Thursday, October 20, 2005

A Fond Farewell

Two years ago tomorrow Elliott Smith committed suicide. I never knew him as a person, and I have only two connections with him 1) We share the same birthday—Aug. 6th, and more importantly 2) I am in extreme awe of the music he created. I knew a kid at my previous employer, who found out that I liked Elliott’s music. He approached me and said, “I heard you listen to Elliott Smith.” I replied, “Yes, I do. I love his music.” He then exclaimed “I WORSHIP ELLIOTT SMITH!” I kind of laughed and said something to the effect that “worship” is a word I generally save for someone else, but that I could tell he was passionate about Elliott’s music.

For better or worse Elliott’s music is his legacy. His lyrics were characterized by intensive confessionalism and self scrutiny, and it always came from the heart. His music was so uniquely his own that in a couple of bars you immediately know who it’s coming from. He composed some wonderfully complex stuff and recorded it painstakingly. More so than anything I admire his musicality and his approach.

Elliott had his fair share of problems and disappointments, maybe more, maybe less than the average person. He struggled with anxiety, depression, fame, self-loathing, and drug addiction. He ended his life by stabbing himself in the chest, of all ways, a final symbolic gesture perhaps in stopping his aching heart. It would be really easy to sit back and judge him for the life he led. In Sunday School, growing up, I was taught that because it was unsanctimonious to take the life God gave you, if you committed suicide you would go to hell. Heaven was impossible for the suicidal. But I want to clarify this for anyone out there who may have been taught the same thing.

Be careful about assigning judgment where judgment is the Lord’s only. I do believe in the sanctity of life. I do believe that suicide is a sin, but I want to qualify it with some words of hope. Maybe you know someone personally who has committed suicide and you struggle to know what to make of it. The following are quotations from apostles and prophets of Jesus Christ:

Joseph Smith said, “While one portion of the human race is judging and condemning the other without mercy, the Great Parent of the universe looks upon the whole of the human family with a fatherly care and paternal regard. … He is a wise Lawgiver, and will judge all men, not according to the narrow, contracted notions of men, but, ‘according to the deeds done in the body whether they be good or evil,’ or whether these deeds were done in England, America, Spain, Turkey, or India. … We need not doubt the wisdom and intelligence of the Great Jehovah; He will award judgment or mercy to all nations according to their several deserts, their means of obtaining intelligence, the laws by which they are governed, the facilities afforded them of obtaining correct information, and His inscrutable designs in relation to the human family; and when the designs of God shall be made manifest, and the curtain of futurity be withdrawn, we shall all of us eventually have to confess that the Judge of all the earth has done right.”

Bruce R. McConkie said, “Persons subject to great stresses may lose control of themselves and become mentally clouded to the point that they are no longer accountable for their acts. Such are not to be condemned for taking their own lives. It should also be remembered that judgment is the Lord’s; he knows the thoughts, intents, and abilities of men; and he in his infinite wisdom will make all things right in due course.”

M Russell Ballard said, “I feel that judgment for sin is not always as cut-and-dried as some of us seem to think. The Lord said, “Thou shalt not kill.” Does that mean that every person who kills will be condemned, no matter the circumstances? I feel the Lord recognized differences in intent and circumstances: Was the person who took his life mentally ill? Was he or she so deeply depressed as to be unbalanced or otherwise emotionally disturbed? Was the suicide a tragic, pitiful call for help that went unheeded too long or progressed faster than the victim intended? Did he or she somehow not understand the seriousness of the act? Was he or she suffering from a chemical imbalance in their system that led to despair and a loss of self-control? Obviously, we do not know the full circumstances surrounding every suicide. Only the Lord knows all the details, and he it is who will judge our actions here on earth. When he does judge us, I feel he will take all things into consideration: our genetic and chemical makeup, our mental state, our intellectual capacity, the teachings we have received, the traditions of our fathers, our health, and so forth.”

Alma, the new world prophet said, “The plan of restoration is requisite with the justice of God; for it is requisite that all things should be restored to their proper order. Behold, it is requisite and just, according to the power and resurrection of Christ, that the soul of man should be restored to its body, and that every part of the body should be restored to itself. And it is requisite with the justice of God that men should be judged according to their works; and if their works were good in this life, and the desires of their hearts were good, that they should also, at the last day, be restored unto that which is good.”

I don’t pretend to know the mind of God, or the mind of the people who surround me. I hope that Elliott was living life as good and true as he knew how, and that is up to a loving Father in Heaven to decide, not you and not me. We all operate under a different light and knowledge. But we can all certainly be a little (dare I say a lot?) less judgmental. We can all be more sympathetic. We can all be more forgiving. We can all be more Christ-like.

“What I used to be will pass away, and then you’ll see
That all I want now, is happiness for you and me.”
Elliot Smith Aug. 6, 1969 - Oct. 21, 2003


Rhea B said...

Today Brent, Sharon and I attended the funeral of David LeGrand Dixon. The comments by M. Russel Ballard and Bruce R. McConkie were quoted. His little girl wrote a sweet note to her dad that she gave after Dan R. talk, which by the way was on the atonement. They said so many good things about David. He was a good person. Only the Lord knows the what he was going through. I pray that the family will see and be with him again. The love was overwhelming. I do hope you have touched others for good through "A Fond Farewell"

Les M. Blake said...

Thank you Mom, for that kind comment.