After lunch, I followed my friend next door, to the conference room. There, I watched something magical explode. It was subtle, the change in attitude as the hour wore on. I began as an outsider and left as a friend. I can't pinpoint the tipping point, but all of a sudden we were all talking about the same thing at the same time, agreeing, laughing, sighing. It was respectful and joyful and rueful all at the same time. It's been a while since I've felt this way.
Cafe 54 is a project of the Coyote Taskforce, whose mission is
to support individuals recovering from persistent, chronic mental illnesses; to help them regain their ability to move towards their recovery with a focus on reintegration into the community.My friend leads a writers' workshop, and it was they who invited me to visit this afternoon. She thought the group would benefit from hearing me talk about resilience. They never got the chance to listen to me wax eloquent; we were engrossed in conversation from the moment I finished my introductory who am I? sentences. They had their own agenda, and I was happy to follow along. They were sharing their lives with me, just as I'd shared my bullet wounds with them. We were up close and personal in short order.
The shooter was in the room, too, off in the corner, observing and being observed. I don't think that I was alone in sensing his presence. I was in that room because a young man with a mental illness changed my life. The larger truth, the one we were talking about, the piece that was nagging at us was articulated by one of the participants: That's not all of us.
The fear of "the other," the one who looks different or responds strangely or cannot participate in society in a way that is acceptable on the surface, that was what held us up. My shooter was as threatening to them as he is to me. That he never received the help he needed, that he never had the opportunity to get to a manageable place with a chronic condition, that he was alone while he was getting sicker - all that pierced our hearts. I've talked about forgiveness and understanding and what I can and cannot accept in many venues over the last two years; this afternoon was a whole 'nother ball of wax.
Though our topics ranged from gun control to the availability of services to research in brain health the theme was unchanging. Inclusion and understanding.... is that so much to ask? We are all in this together. Preventing tragedies like Aurora and Newtown is possible; on that we were all agreed. It was the larger question of mental illness in society today with which we were tangling.
We had no answers. We created no solutions. We shared different sides of an equation, and I only hope I was as helpful to them as they were to me.
The workshop is creating a chapbook to move the conversation along. Historical, poetical, and lyrical pieces will be included. I've been asked to contribute to the project, too. Flattery will get them everywhere; I'm compiling ideas amidst the mess on my desk. Until then, I'm continuing to explore my role in this issue. I'll keep you posted on how we can help.