If We Take Life Too Seriously, Life Will Seriously Take Us – Book Excerpt

In the wake of the loss through depression of Robin Williams, here is an excerpt on mental health and mental ill-health from In Through A Coloured Lens
October 26, 2009
If We Take Life Too Seriously, Life Will Seriously Take Us

One of the unspoken truths of this world in its totality is that it is really one of organized, controlled lunacy. The evidence is everywhere, and while so many of us have had those moments, some individuals lose the façade entirely.
A case in point: A person travels from another land to this one – heart and mind filled with hope for a new and better life. But somewhere along the adventure, her hope dims and in response she finds a new way, nothing like the imagined one. In fact, her life is one of carting bundles, and it does not allow for daily hygiene. It finds her positioned between doors at the underground entrance to a downtown subway station where she humbly seeks your spare change. You might smell her presence before you even see her.
She couldn’t have imagined this as a young woman in the now faraway Caribbean homeland where her dream of traveling to a new country to find a new life was born.
Where does she go at night, one wonders?
You don’t see many Black women living on the streets of this city – a testament to the resiliency of the many, and our invisible, informal support system. But there are some. Being so few, they stand out. They live in our midst, yet still are on the outer edge. There was another who used to collect spare change at Bathurst and Bloor. Where is she now, one wonders?
Another woman of colour, though coaxed, refuses to tell her story. She keeps the details of her life to herself, holding on to her dignity, controlling what little privacy she still can. Yet, her life is very much a public statement, as daily she drags her large, battered piece of luggage around with her. Her hair is sprinkled with grey; some teeth have gone missing. But every day her hair is neatly combed, makeup beautifully presented, although that does not hide the frayed edges of her psyche.
Some days, if she allows you, there will be conversation. One day she gave away that she has a daughter. Where? She doesn’t say. But she will talk nonstop about the “iniquity workers on the Earth.” She will tell you that the devil will trick the unaware in many ways and she will talk, half in a trance, about the spirits of evil that are busy fooling us all with enticements of wealth and power. She will speak to you, but she is not friendly. And if you listen carefully, with empathy, you can hear her keen intelligence mixed in with the madness. You will get a sense of what plagued her mind until she tipped over the edge. You will understand that she is crazy, but not stupid.
If you ask about her swollen foot, bandaged but not seeming to heal, she will tell you frankly that she doesn’t care to discuss that at this time… or any time. She has lost her mind, not her pride. To have come so far to a new land and then to have taken this unforeseen road is heart-wrenching misfortune.
On another day, in another place, there is the other, older, woman of colour. She doesn’t seem to be as disconnected from reality as her younger counterpart. She is friendly, with an approachable demeanour, if you can manage to overlook the smell. For some who abandon themselves to uncontrolled insanity, this is an instinctive defence, keeping them safe – other people are less inclined to approach them because the stench ensures they have a wider personal space. Yet, with compassion, some individuals extend a hand.
One of the pointed differences between the relatively few man and women of colour who live daily on the streets of this city– at least from this observer’s perspective – is that the women’s unstable mental health is not tied to drug and alcohol addiction. Other pressures came to bear to take them to the private hell of mental illness and the public admission of their homelessness. What rejections, what disappointments, what patterns have been running throughout their lives? How is it that they have so lost their humour?
The singer Seal reminds us “we’re never going to survive unless we get a little crazy.” In other words, allowing the madness out a little at a time prevents a full-blown leap into the chasm. Our sisters on the street remind us that Adversity has its own plan. Yet if we take life too seriously, life will seriously take us.

AT EACH AGE, ITS OWN VIRTUES – E-book Excerpt

Hello Reading Community,

Here is another of the selected columns included in my debut publication, In Through A Coloured Lens, currently available at Amazon.com. As always, thank you for making time for these compositions.

Oct. 13, 2010

At Each Age, Its Own Virtues

 

Rushing to get somewhere last week in that stressed state we all recognize as a part of city life, there came a rhythmic chi-chip, chi-chip, chi-chip behind me along the sidewalk. Then, there she was, about eight years old, red jacket open to the wind, blue backpack not yet weighed down with the kind of responsibility that comes with the higher grades. And so endearing, with her two little afro puffs bouncing from side to side as she skipped along, making her way home, heading away from the nearby school. Skipping comes with being happy. And young.

Released from my stress by the sight of her little carefree self, without saying a word, I thanked her for reminding me of what it means to still be a child. For you know that if you saw someone five times her age chi-chipping along the sidewalk, knees bouncing up, arms swinging wildly in like manner you would wonder at his or her mental state. Jogging yes, but skipping? No.

It’s always a good idea to cover your milestones at the appropriate time; otherwise, the desire to engage in certain age-specific activities beyond the cutoff date will raise questions regarding mental or emotional well-being. Not only that, but not engaging in certain age-appropriate activities could in the end also mean a life not well lived.

On another day, in the subway, where so much of city life reveals itself, the clap-clap-clap coming from the hands of two little girls playing a familiar game reminded me of how strong oral tradition still is. Does anyone who every played a clapping game remember learning it from an adult? No classroom lesson ever passes ‘Miss Mary Mack-Mack-Mack’ from one generation of schoolgirls to the next, from one country to the next. Yet there they were in the after-school rush hour linking the present with the past, completely oblivious to any of that.

It is to be hoped that we all had our fair share of hours with Miss Mary Mack and the ‘salt-mustard-vinegar-pepper’ of the skipping rope at full speed. It was fun at recess time in elementary school and it is fun to be reminded. How would it be at this point to think of jumping rope as fun and not just something to do to keep our heart healthy, according to doctor’s orders?

A family member who is now in the university years recently lamented that she doesn’t enjoy getting mail as much as she used to when she was younger. Why? When very young people get mail, it usually means a birthday or Christmas card, or some other such joyous occasion. But past a certain age, the only things that come in the mail are bills to be paid. Or worse, reminders that bills are overdue.

Even so, who would turn back the clock if they could? Few indeed would trade experience for time. It’s enough on a nice fall afternoon to receive a little vicarious happiness from some young one skipping along on her own journey.