Are you a coward, or a lion?

I’ve been thinking a bit about the nature of courage lately, and it was brought home by something someone I once respected allegedly said in response to Addy’s death.

He dismissed Addy, and who he was, with a simple blanket statement–that Addy was a coward, and that “teenage hormones” drove him to commit the act that he did.

Not having been there for the conversation in question, I cannot be certain of the exact train of events. But this idea, that suicide is cowardly, is a common one. As a friend pointed out when were discussing this earlier, this myth might be perpetrated to keep people from committing suicide: the “it takes more courage to live!” argument. Now, I must admit that I once ascribed to this idea, before I realized that it was rather reductive and not necessarily true. Indeed, in some senses it might be considered more cowardly to go on living, depending on the situation. Your life–my life–might reach a point when suicide is, in fact, the only logical option.

Look at Christ, for example, who martyred Himself–indeed, He virtually committed suicide by ordering Judas to betray Him. Do we dismiss Christ as a coward, driven by hormones? No. He is the figurehead of a major religion, and admired for His life and death.

We can say a lot of things about the dead–it’s not like they can argue it. It falls to the living to defend the dead, or not, depending upon inclination. It’s quite fashionable to imagine we know what the dead were thinking, especially when they died at their own hand.

Addy’s father’s comments at the memorial were succinct and beautiful. He spoke passionately about the life and death of his son, and his respect for Addy’s eventual choice. He is sad, of course, but like all of us on an odd level happy, because Addy is free now. Free to be who he is, rather than what society wanted him to be.

Addy was courageous. It takes a great deal of strength to take your own life. Addy was a lot of things: uncompromising, moral, committed, beautiful, talented, and fearless. Addy saw that he couldn’t live the life he wanted and so he decided to stop. He turned the choice over in his mind, and executed it with grace and flawlessness–two more aspects of his complex character. I think it is a grave injustice to his memory to speak so flippantly about his choice, which, ultimately, was personal, and no one’s business but his own.

Why do we venerate who choose certain death as a protest action, like Rachel Corrie did? Why do we respect the monks who self-immolated to protest the Vietnam war? Why is euthanasia ok for a terminally ill octogenarian but not for a nineteen year old man? Who are we to judge, especially when we don’t know all the circumstances, or the individual?

We honor martyrs because they made choices which led, most certainly, to their deaths. Sometimes directly, in the sense of self immolation, and sometimes indirectly, in the sense of placing themselves in danger. These individuals died to make a point, to teach a lesson.

What did I learn from Addy? I learned that sometimes your personal beliefs are worth dying for. Addy himself said shortly before his death that he was “trying to circumscribe myself.” Addy had very strong ideas about how humans, including himself, should act, and was often disappointed by the behaviour of others. He struggled with his ideals and eventually determined that no, he could not compromise himself, because “in the end, opinions are what count. what is a person without opinions?”

He suffered, he lived, he fought with himself, and in the end he decided that he could not sacrifice his integrity to survive in this world on a daily basis. Addy was a martyr to his beliefs, as countless people have been over the centuries: how can you not respect him for that?

I can empathize strongly with this position, as I am often accused of being uncompromising (pigheaded, bitchy, mule-like, what have you). I have taken protest grades in courses rather than submit to policies I cannot agree with–I have lost jobs rather than compromise myself. Friendships have been torn asunder over my beliefs, and there is a member of my family I still don’t talk to because to do so is to whore myself. Every day of my life is a struggle, an attempt to reconcile my beliefs and expectations about mankind with the reality. Some days I come out ahead–others, I end up woefully behind, throat thick with a sense of betrayal. So yes, I can understand Addy’s position well. I hope that I never find myself fighting so with existence that taking my own life is the solution, but if I do reach that point, I hope that I can leave the earth with as much panache as Addy did. I would hope that people take lessons away from my death, and I would hope that I leave a work of art behind that is half as beautiful as Addy’s was.

I don’t have much faith in humanity, and I’m not sure I have much faith in my ability to change mankind. But I would like to stick it out a little longer, just to be certain.

When I first learned of Addy’s death, I was angry with him, but this mood rapidly passed. Now I am sorrowful for my loss, but thankful for his gift. I am glad that he had the personal strength, the integrity, to make and follow through on his choice, and I will honor his memory in the best way I can. I will honor it by continuing to be steadfast in my beliefs. I will not allow people to malign his life and death. I will hold his memory with me always, and use it as a standard in my daily life.

A week ago today, at sunrise, Addy took the last step in a life of suffering and the first in a new existence. It is left to those of us who remained behind to value his personal sacrifice. I sifted the sand that he died in through my fingers, and I sat where he sat that morning. Now I feel an obligation to take up his standard, to strengthen my core and reform those around me, before it is too late. I cannot claim to be an immensely spiritual person, but I hope that some part of Addy lingers with me as a guide. I will stand watch for him until we meet again.

I love you, I miss you, and I am happy for you, Addy.

Never compromise.