My Friend is Lost 

by Brad Cotton   

(Published Circleville Herald , 8 June 2011)


Marcus showed me the diagnosis "paranoid schizophrenia" in black ink on our mutual friend Willy's discharge paperwork. The hard black words sucked the air out of my chest, gravity pulled harder.
 
Willy had been a star halfback at our high school with a promising academic future. Now in the late 60's-early 70's his psychedelic and poetic persona made him popular among the street kids Marcus and I ran with. Willy and I helped with Marcus's band. We hauled equipment while the band played Jimi Hendix, the Doors and the Chicago blues, trying to push the limits and "break on through to the other side" ( The Doors). Willy even looked the part, you could mistake him for Hendrix.
 
We once "liberated" our town of all those lantern-holding little statues folks used to put alongside the driveway, as well as a whole van full of chrome balls, concrete ducks and other yard ornaments, even a smiling Buddha. The next night they all re-appeared at 4:00 a.m. on the town square, lanterns held high, Buddha's serenity undisturbed. Willy laughed about the lantern-holder figures " That was my Grandpa holding the light for your Grandpa coming home."
 
Willy described a barrage of chuckholes on I-71  at 70 MPH as "anti-aircraft fire".  I had signed him out for a weekend from the Cleveland Psychiatric Institute. The Thorazine and Stelazine, the first generation anti-psychotics given Willy, thank goodness we have better drugs now, helped but also took away his spirit, his creativity. He seemed sad. I know I was.
 
I brought Willy down to Circleville for my wedding in 1990 and try to visit when I am back in the Lorain County area. His diagnosis now I am sure would be "Schizophrenia- Chronic Undifferentiated Type". Willy is a hollow shell of the poet he once was, or maybe it was only the late Sixties times  and our youth that romanticized his zaniness. I think of Baudelaire, Rimbaud, Van Gogh, Hemingway and Hendrix and Vonnegut, all thought to be mentally ill. Willy sincerely congratulates me on having such a wonderful marriage, so many kids and grandkids. As we talk about the wild days, I am sorry that Willy will never be so blessed with domestic happiness. I think of Willy when I  see psych patients in the emergency department, living in cold orbits, far from the sun.
 
In Mattthew 25:40 Jesus clearly states that how we treat the "least" among us is how we have treated Him. Ezekiel 16:49 eminently prophesies against the current and convenient interpretation that the Bible demands only private charity, thereby excusing us from acting though our collective selves, aka, the city, state and federal governments to take care of our unfortunate ones. Sodom and Gomorrah were destroyed, not as individuals but the whole governmental unit, as Ezekiel writes :"Now this was the sin of your sister Sodom: She and her daughters were arrogant, overfed and unconcerned; they did not help the poor and needy". St. Augustine, initiating a long-held Catholic theology of social justice, disparaged only of late as so often happens when the Church accommodates to culture, taught " Charity is no substitute for justice denied."
 
With great sadness and anger I read "Regional Mental Health Center cuts Staff, Services" ( Herald, 6 June). Only patients with insurance coverage will receive treatment as "indigent care no longer can be accommodated". Are those in need just supposed to disappear or simply go away , suffer and die quietly, away from our eyes?  What would Jesus and Ezekiel say of us? We don't have to look far for the answer: read the parable of Lazarus and the Rich Man. Our nation is wealthy, but we have allowed almost 70% of that wealth  to be grabbed up by 2% of the population, like Robin Hood in reverse, taking from the poor and giving to the rich. We don't have a spending problem, we have a moral and revenue problem. One out of 100 of us suffers from schizophrenia. We, all of us together, are to look out for all the lost sheep among us.
 

 

--- Brad Cotton, member, Physicians for a National Health Program