Tag Archives: summer

Gibberish, Hallucination, Paranoia, and the Long Way Out of Town

Photograph by Jose Padua

from June 9, 2012

I can’t remember the quick way out of town anymore, and while we were stuck in traffic on North Capitol Street this morning, we saw this man standing at the entrance to this building, which is listed as the address of the Ida Mae Campbell Wellness & Resource Center. From behind the man looked like he was perhaps a businessman or even a doctor, but as we waited in traffic he remained at the door, and after a moment I could see that he was staring at a sign above the doorknob. When he turned around briefly, I could see he had a totally blank expression on his face, the look of someone who is far beyond just being lost. Then he turned back around to stare at the sign.

The DC Department of Mental Health lists The Ida Mae Campbell center as a resource, but this building has also recently been listed as on the market, so it may be that the wellness center no longer operates in this building. This reminds me of when I was in high school and worked in a church rectory which in the evening was a place where homeless men and women could see a social worker from the local St. Vincent dePaul Society. On occasion the social worker wouldn’t show up, and I’d have a waiting room full of homeless and mostly mentally ill people needing assistance. Since the priests weren’t to be bothered with this task, I had to talk to them and tell them there was no one there to help. I didn’t like having to tell them there was no one there to help, but as for time I spent talking to them, that was one of greatest educational experiences of my life. Because it was then that I realized that, hidden within the gibberish, the hallucinations, the paranoia, and all the other things so far removed from reality were some great truths and observations about the world.

This is not, mind you, that romantic view of madness as a thing that frees the mind to see things that the sane mind neglects. What’s often missed with this view is that madness takes a lot of work. These men and women had no homes and no jobs, but no one can tell me they weren’t working. With all the things they had going through their minds—the enormity of which I got a sense of from talking to them and which I know of somewhat through my own relatively minor issues—no one can tell me that what they go through isn’t hard labor.

And just as great wisdom can be found in a book five hundred pages long, you can also find it in that brief snippet of clarity from a man who’s so far gone he can barely stand still without his eyes going wild over everything that surrounds him, from a woman who can say everything that needs to be said in response to the question “How are you?” with a simple “I sell flowers on the street.” Just like the five hundred page book, it took a lot of work and a lot of years to be able to say “I sell flowers on the street.”

-Jose Padua

Photograph by Jose Padua

And When Lilacs Bloom There Will Be Time Enough for Both Anger and Light

Photograph by Jose Padua
After dinner one evening my daughter
asks, “What if I grow up to have anger
issues?” It feels like a summer night
with the warm weather newly arrived
and it’s a difficult age and especially
hard time to be nine. I remember
at that age neurotically worrying
about every disease I might possibly
have, but I never worried about
anger issues because back then
we rarely used the word “issues”
that way and I was simply concerned
if one day I might go “crazy,” which
was the word back then that covered
everything that sent a person to what
we called “the funny farm,” which didn’t
sound all that bad a place to be, because
at least you got to laugh, and I wondered
if more than anything else that’s what
made a person crazy, that ability,
that tendency, that insurmountable
predilection for laughing at the slightest
nudge of elbow or brain during even
the most serious and solemn occasions.
And my answer to my daughter is
“No, you won’t, because sometimes
there are things you need get angry about
and anger itself is not the issue.” Then
my daughter, my wife, my son, and
I go out back in this, the hour of lilacs,
to walk upon the grass, the clover,
everything that issues forth from
underneath damp ground in the noble
angry effort to reach the light.

-Jose Padua

Photograph by Jose Padua