Tag Archives: NAMI

The Love Chapter.

 

Today was Lance Barclay’s funeral.

Funerals, as a rule, are generally less well attended than are viewings, unless the deceased is a close friend or family. But, this memorial, a good thirty minute commute – practically a day trip for the locals in this town – was packed.

The Girard Unitarian Universalist Church is one of the Great Lakes region’s original “underground railroad” hubs. Maybe its spirits have infused the space. I’d wager something is influencing those small, close quarters complete with tiny balcony, because those who occupy its congregation are some of the warmest, most well rounded, most open minded and forgiving of humans you’d ever hope to meet.

Among them, Lance was a star.

The impact of his life really gelled at the moment I realized his death. Perhaps, because many of us had no idea he’d been fighting cancer at all, this element of surprise was a catalyst, of sorts. Whichever being the case, I found myself drawn and determined; Saturday morning long since having ceased to be my earliest rising, I nevertheless vowed to get to that church on time.

Historically, the drive had been, for me, the prohibitor – especially during our forbidding winters; for this reason, at least in large part, my attendance at the Girard UU had been spotty. But, the single person apart from its minister, Rev. Charles Brock, most welcoming toward me, whether I were there to present a musical offering or simply to join the collective, was Lance. Always smiling (always smiling), he engaged me in conversation. He attuned. And, unlike those whose training in proselytizing could be knee jerk, his interest was genuine.

But, most of those already seated as the gong sounded at my arrival were strangers to both the congregation and me; yet, I found myself entering with a former colleague and seated beside another, neither of whom knew the other. This was the first aspect of Lance Barclay worthy of note; he’d been everywhere. The man had been a devoted member of numerous well established organizations dedicated to service. He was a Son of the American Revolution. He’d held a leadership position in service to the mentally ill. And, together with his adored wife, he’d raised his beloved family.

The funeral began with a greeting and a congregational hymn, and then the reading.

Noting the reading’s address – I Corinthians 13 – I marveled privately. The “Love” Chapter. Wasn’t this reserved almost exclusively for the sacrament of marriage? Certainly, my own wedding, all those years ago, had featured the verses – front and center, just ahead of the vows and behind the parade of handmade gowns lovingly sewn by my mother.

Rev. Brock preambled with the pre-existing theme of the previous month’s homilies. Eros – Philios – Agape…….and, then, he began to recite the 13th chapter of I Corinthians.

“Love is patient….

and kind……..”

I sat. My coat was russet, faux suede, a stand out amongst the Navies and blacks of the appropriately attired. The remaining spot on the pew which had been offered me bore two, hand sewn cushions which met just where the halves of my body separated. I squirmed over the void. The small bag holding the tiny African violet for Bernadette, his widow, next to my oversized Sundance bag filled the space at my feet.

“….love is not jealous

or boastful

or proud

…..or rude……….”

Allan the organist’s forehead was just visible over the top of the music rack, in the tiny corner of the sanctuary facing the room. I looked at Lance’s face, painted in striking oils, his smile ever present now in portrait.

“It does not demand its own way.  It is not irritable, and it keeps no record of being wronged.”……..

My heartbeat, particularly unstable back in the ’80’s especially during marching band season, pricked inside my chest. I looked over at Rev. Brock, head bowed over his New Living quote of the Scriptures, and back up toward Lance’s face. His image was a backdrop now for the youngest of two daughters, both of whom had presented so beautifully a litany of his many words of wisdom in remembrance. I watched as she kissed her child’s forehead.

“It does not rejoice about injustice, but rejoices whenever the truth wins out.”

It was clear, now, why Rev. Brock had chosen to read this chapter. Lance Barclay had embodied the love of Christ as received by the Apostle Paul in his letter to the Corinthians. There wasn’t a single blot on his record as either a responsible citizen, a father, or husband. He had lived a life utterly and completely above reproach.

“Love never gives up, never loses faith, is always hopeful, and endures through every circumstance.”

A sigh of ten thousand mornings and nights escaped from deep within me. I knew, then, what had compelled my attendance at this man’s funeral. Looking back over so many attempts at accomplishment, at professional contribution, at earnest effort, at production as a single, responsible woman in the world of the performing, visual, and teaching arts, I had failed completely at the one, divine directive. I’d been impatient, unkind, jealous, proud, boastful, and rude. I’d demanded my own way, quite irritably so, and had kept a record of every transgression against me. I had failed at love.

