An old woman sits on the floor in a foetal position, in a side-corridor of a public building. In her hand she clutches a book. It’s ‘The Peaceful Pill’ by Philip Nietschke, dubbed ‘Doctor Death‘ by the Australian media. To anyone who approaches to ask her if she’s alright, she announces that she wants to die.
It was my job to go sit by her for twenty minutes while the local mental health team was called. At first she wanted me to go away, but eventually she began talking. I said my mother had died a few years ago, and I gathered that hers had died recently, too.
“Yes – they wanted me to say ‘passed away’!’ she said. ‘But I don’t have to call it that, do I! She died. She’s dead.’
We talked about her mum – a sweet person who got taken advantage of a lot. A bit like mine, really. We talked about life. The woman said she felt as if she didn’t fit in, didn’t belong here. She said that the world was an evil place, and there were too many bad things and bad people in it – the earthquake in Nepal, Tony Abbott, the men who recently killed four women in my city in separate domestic violence incidents. She said that her mother was all she had.
Then the mental health lady arrived, and knelt down, and began to speak softly to her. I left, with tears in my eyes, thinking, there but for the grace (only I don’t believe in god). Sometimes the capacity of humans for evil astonishes me, and I know how it feels to be an alien imposter in a world full of normal. I’d sometimes rather not be here – but I’d never suicide.
There are good people around too, I said. ‘Look at Tim Costello, head of World Vision’. Well Tim, I only hope you don’t beat your wife!