Fr. John's Letter Archives

Enjoy re-reading Fr. John's weekly bulletin letters for the past year.

Ridi Pagliaccio

09-14-2014Fr. John LettersFr. John

Dear Friends,

If you are not an Opera fan but would like to venture into this wonderful musical genre a good place to start is with the Opera Pagliaccio by Leoncavallo. It is a simple, easy to follow work in two acts. It starts out with a Prologue that reminds the audience that actors have feelings too and that this story is about real people. Act One ends with the very famous operatic piece "Vesti la giubba", as one of the clowns sings the well-known aria, Laugh Clown laugh, in which you can almost taste his pain. Underneath the grease paint and costume is some real dark pain:

Ridi, Pagliaccio,
sul tuo amore infranto!
Ridi del duol, che
t'avvelena il cor!

(Laugh, Pagliaccio,
for your love is broken!
Laugh of the pain, that
poisons your heart!)

This came to mind when I heard of the tragic death of actor/comedian Robin Williams. I, like most, am grateful for the unending smiles that he provided us with and most of all for the film, Mrs. Doubtfire, the story of a father who fought hard and rather insanely for his children. (I always tell fathers who are about to suffer a divorce to watch that film.)

However, watching this "laugh clown laugh" scene played out in real life trudges up for many the stabbing pain of a loved ones' suicide. In recent years I have had two family members take their lives. Devastation is the only word that describes what suicide causes in the life of the survivors. After the shock subsides, torturous guilt sets in as you wonder if you could have done something, said something that would have prevented it. After that comes a lot of anger, because ultimately suicide is a violent act that takes a lot longer to heal from than a broken bone or a nasty bruise. Honestly I would have preferred to be physically assaulted than suffer the emotional and mental assault that suicide inflicts. And the most awkward part is what to say to others about it all? Healing can and does come but it is a long journey.

In light of that, this is one reason I oppose the Assisted Suicide movement. What kind of mixed messages are we sending to those who suffer? On the one hand we work hard at suicide prevention and than on the other we push suicide as acceptable. Yes I know the Assisted Suicide supporters use all sorts of euphemisms to try and draw a distinction: aid in dying, compassion and choices, the right to determine your own destiny, doctor assisted dying among others. Yet it is a distinction without a difference.

And if you remember the movement started out insisting they were only trying to alleviate the suffering of the terminally ill. That of course was a ruse to pull on our heartstrings to get us to go along with it. Today where it is legal, the "right" to end your life extends to just about anyone including the mentally ill, chronically ill, aged, children and teenagers or those who are suffering "existentially". The subliminal message that is being conveyed is that your suffering is causing us all to suffer not to mention how much it is costing in health care. The insistence on the right to suicide has now morphed into a duty to kill yourself. The message to the suffering is very clear: do us all a favor and take yourself out.

Ultimately, as I have said before, Assisted Suicide represents a profound abandonment of those who suffer. We can do better than that as a society.

After such a high profile suicide, like Robin Williams, won't it be nice to see Hollywood promote a high profiled campaign targeted to Suicide Prevention? What better way to honor a long-time colleague and friend?

For now may Robin Williams and all those who died like him, rest in peace and may their families find comfort and healing.

La commedia è finita…

Love, Fr. John B.