“And when no hope was left in sight
              On that starry, starry night,
              You took your life as lovers often do.”

With these sobering words the musician Don McLean described the suicide of Vincent Van Gogh, the well-known Dutch artist of the late 1800’s. In June of 1889, energized by creative genius, Van Gogh completed his acclaimed painting, “Starry Night.” As he painted in the mental asylum where he lived at the time, Van Gogh could see in his mind the stars in the sky overhead and with masterful strokes brushed them onto the top part of the welcoming canvas where they would shine down upon the town below. Yet, tragically, the painter lost his vision of the stars and, in a moment of depressive despair the following year, used a gun to self-inflict a wound that two days later claimed his life.
Suicide—the Enemy . . .
                      who steals life from individuals and who robs families of loved ones.
Suicide—the Enemy . . .
                     who targets anyone, regardless of age or gender, race or status.
With careful cunning the Enemy lurks about and looks around, hoping to see hurting, hopeless humans who, like Vincent Van Gogh, have lost sight of their stars. Through devilish deception the Enemy somehow deludes them into believing that suicide is the answer to their pains and problems.
Without doubt you have met the Enemy. Somewhere, at some time the Enemy targeted your family, your friends, your co-workers, and, perhaps, even you. You’ve watched the war he wages, and you’ve witnessed the weapons he wields. You’ve experienced the personal loss when your loved one succumbed to the Enemy’s enticement. If you’ve been the target, you know personally the mental and emotional struggle as well as the sustained strength required to resist your Enemy.
The Enemy deceives us into believing that suicide is painless. He may even quote to us the lyrics from the musical theme from M*A*S*H, the well-known television show:
                                                                   “‘Cause suicide is painless,
                                                                          it brings on many changes and I can take or leave it if I please. . .
                                                                                 and you can do the same thing if you please.”
However, the concept presented in the song is actually a lie simply because suicide is never painless. The target person obviously has been wracked with emotional pain; otherwise he would not be in the Enemy’s crosshairs. Suicide is certainly not painless for concerned loved ones who try to help the person who is considering and threatening suicide. Nor is suicide painless for the people left behind. Survivors of suicide are forced to deal painfully with unanswered questions, unresolved issues, and unbelievable stress. Innocent children struggle for the remainder of their lives to try to comprehend why their parent chose to abandon them and cheat them out of a normal childhood. The truth is clearly evident:  there is nothing painless about suicide.
Therefore, since suicide is a pain-producing problem, how can we practice prevention? You could raise the question, “Why prevent it? Why not commit suicide when there are so many problems to face in life?” Admittedly, there are problems in life, more than we can count. In my judgment, however, the real issue with suicide is not problems—but perspective.
Essentially, we lose sight of our stars. A simple poem presents the basic choice of perspective.
                                          Two men looked out through prison bars;     
                                          The one saw mud, the other, stars.

                                                                     --Frederick Langbridge
                                                                                       (1849 - 1923)

As we look out through the prison bars of our heartaches and hardships, we have a choice about perspective. We can choose to see the mud, or we can choose to see the stars. The two perspectives lead to very different lifestyles—and to very different destinations.
Seeing the MUD. . .   

The word MUD (M.U.D) could stand for “MUtter Despair.” We choose to see only the mud in life, and we wallow in the muck and mire of daily distress and heavy hardship. Our focus on mud blinds our vision toward optimism and hope. As a result, our mud-centered perspective becomes an open invitation to the enemy, Suicide.

Seeing the STARS. . .
Alternatively, we can choose to see the stars. The word STARS (S.T.A.R.S.) could stand for Survival Through AvailableResource Solutions. There are resources that are available to us, offering solutions for our problems. Physically, these resources are people, folks who do care whether we live or die, folks who are willing to extend a helping hand.  Spiritually, the resource is God, the creator of the very stars we see in the heavens above.  Surely, the One who sustains the stars can heal our hearts. We can survive through the effective use of these physical and spiritual resources.