Lance Barclay’s gaze followed his family, friends, fellow parishioners, WWII veterans, and colleagues as they filed outside for his full military honors. The three (merciful) gun salute, the American flag folded triangularly and presented to the family, the single bugler’s Taps, and the lone piper’s “Amazing Grace” filling the early spring air, feathered now by fine flakes of snow. We stood. Then, the piper turned, and retreated, allowing the strains of the hymn to diminish across the portal that opened into eternity…………….

We were flooded.

I was infused with it. That grace! A vow to live love at all costs filled the blood in my veins. Seventy seven chapters closed in the life of Lance Barclay; another day in the life of those to whom he left his legacy. A new love chapter, ready to begin, just across the next horizon.

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© Ruth Ann Scanzillo  3/5/16  All rights, in honor of Lance, Bernadette, Nicole, Martine, and the rest of their loving family, reserved. Thank you.

littlebarefeetblog.com

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Justin Bowersox.

There had been thousands of students. After calculating the plus or minus nine hundred each week for the final fifteen, and the two high schools prior, there were at least four. Four thousand children. In twenty five years. All of them, calling me by my name.

Statistically, I would not know how many people we recall vividly, as we pass through life. I do know that there are always stand outs. In my life, Justin was one of them.

The classroom right next to mine, in the basement level at Perry, was for Emotional Support – a fairly new designation, since I’d been alive, for children who, for one reason or another, needed help with coping skills. Looking back, I probably should have used my energy, if I were to spend any of it in public education, as an Emotional Support teacher; as it stood, I was next door, in the music room.

Thankfully, the E.S. students, so called, were mainstreamed for their “specials”. This meant that Justin would enter my classroom whenever his age group was scheduled to have music class. And, this was how I got to know Justin.

Unlike some of the children who joined other groups for music, Justin was never disruptive in my classroom.  He spoke little. When he did, there was a certain urgency in his quiet delivery, a purpose, as if driven by a need. Justin always knew what he wanted, and what he needed to do. I often wonder now how many people ever asked Justin what he needed.

Perry School had several percussion instruments. Made small enough for children, there were hand drums and shakers and woodblocks, and at least two rosewood xylophones available for use. Here was where Justin found his love; every time he had the chance, Justin would get the mallets and play the xylophone.

In fact, I began to notice how much Justin needed to play the xylophone.

The day he could be heard, on the floor of the hallway, held down by a muscular instructor, screaming intensely, I determined that Justin, whenever he needed to, would play his xylophone.

And, during the lunch hour, I would let him sneak across from the cafeteria to play. I’d told him that, whenever he needed to, he could come on over.

Speaking to the instructor about Justin’s need to play, I’d been met with the customary reminder that there was protocol involving “these children” that should be followed. This was why I told him he could come over whenever he wanted to play; I’d sought official permission, but was out of my league in this regard within the American public school system.

Nobody could get Justin to private percussion lessons, either. According to my memory, he’d been a resident of the local home for such children and, apparently, there was nobody on staff who could either transport him or cover the cost.

But, there was something else, as well. At one of the music classes during a day when Justin was present, he seemed agitated. I walked over to him, and his words as they sprang forth were startling; he expressed the desire to end his life. I recall sitting down, right then, hearing him out, persuading him regarding his value, trying to show love and understanding. After several minutes, we came to terms about this – he, deciding to dispense with his desire as expressed, and me telling him to always remember that he was cared about and valued.

I remember this happening on a Friday. Saturday, both the memory of the exchange and concern for Justin troubled me; I contacted the school principal at his home, and told him what had happened. Amazingly, my boss reprimanded me for failing to immediately bring this to the attention of the school administrators, while it was unfolding. In fact, he would raise this issue at my subsequent evaluation, giving me a low numerical score.

But, Justin continued on after that day, and I recalled no further expressions of such desperation from him. He played his xylophone until the time came when I no longer saw him at school. I can’t remember when that was, but I did eventually move to a different building – albeit reluctantly – when the site pairings changed, and Justin moved on to middle school.

