In Japan suicide was a part of Bushido, the person code of the Samurai, the Japanese warrior class. As a rule if a samurai or their successors in the 20th century had disgraced their countries, or families, it meant they had disgraced themselves. The only way to expiate this serious guilt was to commit ritual suicide.
Often wrong called Harry Cary by Westerners, hara-kiri or the more formal, assisted suicide, seppuku, it has lived on in, not only Japan but has been working its way through the more liberal western countries, who encourage it, especially among the elderly. In places like the Netherlands and Sweden, old people often are afraid to go to the hospital for ordinary ailments because many doctors and nurses will euthanize them, even without their consent.
This perversion of medicine was a linchpin of Obamacare. The so-called Death Panels, which the president mocked as irrational, were an essential part of Obamacare. With the government in charge of a medical system that could not deliver even a small percentage of the health care it promised, the only way to balance their budget was to cut services, starting at the top with the elderly. So euthanasia, in the form of denied treatment for the elderly, acts as a passive form of eliminating these useless eaters.
But even something as tragic as throwing away one’s life can evoke the Catholic imagination without displaying any disrespect. I have suffered an inordinate number of injuries over the years that were self-inflicted. I always seem to be unmindful of dangers around me that can leap literally out of the darkness and bite me.
In December of 2011 I had a serious accident. Some would call it an auto accident without the car! I can only describe it as an accidental suicide attempt, which gave new meaning to the term, hit the ground running. We had attended a meeting for the Foundation for Special Education for Children at the palatial home of one of our members. As my wife and I were walking to the car I realized that I had forgotten my parish mailing list, which I had used to hit on friends who had hit on me for donations to their favorite charities. So I jogged to their front door to retrieve the list. I never made it.
The approach to their home is on an incline with one small step leading to a plateau that led to a small staircase. I was running toward the latter and never saw the former. I either became airborne or merely skidded on my face. At impact I thought I had hit the stairs and had broken my neck. *
The first person to reach me was the widow of a former hockey player.
She had seen a lot of cuts and bad scraps and eased my fear when she said that I would not need the ER. Our Director, a prominent priest in the diocese was the one who thought 911 might be necessary. He refused to offer me the Last Rites since he had his new slacks on, which my wife had bought him. He didn’t want to get any blood on them!
The next day I saw my doctor and he prescribed several x-rays of my neck and damaged knee. The results came back the next day. The x-rays were all negative and I should heal quickly, he said. At my favorite restaurant the next morning the owner told me to leave since I was scaring her customers away.
The next evening at my Christmas confession after sitting down in a chair to face the priest, he politely told me I should get behind the screen or put a bag over my head. The family said I couldn’t be in the annual Christmas picture. My daughter planned to buy me a mask from the Phantom of the Opera. This would have all been risible except for the fact that this was not new for me.
I had been there and done that several times in my accidental past. It is though I’ve had an innate death wish that I keep failing to fulfill. I am like one of those Japanese pilots that devastated our navy during the waning months of World War II in the Pacific…the infamous Kamikaze. Having studied Japanese history, I think I have a bit of the Kamikaze in me, except I don’t want to die–it just looks that way. Strangely the date of my aforementioned header was December 7th.
My first attempt at a crash landing occurred in 1955 in Lake Hopatcong, New Jersey, where I spent most of my summers with my maiden aunt. My father had brought up my old bike, a red American-style bike.
I had heard of the play, Three Men on a Horse, so I decided, along with two friends who were also brothers to try three boys on a bike. We started at the top of one of the steep hills in the area and were going at a great speed with one brother on the handlebars and the other on the crossbar with me in the driver’s seat. At the foot of the hill was a pick-up truck. I immediately jammed on the brakes, blew a tire and we all flew head over heels into a pile of rocks. My head was bruised–the bike had landed on me–and I had but a few scratches from the thistles that were adjacent to the rocks.
