The hour-long litany of love and pain-stated-as-fact, went on and on. A mother dealing with the US health care system as it serves, and does not serve, an adult child with psychosis. Her child was in another state, both geographically, and mentally.
We sat in the back corner of the mall’s food court where my friend likes to meet monthly (“among life,” as she says) for spiritual direction. The food court’s back wall is all windows looking out over a sparsely-treed and, even more sparsely used, parking lot. Malls are no longer the place to shop. From those windows we have marked the change of seasons in the year we have met. Gazing from them, we have seen the young ash trees, planted strategically at the end of each row of largely empty parking spaces, as they struggled to grow in asphalt-topped soil. Life wants to live, though, and so those straggly saplings have gone from bare, to budded, to green, then brilliant yellow, and now faded and mostly naked again, without seeming to grow an inch.
We meet before the retailers are open, and well before the carousel and bumper-cars have been turned on in an attempt to amuse children who have forgotten how to amuse themselves. It is quiet in the mall before ten in the morning. The only people we see are the retired men who meet for coffee and complaints, and the sneakered “mall-walkers” who take their climate-controlled exercise on the cement floors of the upper level between shops filled with things no one needs, and many people want. It is all like a scene from the movie Wall-E.
On this particular day, my friend and I were both running a few minutes late due to traffic and life. As we greeted one another with apologies and hugs at our regular table with its three chairs, (one for her, one for me, and the third for the Holy Spirit,) we noticed a small, confused, bird darting from one corner to another, seeking some way out of the unnatural, nightless, treeless, world it found itself in.
We began, as we always do, with prayer. We included the little bird.
My friend began speaking, “I guess I want to start with my daughter. She has had a psychotic break. She had been doing so well.” My friend told me the story of her last two weeks, describing her daughter’s struggles with psychoses, addiction, and the challenges of gender transition. Her voice never quavered as we spoke about the conditions at Bellevue, where her daughter was receiving treatment, and the very different conditions at New York University’s Tisch Hospital just down the road.
She shared her daughter’s fear when placed on the male ward, where her body still qualified, but her mind and soul never had. She told me about unplanned bus trips into the City, and the friend who had opened his home to her; how she had made it a daily habit to walk from Bellevue to Tisch just to sit in a calm and clean lobby to gather her thoughts.
I listened, as I always do, noting the most tender bits of her story, noticing that she did not speak of her own heart, only what was happening with her daughter.
She didn’t tear up until the hour had ended and I asked about her feelings and her faith. The woman is grounded and centered, like the fabled tree planted beside a stream. She is also big-hearted, and her heart hurt for her child, and all the others she encountered. She told me how good most of the nurses, physicians, and social workers at Bellevue were. She could see God in these people, as clearly as we always saw the Holy Spirit in our monthly conversations.
We reflected that Christ is always present in the damnedest places; the places filled with pain, hurt, suffering and fear: in locked-wards, “factory farms,” battlefields and detention camps. Wherever the suffering are, the Compassionate One is there, also, waiting for us to recognize our eternal divine souls, even as our frail, human, skins tremble and quake, seeking a way out of the unnatural world we have created.
© 2019, Melina Rudman