Thursday, November 12, 2009

Suicide by Train

by Richard Crews
On Tuesday (Nov. 10, 2009) Robert Enke, a German soccer goalie (widely acknowledged to be one of the best in the world), committed suicide by jumping in front of a speeding train.

It was a terrible tragedy, and I do not take it lightly. But I am intrigued by the psycho-dynamics of the event. The man must have spent his entire athletic career waiting to throw himself in front of (to try to stop) a soccer ball hurdling toward him. His every mental and physical reflex was honed to that instant. He must have gone to bed at night re-living in despair the ones that had gotten by him and calculating endlessly how he could have done a better job getting in front of them. He must have reveled in triumph at the feeling of that missile crashing into his body.

Very few people choose to commit suicide by jumping in front of a speeding train--but he did. After all, it was consistent with the mental and physical discipline he had trained in himself all his life.

The psycho-dynamics of death are not always so stark, but they are always there--and always strong--and always determinant. In fact, each of us is more than "flirting" with death, we are actively courting it. If we overeat or under-exercise or play "chicken" with known health and safety threats, we can acknowledge the craziness clearly, although the underlying psycho-dynamic struggles may be far from clear--they are deeply hidden in the recesses of our minds; they grow in tangled ways from past fears and frustrations.

There is a joke that you can tell a French firing squad because the riflemen stand in a circle with the condemned prisoner in the middle.

Psycho-dynamic "reasons" are like that: they seemed to make sense at one time (perhaps when we were very young or blinded by passion) but looked at with clear and reasonable adult vision, they are stupid and self-defeating.


Note: I learned today that Dr. Edwin Shneidman died a couple of months ago at the age of 91. He was the founding genius of a field called "suicidology." As a psychiatric resident in training 45 years ago, I attended a lecture he delivered on "Sub-Intentioned Death." His influence has stayed with me ever since.