Don’t do it, Mr Collingwood …

Portrait_002I think I first noticed the man because he looked uncannily like a school teacher I’d had a positive relationship with. It didn’t seem to matter how many times I went to the supermarket, the man was always there. I’d say inside my head, ‘Good morning “Mr Collingwood”’ in that distinct rhythm we are all taught to address teachers by as school children.

Sometimes I’d meet ‘Mr Collingwood’ in one of the aisles; on other visits I’d see him, almost hunkered down, in the far corner of the car park, close to the railway line – my favourite parking spot.

When someone looks familiar, I think we signal something to the other person – perhaps we radiate a connection in the unconscious that they respond to.

Over the warm summer months it felt comfortable striking up a non-verbal, nodding acquaintance. When you see someone often enough on a regular route or passage, you begin to notice things about them. What I observed about ‘Mr Collingwood’ was that despite his slender frame he was always eating, but there were only ever two things he consumed: a large baguette pulled straight from the bread rack, cellophane wrapper rolled a little way down as he consumed it; or a family size bag of salt and vinegar chipsticks. Both the baguette and the chipsticks were eaten in a very similar manner – thumbs to the back of the packaging and fingers to the front. He would tilt his head down to a fixed position and then the packaging was raised close to his mouth as the food from within was consumed. It took a few observations before I was certain, but it became clear that bread was eaten inside the supermarket yet the salt and vinegar snacks were only ever eaten outside. In fact, the more often I saw him with the savoury snacks, the more I noticed he ate the sticks in a manner reminiscent of a horse with a nose bag, munching up the hay.

I’m not that certain how many times I actually saw ‘Mr Collingwood’ and I’m not sure how quickly I realised he had mental health issues, but we were exchanging a few words by the time the clocks went back in autumn. We never went beyond an ‘It’s warm today …’, ‘For the time of year …’ type of conversation, but it seemed appropriate, safe, friendly – respectful, even.

Shortly before Christmas, on my journey to the supermarket I was overtaken by a police car. At the roundabout, which is the entry road to the store, I could see, close to my parking spot, another police car. The traffic quickly began to back up at the railway crossing and it was clear that a late middle age man, stripped to the waist, was in major distress in the middle of the track. Those with mental health problems need to be treated sensitively and it is incumbent upon police officers to respond in such a manner. Being the first at a scene like this you’d hope the officers had extensive training in how to calm a situation and deal with the distress. But how can this really be expected of a service that was created for very different purposes? I took a look at the officers. They were young and I’m certain trying to do their best, but watching the scene from the car park it was apparent that every time a uniformed figure approached and shouted out to the half-naked figure, a wave of distress racked the figure’s body. He repeatedly raised his hand then smashed his fists on his body like a man boxing an internal shadow he was trying to rid himself of. I looked around for ‘Mr Collingwood’ and my heart leapt; for a moment I didn’t catch my breath and then a tear pricked my eye. It was poor ‘Mr Collingwood’ who was on the railway line. I pushed myself forward for a few metres and talked to the female officer closest to me.

‘I wonder if I can help?’ I asked.

‘No sir, we have to keep you back this side of the line,’ she replied.

‘I know this man a little; I’m a psychotherapist.’

What the hell am I saying!! This isn’t my line of work anymore. I’ve not worked in a hospital department since 2004.

‘We have called for an appropriate medical professional sir, if you could just stand back please.’ And I watched as three other officers tried to herd ‘Mr Collingwood’ like a farm animal.

I’ve not seen him since at the supermarket; I miss our nods and acknowledgements of the simple things we’ve noticed of the day. I hope you are well ‘Mr Collingwood’, I hope you are well.

 

Duncan suggests …

… talking to people in the world as we pass through. Little acknowledgements or kind words can be important connections for us all.

 

All rights reserved © Copyright Duncan E. Stafford 2019. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from the author of this post is strictly prohibited.

Religion of the undead

3monkeyGlenn‘You said your last therapist thought you’re mad.’

‘Yes,’ Daniel replies.

‘How so?’ I ask.

With a heaviness Daniel replies, ‘Umm … You know what zombies are?’ His eyes are intense.

‘I’ve seen zombie films,’ I retort. I don’t think this is the answer Daniel wants.

Daniel continues, ‘Zombies are brain dead; they feed on the living.’ He scans my reaction, then continues.

