Monday, December 31, 2012

Javert's Suicide

I saw the new Les Mis movie today. One part that stood out in a way it never has before was Javert's suicide. Javert addmitted to Jean Valjean that he had grown up amidst thieves and "scum," therefore claiming to really know and understand Valjean. My heart was drawn out to Javert who I imagined had likely grown up in a painful, chaotic situation and decided to become part of the law to see justice done (for those things that had hurt him as a child).

The problem was there had been no experience for Javert of a "thief" being a good person, having a soul and a heart, and the ability to change. When I used to see the play I figured he was committing suicide because he felt so much shame and guilt for chasing Valjean all those years, only to be met with compassion from Valjean. However, this time, while watching the movie, I experienced his desire to die from a different angle.

It connected with the moments in the last year that I have felt something similar to what Javert described...

"And must I now begin to doubt,
who never doubted all these years?
.....the world I have known is
lost in shadow."

"I am reaching, but I fall
and the stars are black and cold
as I stare into the void of a
world that cannot hold"

There were a few dark moments, where all I could see was a void. The world I had known no longer existed, and the stars (those "solid," shining beliefs) were black and cold. It was like nothing I had felt before as "all my thoughts flew apart."

Our brain is programmed to make sense of the world, based on what we take in through our five senses when we're experiencing life, and how we then translate that information and feel emotions. Javert truly couldn't imagine a world where a thief could have a good heart and was not something he had personally experienced (he had likely experienced the opposite, and/or been told the opposite: that thieves and "scum" could only cause problems and could NEVER do good), so to be faced with a thief that didn't do what he expected one to do literally short circuited the neurological pathways he'd built in his brain to make sense of the world. It reminds me of a fuse being blown, and suddenly everything goes dark.

In those moments that my own fuse was blown, I saw a reality that was not only what I had never expected, but one for which I had no framework. There was no story, or experience, to hold what I was seeing, hearing, etc. And, in those moments everything went dark, and it was a terror like I'd never known. And those were the moments I thought to die would be better than to feel what I was feeling...the nothingness...the void. In a way, that moment was a death, and if I no longer existed (if I was so deconstructed that the way I saw the world no longer existed) why stay? Plus, when I felt that emptiness I thought I was maybe losing my mind, or would go crazy.

In my own study of those who have been along this kind of a path, this can be a normal part of the experience. What I have found was that those who've seen more of reality may be more likely to be able to work effectively through what could be terrifying moments. Example of realities some may be more exposed to than others: that people can be moral and not believe in God, that people can be unsure of an afterlife and still feel meaning in their lives, that the history of the church you've heard all your life may not reflect all the events...even the "important" they actually occurred, that you can be a single woman of 32 and be just as fulfilled and happy as a married woman of 32, that someone living in a gay partnership may feel just as joyful in their love and be just as valuable to society as someone in a heterosexual relationship.

It seems that in these moments when a belief is blown up, by seeing or experiencing a reality that is different than the previously held belief, if there is some way to anchor yourself to that reality it can be ok. If you can anchor to something (or to someone who can hold what you cannot on your own yet), you can allow the belief to break open (it's old form to die) and then eventually expand, and trust that you'll still exist, because you're actually kept alive by reality, not by your beliefs.

And possibly Valjean represents a greater experience of what is possible (a reality we'd never before known). When these Valjean's show up in our lives we may wonder much like Javert..."Is he from heaven or from hell? and does he know that granting me my life today, this man has killed me even so." How true it is that these moments that blow up our ego (beliefs that are not reality) to smithereens, are also the moments that give us back our lives, that set us free and grant us access to the freedom we forgot was ours.

NOTE: * If you are going through an experience like this, and are having a hard time finding something to anchor to, it may be helpful to seek help. If suicidal ideation gets to the place where it feels like a possibility, know there are other ways. Find someone to talk to immediately (someone safe). If you don't know anyone a therapist, or two, or three, until you can find someone who can understand. If worse comes to worse know you can always call 9-1-1, or go to the emergency room. When the brain short circuits there's no shame in keeping ourselves safe until we can rebuild safety within ourselves. I found it helpful when I had no holding place for a reality that was unexpected, to talk with someone who did have a story or a way to hold it. Even though, over time, I've found I've needed to form my own story (since no ones will perfectly resonate with our own), there are many resources offered by those who have walked the path before. One website that may be helpful for understanding the "trauma symptoms" that can accompany a faith crisis or fath transition is:

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