We share so much with the stranger:From the air that we breathe to the need to survive through our shared interest in the life we have.That life,with all its twists and turns captivates us ,drawing us to the conclusion that somehow ,somewhere,there is indeed a purpose to it all.What we perceive in our minds eye might appear to be totally unique to us but as we converse with the strangers,the people in our lives,our family,then we have to concede that we don’t differ too much as Homo sapiens.That said,some of us observe the world with a more artistic vent,a sensitivity that gets us into hot water with the more objective types who seek concrete solutions to each problem,constantly nurtured by a world view that might be described as narrow and conservative.
As Brian sat in his hospital bed,he became aware of the events that had led up to his confinement here in his retreat for the troubled mind.Wether he actually got the extent of his latest trauma was debatable,but he surely knew from the pained expressions on the faces of the nurses that what had happened today wasn’t the best of situations to put it mildly.He couldn’t quite trace it all in terms that made any sense ,and while he didn’t foresee the future in any way other than his immediate situation,he did at least want to have a sketch of his life as far as he saw it.That word sketch meant more to him than most ,because he had been a life long sketcher of events ,objects and just of things that took his artistic attentions away from the banal,the routine ,into a nether world of colour,of shapes,of mists ,of water,of fire,of beauty and magic.Why,he had always had a love of the mystical,furnished by an appreciation of the mythical arts that affected him profoundly.
Just then,a nurse came to his bedside and asked if he required anything to read or if he might want to sit out now.He didn’t really process exactly what she said,but her face had a light in it,not damaged by the dense darkness of misery and suffering that many adopted as a way of coping in this environment,He seemed to be drawn to her voice too,her quiet attachment,that willingness to just do more than just the minimum.Brian asked if he could have some paper and a pencil.His request was acted upon immediately by the diligent nurse ,so much so that she said that they had artists materials in the therapy room that she could get for him.As Brian knew that this would put her out a fair bit,he opted for just having a few sheets of drawing paper and a couple of pencils.He sketched from memory the interior of Aunt Lucy’s cottage but with the vision of adapting it into a retreat for families who had illness or emotional problems in their life,His idea was to provide a safe place for say one family or at a push two,to come to enjoy a weekend away from treatment and just walk and draw and paint.He had this idea when we had been at Jenny’s ,he even remembered sketching something vague before the darkness came.He knew from the times that he had spent here that relapses happen and sometimes they just come back and back.He truly wanted to make sense of his life,his trauma,but the only two things that he knew about was art and Food.He knew that he had wanted to talk to Jenny about it,but following this,he wondered if she would ever take him seriously ever again.He knew she loved him,that she always would,but he also knew that she would always be the stronger one ,the one that held things together and he would be the fragile,pathetic crazy brother who had periods when he was truly mad.
Brian drew the shapes of Cardinham with the dexterity of a Turner or Constable and as he did,his nurse peered over him in absolute admiration of his talent.She just wondered how someone with this talent could be so able and yet oh so fragile.It was a quandary indeed,a constant in her life and she thought of her mother and her demons of the mind and how she loved to dance but how she had had a breakdown following the birth of her second child,Our nurse had known suffering more so than Brian could imagine but somehow that spark of life hadn’t been extinguished.
As Brian and the nurse had,until this afternoon,been complete strangers,but they had a sharing ,a dovetail of shared breathe,of humanity,of compassion,of care.Our nurse wasn’t aware of Brian’s dreams,of his pulses for change,but ,in the brief moments of observation,she knew that he was far more than a man with mental illness.Wether strangers are aware or not,they truly have far more in common than meets the eye.Granted their will always be obstacles to understanding,prejudice being the foremost with mental illness.
Over my life,I have met many wonderful people who have either been apart of my family,or those I came across as a teacher and musician,or just in the course of my life.Just as many truly suffered at times,they also had so many positives that contributed to their life and the lives of others that they touched.This ,to me,is the real joy that can come from looking beyond mental illness to the person that lies beneath.Too many times ,folk have been consigned to permanent stranger tag,that ,don’t come near them,give them a wide berth.That default in society is now changing ,with charities like Mind ,Sane,and others really doing so much to break down barriers to inclusion to those blighted by mental disease.
Of course,with our friends Brian and Jenny,their journey started in the late 1970s,when Britain truly was a different place to live and where prejudice was a very real and prevalent issue for so many.As I explore the lives of Brian and Jenny in further chapters,it is my hope that a light can be shed through their experiences and by the things that have yet to happen,we might understand further their journey and how they came to be where they were.
Thank you for reading this .