We all wear masks

by Jul 14, 2018

I attempted suicide in 1969 at the age of 16 because I felt that everything in my world had come crashing down on me. Childhood abuse, contradictions between religion and sex, knowing that I was homosexual in a time when it was not accepted by those around me – all of which came to a crescendo with an arrest. Lost and confused with no one who I felt that I could share my secrets, my pain.

Some people are quick to say the act of suicide is selfish, a cowards way of quitting. That they are not thinking of the pain that they will cause others. But as that confused teenage boy desperate to be loved and understood, I have to say that no, my thoughts were not for what others might feel. My suicidal thoughts were because of others, because of the fear of their rejection if they knew the real me – the damaged me.

The following year, the award-winning movie, M*A*S*H was released followed by the successful television series. The melancholy instrumental theme song is easily recognized but most people do not know the song’s title. I worked in a music store while in college and ran across the sheet music for The Song from M*A*S*H aka Suicide is Painless. Six haunting verses starting with:

Through early morning fog I see, visions of the things to be,
The pains that are withheld for me, I realize and I can see,
That suicide is painless, it brings on many changes,
And I can take or leave it if I please.

According to SAVE (Suicide Awareness Voices of Education), 105 Americans die by suicide every day – taking the lives of over 38,000 Americans every year. The CDC says “There is one suicide for every estimated 25 suicide attempts.” I am grateful that I failed. At that lowest point in my life, I did not have any hope of my world changing. I did not believe it would ever be better, that there would come a time where I could be comfortable and accepted for who I am.

The game of life is hard to play, I’m going to lose it anyway,
The losing card I’ll someday lay, So this is all I have to say,
That suicide is painless, it brings on many changes,
And I can take or leave it if I please.

This vivid memory which I had tried to forget has come back with a vengeance since being revealed in Songs from an Imperfect Life. And it has been on my mind since high school friends recently hosted a party in my honor and surrounded me with love and support. Although these friends were in school with me in 1969 they had absolutely no clue that I had reached the point of thinking my life had no value. The sixteen-year-old me would not have believed then that all of my secrets could one day be revealed and that there would be those who would step up and say “I love you and I am here for you.”

We all wear masks which makes it difficult to realize or even understand what others may be hiding or what they are going through. Still, we need to try. We need to look out for and protect those in need of help – to show a little kindness. It will cost you nothing but just might be the one thing that could make a difference in someone’s life.

The sword of time will pierce our skins, it doesn’t hurt when it begins
But as it works it’s way on in, the pain gets stronger, watch it grin,
That 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.

J. Ronald M. York, author of Kept in the Dark, is also an accomplished musician and founder of York & Friends Fine Art Gallery.

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