Two years ago, I was pulling up to the curb from one of my frequent trips to the whole foods co-op. The renting families across the street in the flat had several older boys this season, often outside working on cars, and I noticed one of them whom I hadn’t seen before on a skateboard. Lifting my groceries out of the car, I greeted him. In a moment whose effect cannot be carried by words alone, he spoke to me. He said: “Aren’t you Miss Scanzillo?”

It was Justin.

He was visiting his cousins, who had moved in across the street!

We threw our arms around each other. He was tall, in his twenties now, and told me he was doing fine. He’d been working. I assured him he could come visit me, anytime. And, I might have cried a little.

There had been so many former students, since, with whom I had reconnected. I’d watched them, via social media, getting married, raising families, becoming successful adults. This past Thursday, while perusing the local online newspaper, I saw it. Justin’s name – in the obituaries.

In a rush, I was weeping. Reading that he’d reached the age of 27, that he loved music first of all, and that he’d passed as the result of an accident, I made note, the date of his death having been a month prior, to attend his memorial service scheduled for today.

Entering the funeral home, I was confused. The undertakers did not meet me at the door. The viewing rooms were shut. A gentlemen saw me, and approached. No; there was no viewing today for Justin. The newspaper, inexplicably, had printed the announcement a week late, and I had missed his memorial; it had taken place last Saturday.

My emotions could not be identified. What was I feeling? Had there been a time warp, and I’d missed the memo?

Today is the day we mourn the horror of the terrorist attack on Paris. Today, we have visceral disturbances in our vision of hope for the future. We fight images of blood, and body parts, our consciousness pummeled by massive screams amidst explosive chaos.

In addition to his music, Justin loved extreme sports. The undertaker’d said his accident had happened out of town. I hope Justin flew into the air on a skateboard, his body releasing his soul to the heavens before it fell to the earth. I hope he escaped this life swiftly and painlessly, without assault, without anguish, without terror. While we all must die, I am thankful that Justin lived, even for a little while. Unlike the monsters who seek to horrify our better selves, Justin was an earnest, sweet, caring, gentle, and compassionate human being. Dare I say he deserved to live.

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© Ruth Ann Scanzillo  11/14/15

All rights those of the author, whose name appears above this line; sharing permitted by written request.

littlebarefeetblog.com

Ebb and Flow.

[formerly titled “Mentality.”]

PhotoOfSouls

For many years, the shroud of mental illness draped our family.

Our father’s mother had been committed, by her brutal husband, to a Massachusetts sanitarium circa 1914. A Sicilian immigrant, she spoke no English and could not defend herself. And, she was pregnant.

Yes.

Dad was born there.

Because sanitariums in those days were not equipped to house young mothers, let alone those deemed unfit, she was not permitted to raise her third child. Along with his sister Dad was first sent to a foster home, where he was regularly beaten over the back of the head with the buckle end of a strap belt, and then to a state institution.

Marvelously, being of sound constitution, he survived – drifting, riding the freight cars, playing his harmonica and bones for loose change and, then, joining the Army – to meet his future wife, on a steam train bound for New York. Years later, as grateful husband and father, he would give God all the credit.

But, our unknown grandmother wasn’t the only figure in the shadowbox.

Mum’s father was a scholar of the Old Testament, a crane builder, and a brooder. We’d never know what mood we’d find, entrenched on the recliner in the corner by the radio. Sometimes a wide, toothless grin, a wisecrack or a belly laugh. Other times, a deep, distant scowl, and scrap envelopes, scattered near the Bible or the stack of National Geographics, emblazoned repeatedly with the bold signature of his name in broad, flat, penknife-sharpened pencil.

Mum inherited a bit of that mercury. She had two faces, so distinct that, had anyone met the one, the other would be unrecognizable.

I learned early on that observing human behavior was not only fascinating, but prudent. I became all too aware that, by watching others, information would come to me continuously, most of it in very great need of being sorted out.

What we called our family was a cinematic display, its camera’s filter missing, of the most transparent aspects of humanity. Beyond dysfunctionality, each member was its cautious and dreaded subject. We never knew when the ball would drop; we only knew that it would.

