What is the Meaning of This?

“Call an ambulance for me now! I’m gonna have a seizure.”

He was up in my face screaming his demand, a guest who once was a regular, but had not been to Manna House for well over a year. I will call him “Mike.” From Mike’s appearance, and because he used to be a regular at Manna House, I knew he had a severe head injury in the past that led to seizures. But at this moment, Mike seemed more agitated and aggressive than an immediate threat to have a seizure.

“I can’t wait. She gave me something. I don’t know what it was. Call now!”

Was he on some bad drugs? Would the drugs cause the seizure? We were already gathered in a circle to pray. I got him to stand with us and made our prayer brief. Then I called 911 and explained the situation. I was told the police would have to come since he was being aggressive. “Fine, I said. A Crisis Intervention Team would be best.” CIT officers are trained to work with people struggling with mental illness.

Nearly thirty minutes passed. Public Enemy’s old line, “911 is a joke” came to mind. The guest shouted, cried, jumped in and out the street, just barely missing being hit by a car several times. He raged at Ashley and at me, yelling, frothing and wild-eyed.

“They took my cell phone! They took my wallet!”

I called 911 again. I was told, “They are on the way.” “Today?” I asked as the operator hung up. Nearly ten minutes later a police car finally pulled up. Still no ambulance in sight. The officer was very good, calm, conversational, and patient. Ashley and a friend of Mike’s who had arrived on the scene had managed to calm him down some. He was no longer screaming, just plaintively begging for help. I wondered for a moment if I had overreacted in describing him as “aggressive.”

A second police car pulled up. This officer was also non-threatening in his approach. Mike got even calmer. A few minutes later an ambulance finally arrived. The medic tried to work with Mike. But with every question and request Mike got more and more agitated again. He was back to aggressive. Eventually Mike vehemently refused medical treatment. He would not get into the ambulance. “You all gonna take my stuff!” he shouted.  And with that he walked up the street, screaming sporadically, gesticulating wildly.

The police, satisfied that he had broken no law, got in their cars and left. The ambulance left shortly thereafter.

I am not really sure what to do with this story. Why share it? As the morning unfolded there were several more incidents, mostly minor, but all involving guests with mental illness. Those episodes I call “minor” because they were so ordinary and not quite so loud or threatening. A toilet stuffed with paper towels; an outburst about clothes; a brief verbal blow up between two guests in the shower room. Typical stuff. Meanwhile, the usual business of the morning continued. Kirk doing haircuts. Guests drinking coffee ably served by Ann. Lots of conversation about sports and politics and religion. Men signing up for Thursday’s shower list. Socks being distributed. Questions about services for people on the street being answered. Sorrows being shared. No jobs. No housing. Sickness.

One new element, Trump’s election, stirred fear and resignation, “The bad can’t get much worse, I guess” said one guest. To which another replied, “O yes it can.”

What is the meaning of this morning? What is the story line that holds all of this together? Maybe there is no story line, no narrative that can make sense of a nation that disdains the poor and those who struggle with mental illness. I had started the day praying Psalm 82. It is a call for justice. The psalmist calls out, “Give justice to the weak and the orphan; maintain the right of the lowly and the destitute. Rescue the weak and the needy; deliver them from the hand of the wicked.” And the psalmist describes those who are in power, “They have neither knowledge nor understanding, they walk around in darkness.” A call for justice. A cry of lament. All the story I can find today.

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