A Modern Suicide

In his famous essay “The Myth of Sisyphus,” Albert Camus called suicide the “one truly serious philosophical problem.” The French existentialist wondered whether the only escape from life’s absurdity was self-annihilation on the one hand, or delusions of hope on the other. That he thought so ill of hope says a lot about Camus.

But Camus is not my subject here. The nexus of absurdity and suicide is. For a long time now I’ve been thinking about an incident that happened several years ago at a nearby university. A young man, a college sophomore, flung himself from the sixth-story window of his dormitory building. Before jumping, he changed his Facebook status to his name, his birthdate and the day’s date, then typed “R.I.P.”

I first learned about the tragedy on Twitter. A local reporter had tweeted something like, “Getting reports that someone has jumped from the dorms.” He told followers he’d contact campus police and post more information as it became available. I checked back a couple times but didn’t find any updates.

Searching the web myself, I soon learned the victim’s name and stumbled on a memorial page for him on Facebook. I remember marveling at that. The kid had only been dead a few hours, hardly enough time for the body to grow cold. I remember the very words forming in my mind. Not enough time for the body to cool.

I scanned the condolence messages of which there were many. The first one read: OMG! R.I.P. It seemed so wrong, this Valley girl’s death wail. And yet spelled out, it made perfect sense. Oh my God! Requiescat in pace.

May he rest in peace.

Then something else occurred to me. The reporter had the same surname as the victim. A little more googling and I came to the awful realization that he was in fact the victim’s father. When he was tweeting the news, he’d had no idea that it was his own son who had jumped.

“At any street corner the feeling of absurdity can strike any man in the face,” Camus wrote.

God knows I was struck by it as I sat at my computer that day, staring at the poor man’s tweet, realizing that by now the full weight of the catastrophe would have fallen upon him, driven him to his knees. I also felt certain that the story meant nothing, that its absurdity was impenetrable, that there was really nothing to say.

A young man was gone. OMG.