

Also, alarmingly, there is a tremendous rise in suicide among college students and members of the US military. A study conducted by the University of Virginia discovered that suicide is the leading cause of death among college students. Moreover, according to the Pentagon, almost every day there is one suicide of an active-duty troop.

Suicide is a form of murder. It seems like an impulsive act, but mostly it’s not. Thus it is preventable. Sadly, some people may feel unworthy to live, or just lose their will to survive. The majority of people who consider suicide have untreated psychological problems, such as depression or bipolar disorder. Substance abuse is another reason. When people feel hopeless they start using alcohol or drugs to deal with that unbearable feeling, but those destructive habits pull them down even further.

Well, life is not fun all the time. We have good times and bad times. Yet, even though we think living is suffering, as human beings our mission is to find out the meaning of this suffering.

If I had had a chance that day, I would have offered that young man a cup of coffee, in honor of Albert Camus, or some freshly brewed Turkish tea for a change. Then I’d say, “If you think you don’t deserve to live, you should ask yourself if you deserve eternal torment.” I’d say we should realize that God won’t leave us alone if we don’t abandon him. When we feel helpless and desperate we should remind ourselves, “So, verily, with every difficulty, there is relief.”

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