Tuesday, December 03, 2013

Learning Acceptance

The Willards invited us and a couple of other neighbors over for a barbecue on their giant new gas grill.  Ann greeted us at the door, and after we thanked her for inviting us, Patty asked, “By the way, is it some special occasion?”

We’ve known the Willards for years.  Ann flushed, hesitated, and then said, “I suppose it’s okay to talk about it.  Dean has been having some... anxiety for a while, and I finally persuaded him to see a psychiatrist.  It took some intensive therapy and some medication, but they finally got him adjusted.  Dean had a hard time adapting to the new ‘normal.’  But he’s made the breakthrough.”  She gave a little smile of relief.  “He’s fine now.  So we felt like having a quiet celebration with our friends.”

I couldn’t restrain myself.  Despite a warning glance from Patty and a sharp kick to my shin, I asked, “Uh, what’s this ‘new normal’ he’s come to accept?  What’s that about?”

“Oh, it’s nothing earthshaking,” she said dismissively.  “Just learning to accept the world the way it is.”

“Like what, for instance?”  

“Ordinary things,” she said.  “You know.  Kidnapping people and shipping them to CIA black sites overseas to be tortured.  Jailing people in Guantanamo while denying them lawyers and visits by family members and holding them for years without charging them with a crime.  And then finding them innocent but continuing to hold them for more years.”

“Heck, that kind of thing is old hat now,” I said.  “First Bush, and now Obama.  Dean always seemed like a sensible guy.  I would have expected him to learn to go with the flow, like most people have.”

“I don’t want to make him sound fanatical,” she said, a little defensively.  “He probably could have handled it if that was all it was.  But then that SEAL force assassinated Osama bin Laden when he was unarmed, and killed a defenseless woman in the process, and that really bothered him.  He felt as if the man should have been captured and brought back to stand trial.  He said that’s the way a government operating under the rule of law would have done it.”

I patted her on the shoulder.  “I can see what a burden you’ve been carrying.  I haven’t thought about bin Laden in years.  That’s not just yesterday’s news; that’s history.”

Ann gave me a weak smile of gratitude.  “I think he might have gotten over that, but then these drone attacks kept escalating.  When he learned that 90% of the people killed by the drones are innocent women and children, somehow he couldn’t let go.  It just kept gnawing on him.  He lost his appetite and had trouble getting to sleep at night.  He began carrying a copy of the Constitution around in his pocket, and he’d pull it out and read it over and over, at the most inappropriate times.”

“He must have been desperate, grasping for anything to give him a hold on reality,” I said.  “ But you say he’s recovered now?”

“I think so,” she said, nodding.  “We couldn’t let his depression keep on like that, so we reached out for help.”

“I can certainly understand that,” I said.  “Some things you can’t just let ride.  You have to do something about them.”

“I’m glad you understand,” she said.  “We were starting to feel so isolated, with people all around us just going about their lives, while he was stuck on brooding constantly about our government’s--I don’t know what you would call them.  Imperfections?  I mean, that’s just the way things are, right?  Nobody’s perfect.”

“Sure,” I agreed.  “And that was all that was bothering him?”

“Well, no,” she admitted.  “He had a laundry list of things that haunted him.  It seemed to prey on his mind that Medicare and Medicaid and Social Security are all on the chopping block.  That states are shredding contracts with state workers and denying them the right to strike.  That we have the worst unemployment since the Great Depression, and the response is budget cuts that will create more unemployment.  That CEOs are making astronomical sums at the same time they’re cutting the pay of hourly workers.  That corporations are hiding billions in profits offshore and paying no income tax.  That we’re all being spied on by our own government.  He just didn’t think those things were fair.  He’s always been a little old-fashioned, you know.  He still thinks we should look out for each other and treat each other decently.”

“He’s lucky to have a wife who pays attention,” said Patty sympathetically.  “It sounds as if you have a really good understanding of his problem.”

“I had to listen to him often enough,” Ann sighed.  “At first I just took it as Dean’s blowing off steam.  But he wouldn’t let things roll off his back like a normal person.  You’d think it was his money funding war and murder by executive order, his family’s safety net that was being threatened, his community’s environment being polluted.  He took it all so personally.”

“Mental health issues can be frightening,” I told her.  “I’m glad it’s all worked out for the two of you.  Which way’s the beer?” 
© Tony Russell, 2013


Carol Ross said...

He probably also had some anxious moments watching the mountains blown up around him.Probably kept ranting about it . That and the poisoning of the drinking water. That was happening right down the road. But he's calmer now as he sees how many jobs are coming in. Right? Why three new bars opened up in town just last week.

Tony Russell said...

Good to see your name, Carol! And you're right--he didn't even get to the damage we're inflicting on all the beauty and life support systems of the planet. But it's not that he doesn't stew about those too.