The next spring I was riding on my first racer, which I had gotten on my 12th birthday the year before, up to the local high school to play stickball with Max. The night before there had been a terrible storm. An elderly couple had walked through a puddle with a live wire in it and had been electrocuted.
My overly protective mother urged me to be careful and watch out for ‘falling’ wires. At least that’s what I thought she said. They should have tested my hearing even then! As I was riding along, I looked up at all the wires above, thinking one was going to fall on me and fry my 12-year old body.
Some poor new father, who had just experienced the birth of his first child, turned the corner in his old car as I peddled across the street. He hit my front tire and I went flying. It was Deja vous all over again! My new bike was mangled, not unlike my glasses during the December 7th accident. I had a small abrasion on my upper leg but that was the extent of my injuries…other than my wounded pride.
My Pearl Harbor accident is more reminiscent of a college incident. Holy Cross’ Homecoming Game in 1962 was with Syracuse University. Instead of going home, this time I stayed and even had a date with a girl from one of the Boston colleges. We were trailing 24-6 at half time. The Crusaders rallied and only lost 30-20. I was so elated by our manly comeback that back in our dorm I challenged buddy Mike Schoering to run past me at one of the precarious corners in the figure-H corridors. I was going to tackle him!
He lowered his head and came at me and I swung around to drop him and crashed into the sharp edge of a wall. Seconds later, I am looking up at the ceiling while people inquired who is it? At the emergency room, in one of the local hospitals, my most memorable moment was meeting a really beautiful blonde, who was like a vision from a dream…maybe a delirious dream. I thought I was dizzy from my head injury. But before I could even get her name or school, a male nurse ended that and I had to deal with the doctor and the pain. Thanks to my roommate Peter I made it to the dance that night but the left side of my head was approximately the size of a balloon. By Tuesday both eyes were blackened like a raccoon’s.
In 1971 I was finishing my course work for my Ph.D. During the summer I organized a group of my neighbors and also students and faculty members from the St. Louis University History Department for a brace of softball games. We had lost the first game when I played for the History Dept. In the rematch I was on the neighborhood team when in the last inning, with a one-run lead I decided to get an insurance run. I whacked the ball off the shortstop’s glove, and as it rolled into short left field, I hustled for second base.
The second baseman was a wide-bodied professor of mine. I tried to dive between his chubby legs because I couldn’t see the base and knocking him over was out of the question for more than one reason. Never in my life had I tried such a daring, albeit foolish deed. I did not extend my hands and arms properly and literally crashed landed into God’s dusty infield.
My humerus departed from the rest of my shoulder. I still can see the frozen image of my hitting the dirt. It was akin to the death scene in the 1967 film, Bonnie and Clyde in which their bloody demise was frozen in cinematic ice for what seemed like an eternity. When I finally hit the ground, I was summarily declared out. While my brother-in-law took me to the ER, we promptly lost the game.
Some years later I was playing tennis with the same brother-in-law when an errant bounce with unbelievable backspin came right at my face–I had not won a point from him since we had started playing. In my effort to save the point and maybe a little face, I managed to hit myself right in the head. Blood gushed from my eyebrow like a ruptured water line. He took me home to show his sister and she just shook her head as we drove to the same ER where my shoulder had been treated.
A pretty young nurse took all my paperwork and then abruptly turned to leave and I loudly asked her: Will I see you again? She curtly turned and replied emphatically: No!!! In my shaken but not stirred state all I could think to say was No, I don’t mean socially!
As I write this, I am forced to think that if I am really a part of the Kamikaze mindset, I am not very good at it. This reminds me of the joke about the Kamikaze who flew 44 unsuccessful missions. At the rate I am going, I might win a Darwin Award. This pretentious award recognizes those people who improve the gene pool by accidentally killing themselves in some test of bravado or sophomoric stupidity. But then again probably not, because to win the award, you must have successfully killed yourself.
* The last three years of my radio program on WGNU I used the Rocky Theme—Gonna Fly Now! And I did.