Eight Explosive Truth Bombs

From the pen of Cormac McCarthy

The Passenger, published in October 2022, by award winning 89-year-old novelist Cormac McCarthy, has received a mixed reception. Some readers have described it as breathtaking while others found it frustrating. Having read No Country for Old Men (2005) and The Road (2006) in the past twelve months, I didn’t know what to expect.

Cormac McCarthy is a writer who insists on being read thoughtfully and thoroughly. The Passenger demands your attention from the outset. It is not a comfortable read but an intense engagement with the questions we ask ourselves about life and what lies after it. The psychological complexities of the story are weighty and nearly brought me undone at one point.

The main protagonist is a man named Robert (Bobby) Western, who is a professional salvage diver. He is assigned the task of diving into an airplane crash site with his companion Oiler. He plunges into the darkness, experiences the pull of the water, and discovers the sunken aircraft, with minimal damage. Missing from the crash site are the pilot’s flight bag, the plane’s black box, and the tenth passenger.

The incident remains a mystery. It is not clear why it is included in the novel. It asks questions that are never addressed. This may be the point. There are experiences in life that are confusing, creating a catalogue of questions that cannot be answered.

Or are we being asked to consider what it would be like to be Bobby, to dive into the dark murky water not knowing what awaits us, or the challenges we will face?

Or is it proposing that life is about dealing with the unknown, sensing unseen danger, feeling ill equipped to negotiate uncertainty?

Bobby Western is aware of the dark shadows encroaching on his life, threatening to claim him, to undermine his sanity and derail his existence.

Firstly, Bobby is embroiled in a mysterious federal investigation. Federal officers speak with him but give little away. He surmises it has something to do with the plane crash. The investigation takes on a sinister tone. His apartment is broken into twice, family photographs and documents are stolen from his grandmother’s house, his financial assets are frozen, and his car is impounded. Bobby senses he is under constant surveillance. This unnerves him and leads to bouts of paranoia.

Secondly, Bobby grieves for his sister, Alicia. She was a beautiful young woman, a precocious university student, gifted mathematically, who suffered from schizophrenia and died by suicide ten years earlier. Bobby feels regret that he was unable to save his sister.

Thirdly, Bobby is haunted by the memories and dreams of his father.  Bobby’s father was an inventor who was involved in the creation of the atomic bomb, which melted glass and flesh in Hiroshima.

Despite the novel appearing disjointed and not really going anywhere, there are, sprinkled throughout, these explosive truth bombs that light our path and bring meaning to the discourse.


Grief is the stuff of life. A life without grief is no life at all.

Grief is not something we can avoid. If we love, we will have occasion to grieve. If we love deeply, we will grieve deeply.

Bobby Western had a complicated connection with his sister, Alicia. He loved her deeply. We don’t know whether their relationship was intimate. What we do know is that after Alicia took her life, Bobby struggled with guilt, believing he could have done more.

As the years passed by, Bobby recognized that Alicia was slipping away from him. This realisation is captured beautifully in these words.

For all his dedication there were times he thought the fine sweet edge of his grief was thinning.

Grief is a gift. It gives us permission to remember. But over time our memories fade, adding another layer to our grief. Bobby knew this to be true.

He tried to see her face, but he knew he was losing her.


Regret is a prison. Some part of you which you deeply value lies forever impaled at a crossroads you can no longer find and never forget.

People who say they have few regrets are living an unconsidered past. Regrets are always bubbling up to the surface. We are confronted with the inconvenient truth, the harsh words spoken, the inappropriate slurs, the immodest suggestions, the tainted praise. Then there are hurtful actions, often motivated by self-interest, that undermine, dismantle, and destroy. Often, we save our most hurtful tirades and angry attacks for those we care about most.

Regrets demand a response. We can’t ignore them. They may require asking for forgiveness, planning how to make amends, or a change in our behaviour. Don’t allow yourself to be imprisoned by your regrets. Act now.


Real trouble doesn’t begin in a society until boredom has become its most general feature. Boredom will drive even quiet minded people down paths they’d never imagined.

Boredom, being unhappy with the monotony of life, or no longer possessing the energy or drive to act, is a relatively modern phenomenon. Boredom may give rise to other feelings such as anger, frustration, and desperation.

Scientific research suggests that people who are easily bored may also be at greater risk for depression, anxiety disorders, gambling addictions, eating disorders, aggression, and other psychosocial issues. Boredom can also exacerbate existing mental illness.

Boredom may reflect our disenchantment with the way things are and our doubts about the future, giving rise to a growing discontent that may erupt in angry and violent ways.


