Thursday, November 04, 2010
Once a student lugged two boxes of her medical records to my office. I can't use them, she said. Maybe you can write about me. She'd been in and out of various mental hospitals over the years with all sorts of diagnosis. When she sat in my class, she clasped a large black rosary over her small white hands and appeared to be praying. I was glad someone was; I needed all the help I could get in those days. Teaching had lost its luster in the same way her rosary beads had -- they got the job done, but the shine had long left. A lot of people found her strange, but no stranger than my student who used the class break to burn his arms with cigarettes and then ate Smarties by the handful for the second part of class. I didn't have words. My own life, while it looked okay from the outside, wasn't much better.
I thought about my student with the rosary who both had the aura of a very young child and a very old woman. She was like one of those pictures where you either saw a skull or a rose depending on how you looked at it. I liked her and over time, came to understand her enmeshed family situation that had driven her, well, mad. I came to view her as an odd sort of saint, someone like Simone Weil who had suffered in ways most of us couldn't understand. Years later, she asked me for the boxes. I had ditched them in one of my office moves because they so depressed me. How anyone had been through what those papers indicated I didn't understand -- institutions, four point restraints, shock treatments. She looked sad for a minute as she told me she'd wanted to burn them, but cheered up when she came to the conclusion that God had taken care of her old self for her. I remembered the first time I saw someone burn themselves alive on television, a Buddhist monk in protest of the Vietnam War. I didn't know what it would be like to start anew. I, too, wished I could have seen the papers burned. To watch your old self light up in that way, to rise from the ashes of what had happened and walk away.
Michelle's Spell of the Day
"The only difference between saints and sinners is that every saint has a past while every sinner has a future." Oscar Wilde
Movie suggestion: You Will Meet A Tall Dark Stranger
Benedictions and Maledictions