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Remember the joys of life

Another friend of ours flew away. Why, we ask? What was going on in his life? What was it that he wanted to escape from? What did he feel at the moment he jumped? What was he thinking? Did he want to be free? Has he become free?

During our lives, we occasionally experience sad or depressing times. Sometimes, these incidents can make us question the meaning of life; sometimes, our inability to find the right answer can make us desperate. I don't know what has made that particular friend choose to fly away from us, and I don't know how many of you have had an experience of being suicidal. But I know someone who survived, and I'm writing to you about her -- especially to those of you who have had such feelings.

Before she took a leave of absence from MIT one year ago, she was never happy. Bad things always seemed to happen to her.

Over the course of three years, she had lost her father, her grandfather, and three of her dear friends. Their deaths left her weak and depressed. At the same period of time, her brother and her mother were hospitalized. Her brother was twice misdiagnosed as having leukemia, and her mother had a suspicious tumor removed. Finally, she herself was raped.

To her, it was almost funny that her car was stolen three times and that her insurance was cancelled during the same period of time. It seemed that life was a big joke.

She had a hard time keeping up in her courses. Her poor English ability hindered her work. Her physics professor took her aside one day after class and asked, "What are you doing here?" implying she didn't belong at MIT.

But the saddest thing was the change in her relationship with a professor who was her mentor. Perhaps she disappointed her professor by not realizing her potential or not doing as well as expected, or the professor might have been overwhelmed by her student's problems. Distance grew between them.

Making friends was also difficult for her. After the death of her father, many people expressed their sympathy. But as more of her beloved ones died, and as she remained depressed, she became more isolated (no one enjoys being friends with someone who only talks about problems -- often in tears -- and who rarely says, "I'm fine.")

There was one more incident that made her utterly desperate.

"Why must I suffer? Why me?" The more she questioned, the more unhappy she became. Life seemed completely meaningless to her.

There had been a few earlier times when she thought of committing suicide. But this time she was actually ready to kill herself. She felt worthless of her being. She started "preparing" to die.

She didn't want to leave anything that might trouble her mother after her death. She cancelled her subscription to Ms. magazine. She paid her final phone bill. She transferred the money in her bank account to her brother. And she gave her hibiscus plant away. Then she cleaned her room so that her family would remember her as a neat daughter.

The night she felt she had finished all the tasks of her life, she sat on the floor by her bed with three bottles full of sleeping pills. "The pills will penetrate my organs, and I will soon be transparent." They looked to her like beautiful white crystals to lead her to the world of comfort.

Surprisingly, she was very calm. All the depression she had felt was gone. The questions about the meaning of life became just memories. She was completely at peace. She wanted to enjoy the peaceful moment a little more, to listen to the melody of silence. She closed her eyes. Soon the tones reverberated in her heart, and she felt as if she were rising into tranquil infinity.

Then she recalled a dream she had the night before. Alone in infinity, she saw a lot of little boxes, white and silver, in a twisted line, suspended in air. She didn't see the beginning or end. She tried to open silver ones, but she couldn't. She tried white ones, and they opened. When she opened one, she saw herself showing her parents the acceptance letter from MIT. She couldn't hear their voices, but they seemed very happy. She opened another one, and there she was giving a speech at an Asian women's conference. Again, she couldn't hear what "she" in the box was saying, but at least "she" looked confident. These white boxes seemed to be filled with happy memories of her life. But she didn't know what was hidden in the silver boxes.

Suddenly, she opened her eyes. She felt she had power. She realized that she now had control over her life: She was killing herself before fate did.

"If I know I'm going to die and since I have control over when I die, why not give myself a little more time just to enjoy myself? Doing only what I want to do for one or two days will not make a difference. Maybe I can let myself be happy for a while," she told herself.

Then she thought of things she wanted to do during the limited time she had decided to live. She wanted to write about her journey to near death. So she wrote. Then she wanted to write about all the bad experiences she had had; so she did. Then she wanted to write more and more -- to express herself, to leave a proof of her existence. She wrote, wrote, and wrote. Then she found herself enjoying it.

Writing transformed bad memories into something beautiful, and she was having a peaceful time. She would continue to write, she thought, for writing made her happy; she would keep enjoying this little happiness, she told herself, until she would end her life.

That's why she is still alive, writing. She is no longer a suicidal person. For the first time, she is having a happy semester at MIT. She noticed that, once she stopped being depressed, her relationships with people brought her laughter. She doesn't want to die until she allows herself more happy times. If you happen to meet her, ask her how she's doing. I know she will honestly say, "I'm fine."

Above all, is she not lucky that she can decide to live?


Yu Hasegawa '89 is in the Department of Mathematics and the Program in Women's Studies.