I visited someone in a locked mental ward. She desperately wants to get out but is not ready to do so. She’s a lawyer, indeed a barrister, though I doubt if that fraternity will open its arms again to her.

This piece was dated August 8th 2006, same as my previous
Never considered it suitable for publication then, but can’t see any harm today

She spends her time registering formal complaints against imagined wrongs and then complaining that her complaints are not followed up. Her illness seems to consist in becoming a legal machine from which sweet humanity has been entirely squeezed out. She questioned her visitors with thinly-disguised suspicion as if cross-examining witnesses, unaware that she was upsetting those who cared and grieved for her predicament. They cannot understand how she can be capable of checking contracts and arranging her affairs, whilst being unable to see that she is ill, or respond decently to love and concern. It was obvious that she needs an uninterrupted regime of calm and kindness, without stress and counter-accusations. Her hurtful remarks should be borne patiently. Her legal acuity should not be taken as evidence that she is capable of pulling herself together emotionally. Different capabilities come from different centres of the brain, one of which is damaged in her case and one is not. The only way I can help her is to brush aside the quibbles which she uses constantly as smokescreens, and address the sensitive person trapped inside her, which signals intermittently through tiny gestures of her eyes and mouth.

Our society caught her up, young and brilliant, and through its praise and exploitation used her talents, uncaring of the imbalance in her soul which has asserted itself in this breakdown. I am not saying that society is to blame, but it is not therapeutic.

I thought I’d discovered a therapeutic community when I went out last night for a stroll after our return from London. Went down Jubilee Road, past the mosque, for the sake of its peaceful vibe, the opposite of that in the locked ward, where unexpressed frustrations were dammed up behind every pair of patient’s eyes. Opposite this clean white building, with its green dome and slender minaret, were a group of about six youths, leaning against the front garden wall and a parked car so that if I continue to walk on the pavement, I’d bisect their meeting space and interrupt the good-humoured, desultory conversation that was proceeding. A bearded old gentleman in white was hobbling past the mosque itself on the other side. So I left the pavement and walked down the middle of the road to get past. The old man found his key and went into a house, but other houses had their gates, windows and or doors open, some with lights on, some not. It felt like a true community, not running to the norms of today’s England, but some earlier, less troubled age. My elder daughter has just moved with her family from London to Gloucester, knowing no one there, and their Pakistani neighbours have given them meals and practical help in all sorts of ways, offering instant and unstinting friendship. Would native English neighbours have done the same? We English justify our standoffishness as giving people privacy and space, while cherishing a hundred reasons not to like one another.

Pondering the above, glad that old-fashioned community still thrives, I turned the corner and found an alleyway cordoned off with blue police tape: “Do Not Cross”. Two women in white hooded overalls were crouched over something and seemed to be collecting dust samples or taking fingerprints, guarded by a police constable in navy blue. Opposite was a white van marked “Police Forensic Team”. I imagine that they were following another lead in search of the alleged would-be plane bombers. Some of the accused appearing in court today are from this very town, and perhaps these same streets. I was suddenly reminded of Dublin when I was there in 1987, near Sinn Fein headquarters, a peaceful place though IRA atrocities blighted Northern Ireland at the same time. I ponder the paradoxes of today’s world.

1 thought on “Paradoxes”

  1. An aspect of the paradox is that each is both the person in need and the agent of providing help and healing. Community is helpful but the greatest benefit comes from a close relationship with someone capable of loving and forgiving.
    Part of the solution comes from learning to ask, and from recognizing when someone is asking for attention.
    Always Grateful, ellie.


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