There were things I loved about living on the psychiatric ward. What I didn’t love? The symptoms of my illness. The arrogance of some of the staff people, who were convinced they knew things they couldn’t possibly have known. The insistence that only hefty pharmaceuticals could heal -that any other effort was based entirely on delusion.
What I loved? The other patients -their humour, their courage, their creativity, their articulateness. Most of the staff -their compassion, their kindness, their humility, their sense of what (whether a joke, a hug, or a psychological prod) would bring us the most healing in any given day. The ping-pong table (‘cuz those are just fun, anywhere). The minimalism -a clean, bright-white, crispy-sheeted bed and little else. No computer. No phone.
And making boxes.
Well, we didn’t actually make boxes. We didn’t weave baskets either, as jokes alluding to psych wards tend to presume. Me, I built and painted a tiny wooden car. A useless task, one might say (but that one wouldn’t be me). It was in building and painting that tiny car that I experienced, for the first time in ages, a sense of presence.
Me, here, paint, brush, car.
I’ve since accompanied 3 different friends on their inaugural entrance to their local psychiatric facility. They all loved their experience there, too.
The world asks a lot of us. If we’re talented in logic and in studying, we’re expected to pursue a Master’s degree in law. If we’re decent writers, it’s not enough to write, we’re required to also Tweet, Facebook, Pinterest, and otherwise “market”, even though that’s a different skill set entirely. Several of my most talented friends -many wildly educated- crave to shuck the weight of degrees, of social media, of investing, of marketing, of logging our accomplishments, of tracking our children’s progress, of cooking from scratchier and scratchier just to know we can.
We want to make boxes.
Before I settle in each month to ship you your paperbacks, I’m nervous: Will I manage this rather hefty and multi-stepped task? And then I take a deep breath, pull my supplies around me, and begin.
I start by folding and bending your box. Almost immediately, I drop into a quietness, one that remembers my little model car. A small activity. One not requiring a university education. Joy wells. I think of you. As I make your box, then sticker your book, then slip it into its plastic ziploc, then set it into the box, then tape it up, then place my address and your address on, I think of you. My body and my mind and my heart are joined in prayer, that you may be well.
On the box-making days, making your box is all I can do. I cannot Tweet, Facebook, or Pinterest. I am not marketing, presenting, arm-twisting, cajoling. Well, you may have noticed I’m not doing those on other days, either, but on box-making day I don’t feel guilty about the fact that I’m not. On box-making day, I know I am doing enough.
I have written down all of what I know to ease your path and am now folding a box, forming my prayer for you. In that moment it feels like I am doing, now, enough.
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