Ethan and Helen Levine were very much in love. Moreover, they both were suffering from severe physical ailments and psychological stress. On New Yearâ??s Day, after meticulous planning to make sure their affairs were in order, this Wyoming couple committed suicide. They were found in their garage, inside a green SUV, holding hands. Carbon monoxide had taken their lives.
In an August Star-Tribune column that seemed to foreshadow the path the couple would take on New Year's Day, Helen appeared to justify â?? or at least, explain â?? their decision, and she concluded the piece with a quote that could be construed as either ominous or oddly comforting, depending on viewpoint.
"Whether we find ourselves slipping away from natural causes, or taking the moment and make our own way, I remember the advice of Dylan Thomas: 'Do not go gentle into that good night, Old age should burn and rave at close of day; Rage, rage against the dying of the light.'" [â??The Last Exitâ? by Bethany Kohoutek, Rocky Mountain Bullhorn, posted March 9, 2005 at AlterNet]
Dylan Thomasâ??s words were directed at his dying father, urging him to fight against death. Helenâ??s â??taking the momentâ? to commit suicide in calculated fashion might be thumbing a nose at a natural process of death. It speaks of a perceived dignity that even seeks death, but wants to do it on oneâ??s own terms, not those of a natural grim reaper. Does that type of defeatist anger fit the intent of Dylan Thomasâ??s poem?
When we eventually encounter an amber light in lifeâ??s flowing road of green lights, I sense that Dylan Thomasâ??s words might encourage us to rebelliously run through that amber light and more amber lights ahead before a red one unavoidably should stop us in our tracks. Helen Levine, regarding her personal circumstances, might have interpreted rage against the turning of the amber light to red as deliberately stopping at an amber light and gathering tools to fix the light so it would turn red before it was originally set to do so.
Iâ??m reminded of another famous poem by Emily Dickinson, which begins:
Because I could not stop for Death,
He kindly stopped for me.
The Levines, on the other hand, did stop for physical death, perhaps invoking its presence even before it was in sight down the road. They experienced burning â??rage, rageâ? about their intense pain, physically and politically. Helenâ??s words in her article appeared to be a defiant statement, including an option of making â??our own way,â? in her case, the extinguishing of this worldly light, a light that, for the Levines, proved to be too scorching.
Yet, this was not the type of rage that shouts at the inevitable unknown, trying to grasp a little more time, even if briefly rekindling the flickering flame of earthly existence. The Levines' rage snuffed it out.