‘Have you seen Romero’s Dawn of the Dead? These people barricade themselves into a shopping mall, then zombies break in and wander around the shops; the survivors have to pretend to be zombies – it’s the way people have become.’

‘It’s a comment on consumerism?’ I ask.

Daniel looks disappointed. ‘It’s a metaphor, not a comment.’

‘So you’re saying some people are zombies?’ I clarify.

‘You read Nietzsche right?’ Daniel asks. I nod. ‘People’ve become Nietzsche’s last man; they seek only comfort, they don’t think, they dislike and fear the “other” unless they’re subjugated, kept behind a big wall, or Brexited away … This is what zombie films are about. No one’s immune. Christians think they are; they don’t realise they’re already zombies. Christianity is the religion of the undead.’

‘Say more,’ I urge.

Daniel sits forward. ‘Nietzsche understood Christianity wouldn’t die with the death of God; instead it would flourish, because, at it’s heart, it’s nihilistic. It can’t affirm life because it devalues it; it values only a belief in an afterlife. And so it breeds ressentiment towards life.’

Daniel pauses for a moment, then continues, ‘You’re thinking “He’s mad” aren’t you?’

‘Yes I am. You are mad. You’ve come in here and said “People are zombies”, “Christians are the undead” just as Nietzsche’s mad man entered the market declaring “God is dead”. You’re doing just the same. By your own point of reference, and Nietzsche’s, you’re mad.’

‘Huh. Yes I suppose so. But do you think I’m mad?’ Daniel insists.

‘Not in the clinical DSM 5 sense, but yes, in an informal sense, the way most of us are.’

‘So you agree that Christians are zombies, nihilists?’ Daniel asks.

‘Well I don’t know about zombies … but yes they’re nihilistic. Though I wouldn’t include Jesus in that. I agree with Nietzsche about Jesus, he described him as “the first and last Christian”. So Jesus is the exception that proves the rule.’

‘Hmm interesting,’ Daniel ponders, ‘Do you think Jesus was mad?’

‘How could he not be? Though I think he knew he was. Knowing how mad you are makes all the difference,’ I reply.

‘Do you think Richard Dawkins is mad?’ Daniel asks.

‘You tell me.’

‘Yes in a sense; when he attacks religious people it’s clear he doesn’t see how much in common he has with them; he wants to convert them. He picked up on this idea about memes, and said that religion was a sort of meme or virus. That’s similar to what I’m saying, though people seem to think Dawkins is brilliant. He thinks he has the cure; he doesn’t see how he’s just spreading a different strain of the same virus.’

‘You’re quite invested in what people think of you,’ I reply.

‘Aren’t you?’ Asks Daniel.

‘Yes to some degree; mostly not. Being yourself inevitably invites criticism. It’s a small price.’

‘You’re not mad,’ Daniel concludes, ‘You’re a bit odd, but you’re not mad.’

‘I am mad.’ I point at the space on the sofa next to where Daniel is sitting. ‘Three months ago I worked with a talking chimpanzee. She sat right there.’

Daniel looks at me as though seeing me for the first time.

‘Look, there on the rug, that’s a squashed mango stain – she dropped fruit peel and skins on the floor and stepped on them when she got up.’ Looking at Daniel I add, ‘If that’s true – and it is true – tell me I’m not mad.’

Daniel blinks twice, blurts out a high-pitch laugh and says, ‘You’re nuts! … So tell me about the chimpanzee, did you cure her?’

Daniel is humouring me; he doesn’t believe what I’ve said.

‘No, I don’t cure chimpanzees, or humans. Both are terminal conditions; there’s no cure. She did appreciate the fruit though … And our work together isn’t finished.’

Daniel looks up at the wall. ‘You should have one of those signs – you know: “You don’t have to be mad to work here, but it helps”.’

‘I might do that.’ I smile, ‘You’re a sensitive man Daniel. You’re creative and you care deeply. I see it’s a struggle to express that. We can explore anything you want. How does that sound?’

Daniel solemnly nods his approval.

‘But if you eat fruit in this room you can use the bin like a normal person.’

Glenn recommends …

… reading his earlier blog Chimpanzee on the couch; it might help you make more sense of this one.

All rights reserved © Copyright Glenn Nicholls 2019. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from the author of this post is strictly prohibited.