Suicide or Survival: the choice is ours to make.
           Vincent Van Gogh chose suicide; he could have chosen survival.
           People we knew and loved chose suicide; they could have chosen survival.
           We are tempted to choose suicide; instead, we could choose survival.
The real issue is perspective—what you choose to see. As you travel through life, what do you see? What have you trained or conditioned yourself to see? Is what you’ve seen all that is available for you to see? What could you see if you really tried to look? Thus far perhaps you’ve only seen the mud-side of life with no stars in sight, and you’ve gotten disappointed and discouraged. You look down the road of life and all you can see is hopelessness and despair. Perhaps the Enemy has already targeted you; he is lurking and looking for you just around the next curve in the road. What’s your perspective?
For years I’ve heard the computer-related saying, “What you see is what you get.” That statement may work in computer language, but it does not work in common life. In real life it’s insufficient and incorrect. The truth is, “What you get is what you’re capable of seeing.”
In other words, your inability to see the stars does not prove that they are not there. You know from numerous personal experiences that some item was indeed present and visible, even though for some reason you did not see it. Why did you hit that obstacle on the highway? “Oh, I didn’t see it.” Why did you knock that little girl down in the crowded mall? “Oh, I didn’t see her.” Why did you step on the cat? “Oh, I didn’t see him.” In every instance the object was there for you to see, yet you were blind to it. Were your eyes shut? Were you too distracted by something else and just weren’t paying attention? Did something else block your vision? Whatever the reason, you failed to see something important, and, as a result, you paid the price. The price tag is exceedingly high when we mess with M.U.D. and fail to see the S.T.A.R.S. Mud brings misery; stars bring survival.
Several years ago I was listening to a presentation given by a law enforcement professional who understood suicide. In his comments he referred to a story in the Bible which underscored the value of resources. According to Acts 16, Paul and Silas, two Christian ministers, were in prison because of their faith. A miraculous earthquake shook the prison, opening doors and releasing chains. The commotion caused the jailor to conclude that his prisoners were escaping. Knowing that he was responsible with his life for these prisoners, the jailor drew his sword to kill himself. Seeing what was about to happen, Paul said to the jailor, “Do yourself no harm, for we are all here.” The jailor put down his sword, and the story had a very happy ending. The speaker applied Paul’s reassurance to contemporary suicide attempts. An individual reaches a point of hopelessness and considers suicide. The person’s resources (the people he knows and the people he may not even know) recognize the man’s intention, and they shout with deep concern, “Do yourself no harm, for we are all here.”
Our resources, physical and spiritual, have not left us; they are still here. But something has left us—our perspective! In our despair we see only the M.U.D.; we lose sight of our S.T.A.R.S. Our challenge is to open our eyes—and see the resources along the highway of life ahead.
As we travel through life, we all have our starry, starry nights. Indeed, life is the hardship highway. Into every life some rain must fall. Mud happens. Mud hurts. However, even though we may have to step in the mud of life occasionally when the rains come, we do not have to lie down and wallow in the mud. So, when life is the muddiest, let’s open our eyes and look up—where the stars continue to shine brightly. Let’s take off the blinders of unhealthy shame, undeniable selfishness, and unworkable stubbornness, and let’s find our S.T.A.R.S. who will provide light for us in our time of darkness. The resources we need are “all here,” available to us as solutions for our problems.
When we experience our starry, starry nights, we have a choice to make—suicide or survival.
               Tragically, Van Gogh chose suicide.
               Truthfully, we can do better.
                               Let’s choose survival.
                               Let’s be thankful for the S.T.A.R.S. that brighten and bless our journey.

I wish you well in your life choices, and in your life journey.

VIDEO:  To view a short video in which Dr. Baker discusses this topic of “Suicide or Survival” while playing the Don McLean song, “Starry, Starry Night” on his classical guitar, please click the image to the right or just  click here.

(To listen to an audio version of this blog entry, click the Play button below.)

(Blog MH#1305)



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