Wisdom from the Woods: Lessons Learned from being around People Experiencing Life Difficulties.
It’s insane to think you’re not a little crazy. Recently, I willingly spent time in a health center, I made a brilliant discovery there. First, truly crazy people don’t seek help. Understanding you need treatment requires cleverness. I had the most intelligent conversations with complete strangers coping with emotional, behavioral, developmental or substance abuse issues. I live in a city of prying pariahs obsessed with the private particulars of every personal experience that transpires here. It’s not because they care. They just stir up hornets’ nests to deflect the stingers stabbing at their own heart. To avoid a swarm of busy bee gossip, I chose to share my recent experience coping with grief and depression. I’d been a bit blasé about buried blues related to my twin brother’s murder. The course of my consciousness was benign until a sequence of disheartening events triggered hidden hurt. Seeds of sadness began to sprout in my spirit. Weeds rooted and began to choke and kill what was left of the dormant garden in my heart. An unwanted plant invaded a space that I’d purposely been cultivating for something good. The easiest way to get rid of weeds is to literally pull them up out of the ground. During counseling, I discovered picking others up off of the ground was my way of weeding. Group (as it’s called) isn’t just about popping pills, it’s about willing participation. The best way to help myself was to help others. I was determined to be valedictorian of our class. They thought I was smart; I found them fascinating. In treatment, I met Doris. She didn’t say much except she liked my hats and I had pretty eyes. (She had me at hello.) I got her to play charades with us though. Jeff, a recovering alcoholic with severe anxiety, was the smartest person in group. He wore his wisdom on his weathered face. Most times, it was an emotionless mask. Although he didn’t speak often, when he did, I listened carefully to everything he said. He did not play charades! Mary was tormented by irrational fears of the Bible and nightmares of being in hell. During one of a dozen smoke breaks, I offered Mary spiritual advice I’d learned from my grandmother. She sobbed and asked me to write down what I’d said. I did. The next morning, she said she’d slept better than she had in weeks. She promised to frame my words and keep it on her nightstand at the shelter. Probably due to dementia, Eric had no filter. NONE! He said whatever came to his mind. It was refreshing. He made me laugh a lot. When the counselors asked, “How did you sleep, Eric?” He’d say, “On my back.” During a break, I was sitting next to him reading poetry. He asked me to read to him. I chose my favorite “Mending Wall” by Robert Frost. Eric listened silently. When I finished he said, earnestly, “Thank you!” Later that night, his blood pressure spiked and he went to the hospital. I never saw him again. James, a homeless fella with anger issues, was being released to a shelter the following day. I promised to take him to Wal-Mart to buy a TracFone, since I was being discharged as well. I told the staff and patients I would come back the next day with Maxx, so they could meet the subject of much of my discussions. I kept my word. I returned with Maxx, but the patients weren’t allowed outside to pet him. Instead, they pressed their noses against the picture window and waved excitedly at him. It was a truly remarkable experience. I learned that empathy is the essence of maintaining an uncluttered mind for me. There’s a beautiful garden blossoming in the fertile furrows of my soul again. The seeds of encouragement sowed in my memory by the suffering souls I encountered in the health center will provide perennial inspiration to me forever. They were the sturdiest unstable people I’ve ever met. I pray each of them will unearth a peaceful patch to begin growing something fruitful in their lives soon. Peace, my friends!
– Jim Shock. Lewisburg, WV. LBSPY 34 (June 17-July 1)