“The life of man is of no greater importance to the universe than that of an oyster.” — David Hume
“Suicide is a permanent solution to a temporary problem.” — Phil Donahue
One day not long ago — Jan. 1, 2012, to be exact — Martin Manley set a New Year’s resolution unlike any other: “To explore the idea of committing suicide sooner rather than later.”
Who is Martin Manley? No one. And he would have been the first to have said so. He was just a guy who wrote analytical newspaper columns about sports, a self-described “stats freak” and fan of Bill James, the baseball statistician made famous in “Moneyball” for his empirical analysis of the game.
So, like Mr. James, Mr. Manley set about weighing the pros and cons of ending his own life. “I wanted to have one of the most organized good-byes in recorded history, and I think I will be successful,” he wrote. “The key has always been to do it before it becomes impossible to accomplish what I’m doing now — because then it’s too late and I would simply be along for the ride to the inevitable cliff. And that has always been an unacceptable conclusion to my life.”
On his 60th birthday, this past Thursday, he drove to the parking lot of the Overland Park police department outside Kansas City, Kan., and shot himself in the head. He sent letters to all his friends, to his brother and sister, timed to arrive that day. More, he left a website detailing every step of his decision — making him the first man in history (he says) to have done so.
The site (once found at martinmanleylifeanddeath.com but ironically removed by Yahoo because it “violated our terms of service”) is a window into the mind of a suicidal man. Although he says this — “The major reasons adults commit suicide — health, legal, financial, loss of loved ones, loneliness or depression … none of those issues are relevant to me” — a psychologist might find plenty in his thousands of words to diagnose him with acute narcissism or delusions of grandeur or clinical depression.
But looking past that, he certainly answered all the questions he knew his decision would raise. With pithy headings like “Why Suicide?” and “Why Not?” and “Why Age 60?” and “Self-Serving?” he explained on his site, simply and succinctly. “Do I want to live as long as humanly possible OR do I want to control the time and manner and circumstances of my death? That was my choice (and yours). I chose what was most appealing to me.”
And therein lies the rub. Mr. Manley is certainly not the first to examine the topic, and definitely not the most eloquent. William Shakespeare laid bare man’s most vexing question in Hamlet’s “to be or not to be” soliloquy: “To die, to sleep no more; and by a sleep, to say we end the heartache, and the thousand natural shocks that flesh is heir to? ‘Tis a consummation devoutly to be wished.”
And Hume: “How many instances are there, well attested, of men, in every other respect perfectly discreet, who, without remorse, rage, or despair, have quitted life for no other reason than because it was a burden to them, and have died with more composure than they lived?”
Hunter S. Thompson explained why he shot himself in the head: “Football Season Is Over. No More Games. No More Bombs. No More Walking. No More Fun. No More Swimming. 67. That is 17 years past 50. 17 more than I needed or wanted. Boring. I am always bitchy. No Fun — for anybody. 67. You are getting Greedy. Act your (old) age. Relax — This won’t hurt.”
Kurt Cobain, too: “I’m too much of an erratic, moody baby! I don’t have the passion anymore, and so remember, it’s better to burn out than to fade away.”
But actor John Waters found the whole thing silly: “I could never kill myself. I approve of suicide if you have horrible health. Otherwise it’s the ultimate hissy fit.”
And Charles Bukowski, who surely had every reason to off himself, never did: “When I was young I was depressed all the time. But suicide no longer seemed a possibility in my life. At my age there was very little left to kill. It was good to be old, no matter what they said. It was reasonable that a man had to be at least 50 years old before he could write with anything like clarity.”