Almost Like We Matter To Each Other

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. 

    

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The Dung Gate

Sitting in church, I’m pretty sure I got a point that wasn’t meant to be the main one.  The sermon was an overview of the book of Nehemiah, and the dung gate was mentioned.  Names were listed of people who’d helped rebuild the wall, and the guy who worked on the dung gate was noted.  I had an ADHD moment (well, hour or so) and the bit of random information sent me on a long exhaustive examination on the topic.

Today I thought about extreme fumes, and what it all means.  The kind that burns eyes and makes them run.  Like the time I had an hour long interview with a patient who literally lives in bed most of his life, such depression he had not bathed in over a year.  Flat and colorless, except for a hint of blue eyes, skin breakdown, soul breakdown.  Sweating profusely, his agoraphobia made the interview terrifying for him.  Much of the time he saw no one for months but the familiar mother he lives with. His story is slow in coming, as he fight his nerves.  His depression has nearly defeated him.  So many attempts at shock treatment, medication, more medication, hospitalizations, attempted suicides, of course a long history of loss and abuse early on, and a lifetime of trying to survive inside the catacomb of depression.  I remember the challenge staying in the room and completing the interview.  My eyes ran, the tissue I had stepped out to get when fumes hit, now soaked as I tried to prevent him from seeing that I was reacting to the powerful odor coming from his terribly sick body.  As soon as the interview was over, I tried not to rush from the room in escape, but know I was feeling that way.

I’m thinking of the frail old lady brought in by Aid Car, at request of police, found in house, laying on floor, herself and carpet covered in human feces, broken wine bottles, rotting food and cat messes throughout.  The broken down skin, malnutritioned, demented.  The concerned Officer tells me of the squalor she lives in.  Begging me in so many words to find a way to get this lady placed where she will be cared for, as so many loopholes could make it easy for us to send her back and just make the referral call required to make, and leave it at that.

The drunks that come in, covered in sickness from too much alcohol intake.  The suicidal patients matted hair and hung over, that have had to use the charcoal, dried around mouth, down chin, it blackens the teeth, ashamed and trying to tell me how they got to this place.

This sounds crazy, I know, but stench is holy.  It is the place from which most clearly the dignity and value of a person is seen.  A place from which God is magnified.  The same with darkness.  I like to use black to matte my color pictures.  Darkness intensifies color and beauty when it surrounds it.  The polished, bathed, made over; they took the time and effort to clean themselves up.  They deserve the clout they receive.  When absolutely nothing can cover the shame and disgust of an individual, and still, the dignity and value of that person is there, that is Jesus in the room, and I am talking to his child.

I have never been in a third world country, but have heard the smells can overwhelm those of us sheltered and fancy.  I wonder how many of us say “no thanks” to Gods Call to missions and ministry and people care because of our inability to tolerate filth.

As a mom, I have always hoped for my kids to grow up and one day become a teacher or doctor, engineer or lawyer.  Never have I encouraged them to become a garbage man, run a septic company, or manage waste of any kind.  Our son is working as a nurse’s aid in a memory care unit.  Yes, it involves cleaning up filth, even the bodies of patients he’d become fond of and cared so carefully for, before they passed.  These are hideous jobs, and yet, they are holy tasks.  He is studying to be an engineer, and yes, I know that is a calling as well, but I will never be as proud of him as I am now, doing the hardest task of his life, caring and loving for confused, difficult, fragile and needy patients.  Cleaning up messes no one even wants to think of.

God bless the man who rebuilt the Dung Gate.  And now the service is over.  I’m on my way to a day of fun and friends and living large.  And I ask myself, am I up to the task of holiness today?  I hope so.  

Amelia