So. I had ten words to include in a poem. Ta da.
Background: I read a thought-provoking article last week about a man forced, at a very young age, to face the mental breakdown/ illness of his young and beautiful wife. That prompted a conversation with my SIL (and we’ve had similar ones before) about mental health and care. Working in Detroit, I encounter numerous people every day who struggle with mental challenges. Some of them you meet in this poem (but their names are changed); other characters in this poem are just, as they say in Hollywood, “based on a true story.”
Simon of Cyrene
Peter Woodsworth firmly believes
Every day to be Thanksgiving Day,
Every dinner—whether Italian spaghetti dinner
Or simply hotdogs with potato chips—
He urges our celebratory thankfulness accordingly.
Georgia Wheetley says she
Talks to St. Dymphna herself
In the springtime, by the creek,
Sharing conversation and banana pudding.
(The saints change with the seasons for Georgia.
In winter she and St. Thomas More chat by the fire).
Richard Dunsgood lives on the street,
Two blocks from my office, with ripped pants.
Sometimes he just mutters to himself
With empty eyes. Other times he cusses,
Threatens, lunges menacingly at passerby,
Shakes his fists or runs into traffic.
It’s worth pondering the best ways of approaching
The gullible, the unstable, the mentally impaired,
Some with violent, self-harming tendencies
Or an ability to “sense” things unavailable to most of us:
All in different locations on the spectrum marked
“Mental” health or capacity.
“Medication” is a solution we love,
But what if, suddenly, instead of
Every day being Thanksgiving,
No day was ever anything beyond: grey.
And food lost its flavor
And emotion ceased to exist.
What if your friends no longer showed up
(Even if they were only imagined to begin with)
Would it not be harder to live in a muted reality
Than the bright one that once existed?
And many times the medicine-tinged experience
Strips more than just illusions…
Many times the effects on the other end of a pill
Are more numerous than a singular solution.
Weight is gained.
Emotions are numbed.
Passions are silenced.
Life itself is shortened.
Now, I don’t advocate a strict divorce
From doctors, therapists, medications.
Everywhere around me are people
Touched by, needy for what they offer.
From the urban alleys to familial halls,
I see the need for health, balance, wholeness.
Peter. Georgia. Richard.
(And Richard sometimes calls himself “David,”
Or so he told me, last time he yelled at me).
Danielle. My name is Danielle. I’ll list myself, too.
If I believe myself to be better, thus far “mentally stable,”
I’m living a façade.
I plead for this: understanding,
Compassion, listening ears, caring hands.
We are all simply brothers and sisters,
Carrying crosses of different sizes,
But crosses nonetheless.
How, we must insist, do we become
Simon of Cyrene?