Friday, February 1, 2008

Final Hour

I am scared to death of being away from my bikes for a month and a half. Tim asked when I was going to install the padlock on the basement door and hand over the key. I think he was only half joking.

The countdown is not unlike when I tried to quit smoking--with the help of the American Cancer Society. I called the free Quitline and was assigned a counselor who dissuaded me (ironically) from quitting right away. Rather, he told me to set a quit date a good two or three weeks away, versus making the 'next day' Day 1. This way, he explained, the anticipation of "let's get on with it" makes success more likely, since you are actually looking forward to quitting--like a drag car on the line gunning the engine at 12,000 rpms, ready to pop the clutch at the sound of the gun. I'm ready to quit working on my bikes for a time, but I'm quaking at the thought of what life will be like them for a time.

When my father was hospitalized after an acute psychotic mania, he was placed on the D&A ward because there were no more beds available in the psych wing. As a result he got to spend time with recovering addicts, eat, sleep, play ball (orderlies v. patients, circa. 'One Flew Over the Cuckoos Nest'), flirt with nurses, make friends, etc. He was happy as a lark. He recounted some of the stories, which I recorded in interviews while I was writing the first draft of Six Feet:

"My one roommate, he was delusional. His name was Bobby. He was a likeable guy, but he never seemed to able to focus his eyes and engage himself in anything for more than a few seconds. He’d go around saying he was going to be president of a galaxy that didn’t exist yet and that he was going to appoint me Secretary of State. He was in his late twenties. The times that I was there he would have incidents where he would have to be subdued and medicated to calm him down. Fits of uncontrollable anger. We would have occasional conversations, but I would usually hang with others more. My roommate was hard to talk to because he couldn’t focus, and was out of touch with things. So he wasn’t someone who you would spend a lot of time talking with.

"I had a lot of different roommates. I had one named Joe, who was almost toothless. He always had to be woken up in the morning by the orderlies and he would always yell at them, “leave me alone!” He’d come into group and always be so tired. He was there for drug abuse.

"And my one roommate was Stanley. He was like a human Shrek. That big shape, imposing, but one of the most loveable human beings. You could share a lot with him, reflect on things together, gain a different perspective on thoughts that you might be having. He had…something. But you never knew what. He seemed totally normal. Very jolly. You wouldn’t think he was, what was it? Like, in One Flew Over the Cuckoos Nest, the guy with the cards? And Danny Devito, saying “hit me, hit me?” Voluntary. You would think he was one of the “voluntary” ones.

"The basketball tournament was the highlight of my time there. We weren’t allowed to sit with the people from the other houses during meals. But afterwards we’d meet in the gym and there was an orderly that was nice enough to let us play. That whole experience was very bonding with the whole unit, about a dozen of us. Group was very good. I felt very safe there. And very worry free. A sense of well being that I wouldn’t have normally felt for such a sustained time." (101-2)

There's that fear whenever you are in a safe, comfortable environment that keeps you from wanting to leave. It is so strong that people will sometimes choose enslavement over the freedom of the unknown (think the Israelites in Egypt, the plight of blacks post-Emancipation, The Matrix, etc.). Insurance companies don't like rehab--they will limit you to a certain number of days in a psychiatric institution. This isn't a bad thing, though (unless you are really in need of more time); it's just a financial reality that they deal with in a calculated, often heartless, way (as with capitalism, it is not the job of insurance companies to be compassionate--they operate on numbers and bottom lines). It can also be the impetus for facing the inevitable: taking the first steps out (or in) the door.

I had been thinking about Tim's comment from the other day and it was starting to depress me a little, making my whole commitment to a future "now but not yet" metanoia marked by calender days to seem...childish. But looking back at my time spent in the same hospital where my father indulged in an endless supply of icecream sandwiches, basketball, and group therapy, looking out at the same door counting the days til you get out and at the same time not wanting to ever leave, I realized that there is value in anticipation. It kneads together fear and longing into an indivisible cake, one in which preparation is the most important step. As the prophet Isaiah said: 'Prepare the way of the Lord; make straight the path for him.'

Christians often refer to the cross as a tree of hope, but it is also a dreadful sight. Jesus was filled with this dread in Gesthemani sweating blood at the thought of the future, his future. He was not living in the 'now.' If he was he would have eaten breakfast, talked, and lay down serenely to sleep in the days approaching his death, because the time for it had not yet come and so did not exist. But these cracks in the divine armor reflected a glimpse at a humanity so vulnerable that even it could not withstand those moments that despite ourselves, despite reason and the fact that we know everything will turn out alright in the end...we get scared. Maybe we would prepare ourselves more for our deaths if we didn't forget our fate (the one sure bet) so often. Then again, it's not surprising that we prefer not to think about it.

Recommended reading: Silence by Shusaku Endo

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