being part of it
I wrote an essay last week about social inclusion and mental health. At the moment, in most parts of the world, many of those living with severe mental illness aren’t granted social inclusion. They live on the most precarious edges of our societies, excluded from so much of life that we take for granted – they often lack their own home, their own family, their own friends, their own job, their own responsibilities, their own pleasures, places to go, meaningful things to do, people who are interested in what they dream of, what they think about – they find themselves inhabiting a very lonely, thin, shadow of a life.
My day today was an odd day. Mmmmm … odd. But so full of people and places and meaningful things to do that I was strongly reminded of my essay and how important it is for every one of us to feel connected to our community. To feel wanted, valued, enjoyed.
It started at Bunnings – the giant hardware centre. A strange place to find community but oh I did. Sarah at the front door greeted me with a radiant smile, a hi! how are you today! Isn’t it cold! Craig spent almost half an hour with me, sharing his tiling expertise – how to prepare the timber, how to apply the adhesive, how to lay the tiles, how to grout, how to seal – there were so many steps and so much I needed to have explained, but Craig was interested in what I wanted to do and generous with his time. Bob helped me find the wardrobe locks, keys and handles I needed and we chatted about our shared love of old furniture. Steve cut my timber to just the perfect size.
I know these Bunning’s folk were being paid to spend time with me – I possessed the magic key so many with severe mental illness don’t- money to spend. Nevertheless, I shared the morning with them and came away wiser, cheerful and with the affirming feeling that I am part of this community.
On my way home, I spied a large spread of hard rubbish – had to stop, of course. And there, picking through it was Maggie – seriously! She introduced herself :-) Oh we had a good laugh – a wonderful chat – sharing our best hard rubbish moments, our favourite hard rubbish finds, the strange society we find ourselves in that has so much it can discard whole households of goods without a backward glance.
Maggie shared stories of her mum, her marriage breakdown, her daughter, her need to create her own space. She collected a brass planter she loved, telling me that she would always remember the fun of finding it with a fellow hard rubbisher. I collected some wonderful old wooden legs with cigar feet that she helped me unscrew from a damaged coffee table, and agreed that any future table made with these legs would certainly be the Maggie Table! We hope to see each other again! You never know :-) We made a connection and it warmed me through to my toes and plastered a huge smile across my face that took a while to knock off.
Soon after, the real action started. I was home. I had my wardrobe locks, keys and handles. I had my tiles. I had plans. I was sitting at my desk, looking at photos of my sweet nephew my Mum had sent from Canada. And then … a terrible squealing from outside on the road. Oh it was that squeal that never ends well. I looked up. And BAM! Boy do I mean BAM! My god it was the most amazing BAM I’ve ever experienced! A car came SMASHING THROUGH MY DOUBLE BRICK FRONT FENCE. I was just as stupid as all those people we see in films … I sat there at my desk, in front of the window watching the car come towards me. I didn’t move. I didn’t get out of the way. What a moron! All I did was think, “Holy shit! I hope it stops!”
It did. Phew! I ran outside with my phone. Neighbours came running. A young couple who had been travelling behind had already leaped out. And there, perched in my fence was a young man – Boy. He’s only had his license a few weeks. It was a new car. Now it was smashed up and balanced on my fence, only inches away from the big trees that line my fence. Holy shit.
Boy was okay. He climbed out, shaking like a leaf, close to tears, apologising over and over and over again. I hugged him, rubbed his back, offered him a drink, somewhere to sit, who could I call. The neighbours called the police. The young couple (Ty and Jessica) inspected the car to make sure there was no fuel leaking. An older man – also involved in the accident – approached warily.
The afternoon that ensued was like a Woody Allen film. Every ten minutes, gusty freezing rain would start up again and Boy, Ty, Jessica and I would be forced back to the front porch as we waited for reinforcements – Boy’s mum and a tow truck. When mum arrived – whew! She was the classic W.A. Jewish mum. She parked across the road and let out a scream “WHAT HAVE YOU DONE!” ”HOW DID YOU MANAGE THAT!” ”OH MY GOD WHAT WERE YOU DOING!” Ty, Jessica and I sat on the porch, bemused. Boy was pacing up and down the driveway. ”HAVE YOU CALLED YOUR FATHER?!” ”CALL HIM NOW!” All this from across the road, arms waving hysterically.
When she finally made it across, she lunged straight up to me, apologised profusely and then begged the use of our bathroom – all the emotion had gone straight to her bladder. Once she got over her shock, she was lovely. Really lovely. And Boy was so relieved to have her there.
The police didn’t arrive – despite assuring us they were on their way 3 times over a 2 hour period – we wanted them to see the positioning of the car because fault was disputed. The older man – who left the minute he’d swapped details – accused Boy of causing the accident but neither the witnesses nor I could possibly see how this could be so from the older man’s position on the road at the moment of the collision, the damage to his car, and where Boy wound up. Hopefully the insurance companies will sort it out – we all took lots of photos.
The tow truck driver was a gem – he got the car out of the fence without causing too much more damage. He picked up all the car debris and came back with a shovel, cleared the footpath and turned my once-a-fence-now-scattered-rubble into a reasonable pile.
So there was plenty of drama but it was also quite fun. Does that sound weird? It does a bit huh! Not because I enjoyed the sensationalism of it all. Not at all – we were all so lucky – I live on a tramline with a tram stop outside my home – the accident could have involved a tram (that would have been horrible) or one of the many people who wait at my fence for the tram, the elderly women who totter past with their shopping trolleys, the elderly gents walking their equally elderly dogs, or the little children on their scooters and in prams.
No … it was the connection. Whilst we sat on the porch we talked uphill and downdale. Jessica shared her dreams of becoming a pilot and all the work she’s putting in to make it happen. Ty shared his love of old cars and we talked makes and models and vintages and laughed over the silly things we’ve put up with because of our love for a silly car (did I ever tell you I once owned an 1950 Austin A40 – crazy!).
I talked about nursing (which elicited fascinating stories from Jessica), our move to Melbourne and my interest in our Jewish neighbourhood. When I mourned the fact that I still hadn’t made any Jewish friends who could invite me over for the Sabbath dinner, Jessica whooped with laughter, “Oh you have now - Ty’s Jewish too!” We laughed and laughed and argued over which Jewish bakery made the best bagels and had the friendliest staff.
In such odd circumstances, it was a good afternoon. Yes, there was drama and fear and a bit of destruction but everybody – including a much calmer Boy and Mum – departed with smiles, handshakes and genuine wishes for good fortune with their dreams. We shared our lives for the afternoon and it reminded each of us how connected we all are and how much stronger and more cheerful this makes us.
I say, let’s hold up our hands for social inclusion and do our bit each day to foster it. We ALL deserve it.