Church campout marks a summer that has come, will soon be gone. Only a few weeks and school will start again. Here I am, sitting on the edge of summertime, at the edge of wild, sitting out of doors in blue collapsable chair at Howard Miller Steelhead Park. River passes by on one side, can’t be heard for the breeze that messes up the leaves above my head, grand mountains on the other. The wind, it hints at cooler days coming. And still no leaves have fallen. The kids whiz past me on scooters, bikes and feet. The couples pass by, a dog on leash, lazy like, they walk about, talking to each other. Some stop here and say a hello. Almost like we matter to each other. As if we do.
And then I stop the writing for she arrives. The girl on the edge, the wild one. The one whose internal stimuli keeps her lips forever moving, with no words. The searching eyes. The difficulty tracking a conversation for the ever-conversing voices in her head. I matter to her, I know I do, though she keeps me at bay, holds me at a distance, paranoia yanking her about to the ones who care for her most. She asks if she can join us early next morning for the hike. I don’t know if she will make it, it’s 10 miles round trip, an entire day of mountain-goat work. In morning we will see.
Sun comes up just now, camp mostly quiet, she arrives, pink cheeked and tentative. I want her to come along and still I think it’s too much. So do her voices. She backs out at last minute.
All day long I hike, me and my 8 year old Butterfly. Friends along too. All day long I climb higher and higher. Legs and lungs they work to move us along ridges, beside fields of flowers, tree tops and shifting stones. All day long, searching for bathroom among the hiding places. All day catching a glimpse of the sanity a mountain-top brings.
A hike to heaven and back, that’s what we do. End of day picked up by adored husband and lanky son of boredom. Down an hour of washboard road, we stop along the way to buy some ice cream for little miss who managed the 10 miles of all day. Back at camp, sticky peaches are my pick-me-up, and a hot shower to wash the layers of dirt off tired body.
It’s Sunday Morning. I’m in the park block-house freshening up again, the community place of washing. The place that smells of soap and mud. Caring friend comes in, too, looking rather tired. She sees me, needs just a minute to talk. Shares how the wild one we both love screamed terrifying into the night. Voices, forever the voices. Tired eyes tell of the many who gather in the night to pray as she struggled on. Said they had almost come to find me in the night.
I am sad. I hate the struggles of mental illness. Mind that convinces the tormented one that those who love her are not safe. Convinces mind that medicine is not safe. That doctors and therapists are not safe. Nothing we can do now. We say a prayer and off to outdoor church service.
Pastor is real. During service shares his struggles with depression. At one point in the sermon he asks all those who have experienced depression to raise their hands. A few raise their brave and vulnerable hands. Me too. While we sit listening to a sermon on mental health, just beyond the crowd sits a mentally ill girl, tent collapsed with all her belongings inside the tent. Caring friend comes and finds me again, tells me wild one is frozen in place, sitting criss-cross applesauce staring at tent full to the brim with no poles, caved in upon her things. I slip away with caring one, hoping to help.
Talking does nothing but make her lips move with no sound to match. When I tell her I can’t hear her, she shouts that she loves us and needs her space. I tell her “No rush, we don’t have to check out till afternoon, will help in any way I can, if you want me to help.”
There she sits, all through the sermon on mental illness. Still like death in front of downed tent. There my heart sits, beside her, but far across the expanse. After the sermon I find a friend who hurt for wild one, too. Sometimes we say “lets pray” with the thought that it’s not really doing anything. Our prayer beside handsome mountain, our prayer along wide river – the river we can’t hear for the noisy trees above us, we pray our prayer anyway – because God has good hearing. And as our prayer comes to a close, from a distance we see caring heart as she makes her way across the grass. She gets closer, we see the tears on her tired cheeks. She tells us what God did for wild one. He sent a small red headed boy, a boy much like the boys wild one once taught in Sunday School in days when her mind was well, to ask if he could help. And she let him. Together they set up the tent, emptied it out, packed up her things, packed up the tent, and she was righted enough to make her way back home again.
Here I am, sitting on the edge of summertime, at the edge of wild, sitting out of doors in blue collapsable chair at Howard Miller Steelhead Park. River passes by on one side, can’t be heard for the breeze that messes up the leaves above my head, grand mountains on the other. The wind, it hints at cooler days coming. And still no leaves have fallen. The kids whiz past me on scooters, bikes and feet. The couples pass by, a dog on leash, lazy like, they walk about, talking to each other. Some stop here and say a hello. Almost like we matter to each other. As if we do.