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Reflections on a Wandering Life.....

Sunday, June 26, 2005

Working my way through the wicket gate at the Beijing West train station yesterday on my way back from Zhengzhou, I witnessed a lady being treated very roughly by the gate personnel. It was apparent that she did not have a ticket, and was trying to get through. You need a ticket to get on the train, but you need the same ticket to get off the train. You cannot leave the train station unless you are able to prove that you were a ticketed passenger. One of the gate keepers herded her into a channel with only one opening and held her there. She was frantic. Her situation was very painful to watch, but there's just no way you're going to get out of the train station if you don't have a ticket. The guy who was holding her captive was not treating her very well--I suppose it was his job to prevent thieves from getting out without paying.

In the Book of Ecclesiastes, Solomon says, "So I returned, and considered all the oppressions that are done under the sun: and behold the tears of such as were oppressed, and they had no comforter..." But she was not the only one who was suffering. The guy who had her boxed in was becoming more and more uncomfortable. It was becoming apparent that something was different about this lady. She just didn't look like a thief who was trying to get away with something. She kept searching the crowd with her eyes, desperately looking for someone. My theory is that she has a handicap of some kind, and was being cared for by someone else, who had her ticket. They must have become separated. Solomon continues..."and on the side of their oppressors there was power; but they had no comforter." It is not easy to be the weak powerless person in a power struggle like the one I witnessed yesterday. But it isn't easy to be the strong person, either. In the Sixties, Simon and Garfunkel sang, "I'd rather be a hammer than a nail." I'm not so sure. Thinking of this guy's predicament now brings to mind a time years ago when I was in his shoes...

I knew I had seen that frantic look before. She was a rather frail looking woman, obviously quite upset. Well, what woman wouldn't be with six or seven men coming toward her? I was one of those men. We approached her quietly but firmly. I took off my glasses, because it looked as though the situation might be quite confrontational. We took her by the arms and led her to a small room. She was yelling the most vile obscenities, now; slowly the realization was growing within her that she was no match for us. We laid her on the bed, gently but firmly; her desperation had turned to anger. We fastened her to the bed with a heavy leather belt, then placed her wrists in cuffs fastened to the belt. The cuffs were locked. They were padded. Not uncomfortable. Her ankles were also placed in cuffs. At that precise moment when the realization hit her that it was over--that she was completely powerless, she did what I had seen so many of them do before her. She started crying. It was the cry of a child. A very lost child. A child with no one to turn to. I detested what we were doing to her, especially because I was a Christian. A Christian is supposed to set the captives free, not put them in bondage. A Christian is supposed to bring light, and joy, and peace, not hopelessness and despair...

The movie, One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest was filmed at Oregon State Hospital just after the summer that I worked there. I watched that film one evening when I was working the night shift at the same hospital several years later. I was in a different unit. It was a maximum security facility operated in conjunction with the State Prison system. But the philosophy was quite different. The director of this unit was not a psychologist. He had a PhD in philosophy. These people believed that mental illness was a choice. A bad choice. Any kind of craziness was immediately confronted as antisocial behavior. During the year that I worked there, I never saw anyone placed in full restraint. Admittedly, the clientele was more selective than what I had worked with at the Community Psychiatric Service, but the approach was also very, very different. I was struck by the difference between two different ways of approaching a problem.

Humanity. The use of power. How the powerful treat the powerless. These are questions which occupied much of my thinking over the years. It is easy for us to have compassion on the powerless. The oppressed. But God has mercy on the oppressor and the oppressed. On the powerless, and on the powerful, because He knows that they have something in common. They are both very, very lonely.

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