I started my journey in Life at the Pine Rest Christian Psychiatric Hospital in Cutlerville, Michigan, just two months out of high school. Most of my buddies put their applications in at General Motors or Herman Miller in the hopes of getting a job that would pay a good retirement. For some reason the idea of planning for my retirement at the age of 18 didn’t make a whole lot of sense. I didn’t know where Life would be taking me… but I sure hoped it would at least get me out of Michigan.
My first duties were mopping floors and cleaning toilets in a depressing old red brick building that housed long term male patients. There was a fenced in Yard where patients could go if they wanted, but most just sat in wooden chairs lined up against the walls, smoking cigarettes.
That first month was rather hard on me and when I finally did get my pay check it was less than a hundred dollars. I was disappointed and embarrassed to even tell my friends, who were bragging about their Two Hundred dollar paychecks and looking for a new Chevy to buy because they could get a discount for working at GM. I thought about quitting… but before I got around to it I was promoted to an Orderly, which allowed me to have direct contact with the patients and an increase in pay.
There are many stories I could tell you of my first encounters with the mental patients in Building One, most of whom had years of experience with new staff like me, who came with preconceived ideas of what a mental ward was like. For the most part life was boring for them and so any time one of them could pull a prank on me; it became entertainment for them all. I soon learned that just because I carried the keys and went home when my shift was over, didn’t necessarily mean I was any smarter than they were. For many, the life they lived was a chosen path, and it was not, in any way, an easy one to maintain.
One of those patients was a young man who I originally mistook for one of the staff. He always dressed very neatly and could carry an intelligent conversation on almost any subject. I asked him one day where he learned so much and he told me he had gone to school since the age of three. I asked him if it was a special school and he said, “No, where I come from all of the children start school at three. It is required.”
“And where did you come from?” I asked out of curiosity. He gave me the name of a place but I didn’t recognize it. “Is that in Michigan?” I responded.
“No,” he replied, quite seriously, “it’s on another planet.”
“OK, you got me on that one,” I replied with a smile, “but I’m serious. You are very knowledgeable and I would like to know where you went to school.”
“I just told you.” he responded, looking very hurt by my disbelief, and without a further word turned and walked away.
I was selected by the school to go to Nurses training and left Building One soon after that. In training I would occasionally return to the ward and try to talk with John… his story was always the same, and even though I presented him with facts that showed his story could not be true, he stuck to it.
John had grown up in a privileged family and went to some of the best schools in the country but then one day decided he had had enough of the life he was living and the people who were trying to control it… and so he created a new world for himself, where people would leave him alone.
According to John, he was a child when he came to Earth on an exploratory visit with his scientist father. Their ship had come down in some dense forest and John, being curious about the trees and vegetation, which they did not have in their world, ventured out beyond the perimeter set by the team. Some drunken men had discovered the ship and started firing at it with their shotguns and since the team was under strict orders not to destroy any humans, they had no choice but to leave John behind. He spent several days in the forest, until he was discovered by some hunters and placed in foster care.
John needed to believe that story more than anything else in the world, even though there was nothing to back it up. He needed to believe it because if he started doubting it, he would have to face the reality of his own failure and, in addition, would have to accept the responsibility for building a new life. That was too much of a price to pay for John, and so he spent the remainder of his life believing his father would one day come back for him and make everything right again.
John’s story in not that much different than many of ours, for when we look into the Heavens, we feel overwhelmed by its vastness and when we look to the Earth we feel helpless to do anything to change it… and so we create stories of how we got here and imagine that one day our daddy will come to save us and everything will be alright.
We tell ourselves these stories, even though there is no evidence to back them up, because the idea of being alone in this vast Universe can be scary, and to accept the idea that everything that is wrong in the world is of our own doing and the only way it will be made right is by our working it out together, is a reality most of us don’t want to face.
I happen to believe in Life however, and have confidence that It will find a way out of our present condition and bring us into a New Day, where Love and Peace shall reign.