And, as if to deny the reality, explosive events were often followed by years of avoidance. Being English, Mum’s side of the family called this “holding a grudge.” I remember a Christmas so volatile, so reverberant with screaming and weeping, that the cozy kitchen and grand oak table in the diningroom could hardly contain the scene. That would be the last year, truly, that the whole family would ever convene again. And, I was only eleven years old.

With the stigma of mental illness weighing heavily on the conscience of our society, I now guardedly approach what moves me to disclose. There is a very great need amongst us to identify, primarily because, most of the time, victims cannot do so themselves. Even as physicians are ultimately required to confirm diseases of the body, those who bear up under afflictions of the mind are in even greater need of being found. There are none more lost among us.

The following is a list of traits, hallmarks if you will, that suggest the presence of mental disease. Some are easily recognized, but others may not be. Included are short references to loved ones, by example.

1.) Reaction to Stress.

Those with mental conditions have weaker coping mechanisms than their healthier counterparts. What merely annoys most will sometimes derail the other.  The mentally ill person has a far longer list of stress inducers than the rest of us and, most importantly, is often ready to react to each of them with apparently little power of restraint. My mother spent much of my adolescence alternately sobbing or shrieking; only in the late evening, well after midnight when the house was quiet, would she find solace  – seated alone, at her sewing machine.

2.) Sensory Load.

While some extreme mental states produce catatonia, or an apparent absence of reaction, those with mental disease can often be more easily stimulated, and more ready to respond to stimuli. To them, the world is a maelstrom of desirable and undesirable feelings, and these can often collide over a single incident; sorting through the pleasure and the pain which simultaneously ensues is a task, and may often confound normal counterparts experiencing the same event. Our grandfather would open a family gathering with joyful and exuberant laughter, but a disagreement at the dinner table could send him into a rage that dispersed the family in all directions – to say nothing of the effect on our collective digestion.

3.) Lucidity.

So much is said about the character of a good citizen in various social environments that the trait of honesty, or veracity, seems almost mundane. But, to one who is afflicted, even the best intentions can go awry. Mental disease can cause one to both speak and write things that cannot later be defended; sometimes the language itself is ambiguous, or the content vague, the tone unmistakably that of either anger, bitterness, or undying devotion. One can set out to be the most upstanding and compassionate towards others, but be left with chaff in the wake of a verbal outburst which, long since forgotten, cannot even be recognized or acknowledged. I can recall lengthy, if earnest, handwritten letters from my mother, so convoluted that I hardly had the emotional energy to read them – and, repeated denials:  “I didn’t say that!”

4.) Immediate Gratification.

Everybody likes to get answers to important questions, or receive something nourishing. But, those with mental disease depend on a degree of satisfaction in closure which others find demanding. Furthermore, they become inordinately convinced of the reality of their needs, and wear these convictions as blinders. The unknowns which populate normal, daily landscape can be sources of fixation to one who is burdened, and obtaining what, to others, can easily wait becomes a mission. Dad, especially in his later years, was the most popular member of his neighborhood when it came to solving household problems which, to the rest of the world, were incidental; repeatedly dialing the man up the street, because he couldn’t get the wrapper off of the slice of American cheese, was the story nobody could forget.

Like all syndromes of the human frame, such burdens can have a range of expression. At moments of intense duress or demand, an otherwise healthy person might exhibit traits which could be attributed to one who has a form of disease. This likelihood is intensified if one has been closely exposed to the illness and its manifestations. But, those who are marked by such affliction will fight, on a daily basis, a chronic, inner battle.

There are likely other points which can be made about illnesses of the mind. But, for now, maybe making a mental note to save these in a secure corner of awareness for future reference would be wise. And, most of all, having a quiet conversation with self might help remind us all that we each occupy bodies which are random in their assignment. Only our souls matter, in the end.

Best that we all move through life with a mentality of acceptance, linking our virtual arms with determined commitment to bearing with each other. We are all both strong, and weak, in every way, and it is the convergence of these that both encourages and sustains the ebb and flow of life.

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© Ruth Ann Scanzillo

9/25/15  All rights those of the author, whose name appears above this line. Sharing by permission to ReBlog, exclusively. Thank you.

littlebarefeetblog.com