He’s heavy. Both in stature and in spirit. He’s balding. With glasses. He is wearing baggy pants, sneakers and a shirt that is a few years beyond cool and he might be mumbling to himself. His gaze lowered to avoid being noticed. Plaid driving cap pulled low over his eyes.
He’s only come to McDonald’s for a cup of coffee but you still scoot your small children to the side and quickly order while keeping him in sight. This time you order “To go, please.”
He might look up and offer a shy smile or try to say something to your little ones and you wonder if he’s safe. Justifiably, you wonder about a man who engages children first, right? It never occurs to you that he might be intimidated by you. Perhaps he is afraid of adult interaction.
You smile nervously and promise yourself that you’ll talk to the manager about the “quality” of patronage at this restaurant and how you expect better from them. A safer environment because you are entitled to it, aren’t you?
Maybe you tell your friend later about your chance encounter. More than likely you walk away and forget he ever existed. You’ll be left with the relief that comes from avoiding a potentially negative situation.
But here’s what you don’t see.
This man you tried not to meet is almost 50, has been married for 17 years and while he wasn’t ever able to have children of his own has been a devoted husband, brother, uncle, grandfather in whatever capability he possesses. He spends hours every day taking care of his mentally ill wife and keeping her out of the care facility she would have most likely been best suited for. He’s even saved you a few tax dollars. An achievement beyond that of most Americans I know.
If I were to see that same man I would hug him fiercely. Then I will buy his coffee, his breakfast and invite him home. How? Why? Because I love him, we love him.
We are his family.
Scattered across the Northwest and into the Midwest we pray for him, call him, do whatever we can to keep in touch and help him remember he’s so very significant. He is a part of us and we aren’t us without him.
Even though he’s particularly not “normal” but then, neither are we. Come to think of it, neither are you!
We’ve lived with his mental illness since I was 10 and it stands to reason that a quarter of a century would be long enough to become accustomed to the fall out of bi-polar, manic, paranoid schizophrenia.
I’m here to tell you it isn’t. I don’t know that time does heal all wounds or make them easier to understand. It hasn’t here. That’s for sure.
When I see some poor, confused soul on a street corner, at the coffee shop or on the news I see shades of my brother. Every time I see the aversion us “normals” have to the mentally ill I can’t help but wonder who is missing their brother or sister, son or daughter, husband or wife. Friend.
Missing their loved one the way I miss my brother when his meds aren’t properly adjusted, when his vision is cloudy or when he is kept from all of us through the manipulation of one’s who cannot love him, value him or need him as we do.
Today he’s a ward of the state of Idaho, receiving some much needed rest and care from the folks at the State Hospital in Orofino.
My sister and parents are trying to figure out his future living arrangements and how best we can support him in a time when he cannot support himself.
So we pray a lot. Cry a bit. Talk some. Hope always.
What we see in him is so much more than what you could ever get from a chance encounter at McDonald’s.
But isn’t that the case with most people?