Tuesday, December 05, 2006

Simply Put

The death of Malachi Ritscher appears most noteworthy because of it's anonymity and the fact that it went unrecognized for 5 days. I guess that's fitting, given that the man's self-immolation was designed as some sort of grand protest against the War in Iraq:

Malachi Ritscher envisioned his death as one full of purpose. He carefully planned the details, mailed a copy of his apartment key to a friend, created to-do lists for his family. On his Web site, the 52-year-old experimental musician who'd fought with depression even penned his obituary.

At 6:30 a.m. on Nov. 3 -- four days before an election caused a seismic shift in Washington politics -- Ritscher, a frequent anti-war protester, stood by an off-ramp in downtown Chicago near a statue of a giant flame, set up a video camera, doused himself with gasoline and lit himself on fire. "Here is the statement I want to make. ... "If one death can atone for anything, in any small way, to say to the world: I apologize for what we have done to you, I am ashamed for the mayhem and turmoil caused by my country."

The full AP story carried in many print editions, including ours, offered much detail about the man's struggles with depression and mental illness:

Mental health experts say virtually no suicides occur without some kind of a diagnosable mental illness. But Ritscher's family disagrees about whether he had severe mental problems.

In a statement, Ritscher's parents and siblings called him an intellectually gifted man who suffered from bouts of depression. They stopped short of saying he'd ever received a clinical diagnosis of mental illness.

"He believed in his actions, however extreme they were," his younger brother, Paul Ritscher, wrote online. "He believed they could help to open eyes, ears and hearts and to show everyone that a single man's actions, by taking such extreme personal responsibility, can perhaps affect change in the world."

His son, who shares the same name as his father, said his father was trying to cope with mental illness. Suicide seemed to be the next step, and the war was a way to give his death meaning.

"He was different people at different instances and so, so erratic. I loved him no doubt, but he was a very lonely and tragic man," said Ritscher, 35, who is estranged from the rest of the family. "The idea of being a martyr I'm sure was attractive. He could literally go out in a blaze of glory."

Simply put, healthy people in a right mind don't light themselves on fire. Even when they passionately believe in taking a stand for or against something.

Jennifer Diaz has it wrong. Mr. Ritscher is someone to be pitied, not admired. No cause, no "movement" won anything on November 3rd. No one struck a blow for anything that day.

Rather, a sick man made the most horrible of choices he could have that day and took his own life thinking somehow he made a grand statement in the process. No, this is isn't something to be cheered. Not politically nor any other way.

This was humanity at it's saddest.

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