Some people cling to wreckage forever.

I recall trekking in Papua New Guinea along a dirt road when I came across a vehicle that had been abandoned. Rather than move the vehicle out of the way the road went around the wreck.

Some people prefer to cling to the wreckage of the past rather than dealing with it. It has become part of their identity; it defines how they live their life. They accommodate the imposition and accept the ongoing pangs of guilt, regret, and remorse.

Wreckage is an apt description for a failed business enterprise, a failed financial investment, a failed marriage, a failed career, a failed standing in the eyes of the public.

Failure can be a great teacher, chipping away at our egos, shaping us, transforming us, and instilling in us compassion, empathy, and kindness.

We surrender all that potential when we bind ourselves to the wreckage, when we allow it to weigh us down and limit what is possible.


She said one time that just because the world was spinning didn’t mean that you couldn’t get off.

Alicia had a lot going for her – young, attractive, intelligent. But her demons were internal. Alicia suffers from hallucinations. She engages in conversations with different characters such as the Thalidomide Kid, Bathless Grogan, the dwarves, and the old lady with the roadkill stole. We are given an insight into the unconscious mind, a jumble of images and thoughts that are difficult to understand. For Alicia, there is this unresolved tension between life and death.

Despite the support she received from her friends in the mental institution, Alicia could never find confidence in life, doubting why she was here, a living entity, and what purpose her life had. She chose to put an end to her confusion.

Death by suicide is a tragedy. Our uniqueness, our individuality, our value is unquestionable, even though we might not have realized it yet.


Suffering is part of the human condition and must be borne. But misery is a choice.

Suffering is universal. It is the defining element of the human story.

‘What do we do with our suffering?’ This is the question we must all answer. But we need to bear in mind that ‘suffering has a way of distorting truth.’

When our son Adam took his life, the pain was unbearable. Survival became paramount. I recall taking a walk. The rhythm of walking has a calming effect. Within my spirit I heard these words – READ, WRITE, SHARE.

Read – You need a better understanding of suicide.

Write – You need to put into words your experience of grief.

Share – You need to find a way to communicate what you learn.

Many people believe their suffering has been inflicted upon them, that they are the innocent victim. While this may be true in some instances, Psychotherapist, Elvin Semrad, provides a different angle when he says,

‘The greatest sources of our suffering are the lies we tell ourselves.’

Elvin Semrad


If you think that the dignity of your life cannot be cancelled with the stroke of a pen, then I think you should think again.

Although ‘Cancel Culture’ may not be the most accurate description of what we are witnessing in society, there is a growing desire to use social media to attack, slander, denigrate, and abuse anyone for any remark that may run counter to your understanding or viewpoint. If you can attach a label like sexist, racist, or homophobic to your criticism, all the better. It is not even necessary for your comments to be evidence based.

The fear of cancellation is having a stifling and deadening effect on people of varying backgrounds but more particularly artists, writers, and those who participate in public discourse. It is having a devastating consequence on people’s livelihoods and their ability to conduct their lives. All of us get it wrong some of the time. No one has the right to be vindictive.

Author Bréne Brown speaks to this corrosive spirit that is rupturing society when she says,

‘Nothing that celebrates the humiliation or pain of another person builds lasting connection.’



Mercy is the province of the person alone. There is mass hatred and there is mass grief. Mass vengeance and even mass suicide. But there is no mass forgiveness.

What is most lacking in our world is forgiveness. Secular society has difficulty articulating what forgiveness looks like. We have adopted a ‘one strike you’re out’ philosophy. I have watched politicians lose their career over seemingly insignificant indiscretions. I have seen leading churchmen convicted and imprisoned based on one ‘credible’ witness whose witness statement was altered multiple times while contrary testimonies weren’t even considered.

The need for forgiveness is at the centre of our lives. The question remains, where can we find it? It irks a secular generation that this is a religious question. Only a God of truth, justice, and mercy can forgive, for it is God who sets the standard.

If we are to live peaceably, productively, and purposefully in an ever-changing world we need to be able to show mercy, to offer people some slack, to believe in second chances, and be capable of giving and receiving forgiveness.

Bobby Western struggled to forgive his father for his work in developing the atomic bomb. He struggled to forgive Alicia for choosing death over life. He struggled to forgive himself for not being enough.

Author: Bruce Rickard

Reflections on Suicide and Staying Alive: My son's suicide changed everything. I felt an obligation to understand why anyone would want to end their life. My regular blog posts explore the causes and prevalence of suicide and what is needed to sustain a healthy mind and a hope-filled future.

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