Everyone is different

Emotions can make what seems to others to be an insignificant event feel like it’s the end of the world to us. A person’s filters can act like a magnifying glass, intensifying a glint of sunlight into a white-hot beam. We’re not all made from the same mould.

The American poet Gladys Cromwell [1885-1919] grew up in a privileged, private school environment in New York City. At the outbreak of World War I, she and her twin sister volunteered for service in the Red Cross. Working in the muddy, bloody trenches of northern France, the Cromwell twins fed and cared for wounded soldiers. Millions of people on both sides of the front experienced this horrific war in different ways. The Cromwell sisters were highly sensitive souls. They came to feel that they had no place in a world with no place for beauty and quiet thought. On their way home from France, in January of 1919, the twins committed suicide. Together, they jumped from the deck of the steamer Loraine.

Through her writings, Gladys Cromwell transmitted her sensitivity. Before her death, she also transmitted her suicidal thoughts in writing. Her poetry is deeply thoughtful and almost sculptural in its chiselled beauty. It shows the reaction of a beautiful spirit to a harsh world. One poem above all is applicable to the subject we are dealing with here :

No doubt this active will,

So bravely steeped in sun,

This will has vanquished Death

And foiled oblivion. But this indifferent clay,This fine experienced hand,

So quiet, and these thoughts That all unfinished stand, Feel death as though it were A shadowy caress;

And win and wear a frail Archaic wistfulness.

– The Mould by Gladys Cromwell

Has Gladys Cromwell handled the horrors of trench warfare differently, she and her twin would have lived on. We would have been able to enjoy more poetry of exquisite beauty. But hers was a chaotic time, full of death. What we can learn from her life story is this: a person’s temperament will determine how each individual reacts to the reversals life deals out.

The steamer Loraine brought hundreds of war veterans back to New York to continue with their lives. Using their war experiences to their advantage, they raised families, worked at productive jobs.

For many, horror deepens the soul and broadens the mind. It can motivate people to try to build a community, a society, in which such destruction is never seen again.

Book excerpt from Quebec Suicide Prevention Handbook (2014), Éditions TNT

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