An interesting and challenging instance of suicide was reported on April 14, 2018. A well-known lawyer and environmentalist nationally known for being a champion of gay rights died after setting himself on fire in Prospect Park in Brooklyn, New York. He left a note exhorting people “to lead less selfish lives as a way to protect the planet.”  He emailed the same message to several news media outlets.

David S Buckel, 60, became involved in environmental causes and decided to set an example of himself by self-immolation with fossil fuels!  “I am David Buckel and I just killed myself by fire as a protest suicide,” said a hand-written note on the grass near the remains. “I apologize to you for the mess.”

“Pollution ravages our planet, oozing inhabitability via air, soil, water and weather,” he wrote in the email sent to several newspapers. “Most humans on the planet now breathe air made unhealthy by fossil fuels, and many die early deaths as a result — my early death by fossil fuel reflects what we are doing to ourselves.”

In his note Mr Buckel discussed the difficulty of improving the world even for those who make vigorous efforts to do so. He added: “Privilege was derived from the suffering of others.”

“Many who drive their own lives to help others often realize that they do not change what causes the need for their help,” Mr Buckel wrote, adding that donating to organisations was not enough.

Noting that he was privileged with “good health to the final moment,” Mr Buckel said he wanted his death to lead to increased action. “Honorable purpose in life invites honorable purpose in death,” he wrote.

Susan Sommer, a former attorney for Lambda Legal,  American civil rights organization said Mr Buckel was “one of the architects of the freedom to marry and marriage equality movement.”

“He deserves tremendous thanks for recognizing this was in many ways at the heart of what it meant to be gay for many Americans and making it a priority,” she said. “I learned so much from him about the emotional center of what it means for a gay person not to be able to have all the protections for the person they love and that it’s worth fighting for.”

Catherine Varous, a neighbour of Mr Buckel’s, said he was very active in gardening, and together they worked on the Greenest Block in Brooklyn competition, reports journalist Jeffery C Mays in The New York Times.

Runners and bicyclists continued to pass the Prospect Park. But as more police officers and firefighters gathered, they all looked “dumbfounded,” Ms Orr said. “Nobody could believe it.”

The grim scene stood in stark contrast to the rest of the park, which brimmed with activity. Several youth baseball games continued nearby and participants in PurpleStride, a walk dedicated to ending pancreatic cancer, strode along the bike path with runners and joggers.

The field where Mr. Buckel died would ordinarily be filled with activity, too. But he died early morning at about 6.30 am, when the Park was rather empty. Warren Beishir, a graphic designer, sat across from the field under a tree with his wife, Susan Stawicki, their 2-year-old daughter and their neighbours. “How do you do that to yourself? It’s a terrible way to go, and I don’t want to think about it after today,” Mr Beishir wondered.

Can we collectively learn the lesson from his self-immolation? Can we collectively save our precious planet? Otherwise we shall be failing not only Mr Bucket but ourselves!  Buckel’s action is extraordinary and definitely not to be recommended. But it is a prophetic sign to ourselves regarding the state of our planet. Can we live for this cause?

(The writer is professor of science and religion and author of Death: Live it!)

Columnist: 
Kuruvilla Pandikattu