Break on Through

Years ago, before I could face the pain of dealing with our Regional Office, I stopped at what is now Carl’s Jr for breakfast.  After a delightful snack, I started back toward the SLC Federal building.  As I was leaving the fast-food joint, I heard someone call “Roger,” but I looked around and didn’t see anybody I recognized.  I then heard “Roger” again.  This time a bearded indigent man approached me.  It was an individual that I had gone to graduate school with, an economics major.

He told me he was living on the streets.  He said he was trying to finish his master’s thesis, but that employees at the State of Utah were conspiring against him.  I knew the officials he was talking about, and found his concerns to be farfetched.  He seemed to be suffering from extreme paranoia.  I offered him $10 which he took, explaining that he wouldn’t be able to pay it back.  I then headed to work, almost running.

That afternoon I called a friend at USU and asked if he knew the status of my indigent acquaintance.  The prof indicated that university staff and the homeless man’s parents had been trying to work with him, to get him off the streets but that nothing had worked.  He was clearly suffering some form of mental illness; and there were issues about his meds.  Sometime later, I ran into him panhandling at the SLC airport.  He eventually dropped off my radar screen.  Until last night.

Last night I watched the movie The Soloist.  The flic only got mediocre reviews and nobody went to see it in movie theaters, but I found it compelling.  If nothing else, it caused me to think about the plight of the homeless, particularly those who are mentally ill.  The movie proposed no solutions, but highlighted some of the issues.  If seemed like a perfect movie for a family home evening.

When I see the homeless pushing their shopping carts and camped out near railroad tracks, I always wonder about my own status.  “There but by the grace of God go I.”  I think all of us, in one way or another, are just one step away from some form of fantasy existence.  Don’t we all wonder about a release from our current reality, isn’t that what religion is about?  Don’t all of us have to work harder than we would admit to hold it together, to stay in our current reality?  Don’t all of us flirt with mental illness?

When I was in college, one of my favorite songs was The Doors “Break on Through:”  “You know the day destroys the night.  Night divides the day.  Try to run, try to hide.  Break on through to the other side.”  While the song, in all probability, is about drugs, it seems to me like a paean to sanity and insanity.  And I guess each individual must decide which side you are trying to “break on through” to.

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14 Responses to Break on Through

  1. Roger Hansen says:

    According to Bertrand Russell’s American essay (26 August 1934):

    ” . . . Sanity is a result of social pressure: a hermit or an absolute monarch has no need of it and therefore generally goes mad. The ordinary man who allows himself to go mad is ill-advised. It may be very pleasant to believe that one is the King of France or a reincarnation of Zoroaster, but one knows that other people’s egoism will be outraged by such a claim and that they will lock one up for making it. Prudent people, therefore, pretend to think themselves no better than their neighbors unless they can back up their claims with force. Alexander the Great, as soon as he was strong enough, said he was the son of Zeus. . . .”

    “Sanity is thus not the natural condition of the human mind but a product of social life. It is a form of politeness, generated by the pressure of other personalities, which makes us know that we are not omnipotent. . . .”

  2. Susan says:

    So it takes the “pressure of other personalities” to keep us humble?

  3. Roger Hansen says:

    I don’t know about humble, but certainly it takes others to keep up sane.

  4. Roger Hansen says:

    The following is adapted from NG (Dec. 2009, p. 138).

    The holy peninsula of Mount Athos reaches 31 miles out into the Aegean Sea. For the past 1000 years or so, a community of Eastern Orthodox monks has dwelled there, purposefully removed from everything except God. The monks, in their heavy beards and black garb–worn to signify their death to the world–represent an ageless brotherhood of ritual, acute simplicity, and constant worship . . . but also imperfection. There is an awareness, as one elder puts it that “even on Mount Athos we are humans walking every day on the razor’s edge.”

  5. Roger Hansen says:

    According to Julia Lyons (SLTrib Dec 21, 2009):

    “The temperature dropped into the teens the night Kelvin Black sat down in SLC and never got up again. At 39, the homeless man had slept outside for much of his life, but things were finally looking up. Since spring, he’d had his own room at an apartment complex for the formerly homeless, Palmer Court — though it took him a while to unfold the clean sheets and stop sleeping on the floor.

    He should have been one of the success stories. Instead, Black died on the sidewalk about a block and a half from his new home on Dec. 4. Black, who suffered from alcoholism, didn’t follow his friends when they encouraged him to go back to Palmer Court on that bitterly cold night. He was among the 58 people — a new record — who died this year after struggling with homelessness.”

  6. Roger Hansen says:

    I recent saw the movie “The Blind Side.” While it is the typical inspiration sports flic, it has redeeming value. It involves the real-life hollywoodized story of an upper-middle class family taking in an indigent large teenager and enrolling him in a private school. The result is a successful NFL football player. The movie makes one wonder about the human potential that is lost thru poverty. This movie, when it comes out in DVD, would also be great for a family home evening.

