“Good things come in small packages”
When you are locked up in a psychiatric hospital you learnt the traits of your fellow patients. I remember one poor soul named Hal. All morning long he would growl and mumble, “Where’s breakfast? Where’s breakfast?” It seemed those were the only words in his vocabulary and the only thought in his mind. “Where’s breakfast? Where’s breakfast?” he would repeat until finally breakfast was served. And don’t you know it he would devour that breakfast quicker than a starved pig eating a fine meal. Finally as soon as the last morsel was wolfed down he’d begin to say “Where’s lunch? Where’s lunch?”
I remember my first hospitalization that I received a good amount of cards from the members of my church, maybe thirty cards or more. I don’t believe that a patient had ever received that many cards before. I held them so precious that when I wound up at home I put them up on the wall. My three greatest possessions were a warm note from my college roommate, a card signed by the evangelist Jack of my church, and a postcard from a young lady who I thought cared for me.
Unfortunately my mental illness was not a one time hospitalization affair. I felt alone and isolated and it seemed like most everybody didn’t care. None of my friends came to visit me. Not from my college or my fraternity or my church or anywhere else. I didn’t receive any phone calls or encouragement either. The man who ran the Bible study in his apartment said he didn’t want to pressure me. Let me assure everybody in the universe that a friendly call simply saying “We’re thinking about you and we want you to know we care” is not pressure.
I remember one man named Jack who was truly a light in my life. He would always have an encouraging and kind word to say to me. One time he said to me “A friend is somebody who’s love never fails, John your a friend to God.” With a few words he could brighten up the day.
I recall every being in a committed hospital for a long period of time. Every Thursday I would call up Jack. I only talked for five minutes, but he was always happy to hear from me and didn’t make me feel like I was bothering him. I remember that while I was in that hospital I drew Jack a picture. It was a picture of Manhattan when the sun went down. I didn’t think much of the picture but don’t you know it, that when I went into Jack’s office there was the picture hanging up.
Jack certainly went out of his way to make me feel welcome and loved. When I was in that hospital I would get out on the weekends and I’d attend Church. One morning Jack met me and we had a personal one on one Bible study. Another time Jack was talking to somebody outside the church building and I walked by. I guess Jack thought I was leaving, which I wasn’t. Didn’t you know Jack pushed the person who he was talking to aside and went and gave me a big hug?
Perhaps the greatest gift Jack gave me was that he understood that I really wasn’t crazy in my view of life. He understood what I saw in the world and appreciated it and valued it.
I’ll share with you one of the greatest things I’ve ever done in my life. I was outside the Manhattan Church and there was standing Carl, and his roommate and some stranger. Well I gave Carl a big hug and also one to his roommate as well. The stranger was an African man who was quite disheveled. Not to leave him out I gave him a big hug as well. The man said to me, “I’m a poor man dying of AIDS and you made me feel like a human being.”
The little things are so big.
It is almost thirty years since Jack passed away. When I picture the ideal Christian many of his examples come vivid in my mind.
Photos by downing.amanda,