I have spent my working life in a courtroom. My clients were the poor. Some were homeless, some were intellectually challenged, some were mentally ill. They were poor for a variety of reasons–mental health issues being at the top of that list. I have talked to the various stages and theaters that are schizophrenia. I have sat in the hole with the depressed. I have held the hand of the suicidal. I have ridden the roller coaster with the bi-polar.
I considered myself a person of acceptance. I didn’t care about their color, their religion, their gender, their sexual life.
But some ugly part of me did care about their brains. Some ugly judgement happened as I watched these people. Part of me recoiled inside. I ignored it. I didn’t address it.
Until one day, I stopped and looked.
It started with a client. A docile, quiet, gentle man in his late 30’s maybe early 40’s. He was accused of murder.
He had limited mental capacity. His comprehension was in the area of a seven year old. He had been living on the streets since he was 18. Only his sister communicated with him on any regular basis. He was “street-wise”. He tried to tell a listener what they wanted to hear. He was a child.
As was usual in cases where I suspected limited cognitive ability, I had him tested. His levels were higher than I had expected and I was puzzled.
I had his blood tested.
He had Klinefelter Syndrome. He had an extra X chromosome.
I focused on getting the court to recognize that this human being had cognitive deficits that made it impossible for him to understand 1) what was going on in a courtroom and 2) the consequences of being in a room when a fight and murder were occurring.
Eventually, he was found incompetent to stand trial and was placed in a State Hospital.
I left all the other feelings about him and his diagnosis locked up in a cage in some hidden corner of my brain. There were a lot of feelings locked in there. A lot of cases. A lot of people.
It scratched at its bars every so often. I would peek but I would not open the door. In retirement, I looked a little more often.
Then last week it came to my door.
It is not usual to have a two men walk up to our gate. We are a mile away from a paved road and several hundred yards from the main dirt road. You need to know where we are to find us.
But there they were. One an older man with Down’s Syndrome, the other his nephew. The nephew, from their home on a ridge about a quarter of a mile from us, saw his uncle walking by himself and gave chase. The uncle believed that his dog had come into our yard. He had seen George and Gracie in our front yard and thought they were his dog.
The nephew tried to redirect his uncle several times and eventually the uncle left with him.
But the incident shook that cage in my brain.
I recognized fear. I recognized that my fear came from ignorance. It came from locking feelings in a cage in the back of my brain.
There were Pieces of Me in those posts.
I saw, so clearly, my fears. I did not know how to communicate with my client or with the uncle in my yard. My vanity, my belief in my superiority with words, stopped me from trying to understand. I could communicate. They could not. I was afraid of that inability. My defense against the fear was to become logical, to focus on the situation, to find a solution, to use words. Not to accept the person in front of me. Not to understand the real situation.
I saw many of my actions and thoughts in Mr. Dunn’s words. And I was ashamed. I can do better. I can be better.
As I watch the phobia and fear of a nation gone sideways, I know that my best efforts will be to accept my fears, to embrace them and, by doing so end them. I will be a better warrior for the fights to come.