  7. Roger Hansen says:

    According to Dean Hamer in “The God Gene” (p. 131 and 134):

    “What did the apostle Paul, Muhammad the prophet, Joan of Arc, and Gyodor Mikhailovich Dostoyevshy have in common? All of them were intensely religious All of them had mystical visions. And some scientists now think all of them may have owed at least part of their intense feelings to temporal lobe epilepsy, a neurological disease that causes abnormal electrical firing in the limbic system. . . .

    [Temporal lobe epileptics] are hyperreligious. The attend religious services twice a day, build shrines in their homes, and have long conversations with God. They give up their jobs and ignore their familieis to pursue their religious interests. They become zealots.”

  8. Roger Hansen says:

    The line between responsible and irresponsible behavior was recently highlighted by the recent experiences of Tiger Woods. Tiger has become so wealthy, that for him almost anything has become possible. With the only restriction being public opinion, he eventually devolved toward what many might consider an irresponsible life style. But when caught by the media, he then voes to return to a responsible life. But only after being caught by his press and his wife.

  9. Roger Hansen says:

    The line between sanity and insanity has been explored superficially in two recent movies: A Beautiful Mind and Shutter Island. The former attempts to tell the true story of a brilliant mathematician and the latter is more of a horro story. Both movies have clever (and somewhat related) suprise endings, but both try to make the point that we are all just a short step away from insanity.

  10. Roger Hansen says:

    Van Gogh is certain a case where the line between sanity and insanity becomes blurred. For example, Vincent ended his life in a blaze of glory. His The Starry Night was produced by a man who would take his life the following year.

  11. Roger Hansen says:

    According to Richard Corliss of Time Magazine (1 Mar 2010, p. 58): the movie Shutter Island’s potent message is “that some things about ourselves are so painful to acknowledge, that we almost wish we could cut them out of our skulls. This, and not the plot gimmickry, is what must have lured Scorsee to Shutter Island: the chance to leave audiences with an illuminating emptiness.

  12. Roger says:

    “The Soloist got AARP’s “Best Buddy Movie” award for 2009. According to their review:

    “The true story of Los Angeles Times columnist Steve Lopez (Robert Downey Jr.) and his friendship with Nathaniel Ayers (Jamie Fox)–a schizophrenic street musician whose illness masked his musical genius–this film traces an adult friendship’s uneven trajectory.”

    That it does.

  13. rogerdhansen says:

    According to an article in the SLTrib by Peggy Fletcher Stack (16 Dec 2010):

    “A teenager says God and Jesus appeared to him in a grove and told him to start a new Christian church. Another person claims the Almighty talks to him through lyrics when the radio dial reads “103.1,” which he says refers to God, known in scripture as the “Great I Am.”

    A French girl gets messages from heaven to lead an army against the British, while a Utah woman thinks she is meant to have Jesus’ baby and 12 husbands.

    Some of these figures were considered prophets and saints, while others were judged insane. The question is: How do you tell which is which?

    For example, Brian David Mitchell, convicted Friday of kidnapping and raping Elizabeth Smart, insisted that God gave him license to do so, though his attorney argued he was mentally ill.

    The main difference between a prophet and a psychopath, says Ralph Hood, who teaches psychology of religion at the University of Tennessee in Chattanooga, is “whether or not (they) can get followers.”

  14. rogerdhansen says:

    In a separate article by Peggy Fletcher Stack (SLTrib 16 Dec 2010), Joseph Smith’s sanity is discussed:

    ” . . . LDS historian Richard Bushman acknowledges that Smith had “an extravagant personality with a lot of emotions,” which, in some cases, indicate an unbalanced mind.

    But the Mormon leader also had lots of good friends who were “solid people” and a strong, loving relationship with his wife and children, says Bushman, chair of Mormon studies at Claremont Graduate University. “He was very effective in building an organization and kept that up to the end of his life. I don’t think you can say this was a dysfunctional person.”

    LDS physician Greg Smith, of Alberta, Canada, points to more indications he believes show that Smith was not mentally ill:

    * Joseph Smith could dictate coherently–there is none of the “word salad” of schizophrenia or meandering gush of pseudo-complexity or pressure-of-ideas one sees in mania.
    * He could orate and hold people’s attention for hours, leaving them feeling enlightened and convinced they had learned things they never had considered. The speech of severely mentally ill typically is somewhat devoid of content and tedious in the extreme, if not off-putting.
    * The Mormon leader was compassionate and empathetic, could put himself into others’ minds and situation; none of these are characteristic of mental illness, which tends to turn people inward.
    * He had many thing going on at once, keeping all the balls in the air; he didn’t get fixated as many mentally ill patients do.

    None of this proves, of course, that claims to divine communication by . . . Smith . . . were legitimate. That’s for others to decide.”

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