How we treat each other, that’s entirely up to us

CAMBRIDGE, MA — A few years ago, a relative of ours had the misfortune to greatly overestimate his capacity of for marijuana intake, with the result that he ended up spending two weeks at the local mental hospital with a bout of toxic psychosis.

I thought of this the other day because of the events last week in Tucson, involving a map with crosshairs and a gunman variously described as “wicked” (Sen. John McCain) and “evil” (you-know-who), but who, from apparently comprehensive accounts, was almost certainly psychotic.

It all took me back a few years because while the Main Squeeze and I didn’t know what had caused our relative’s breakdown then, the relative was, inarguably, psychotic at the time. His age, a generation below ours, was appropriate for the onset of schizophrenia. That is what we feared, from the day the relative walked home barefoot after giving his car away to a homeless man (on the guess the other guy needed it more) to the day about a week later, when he calmly told the Main Squeeze that he knew why he was in the hospital, raising a short-lived hope that he was returning to the reality we shared. This hope, sadly, was dispelled seconds later, when the relative explained, in reasonable tones, that he had been confined because he, and he alone, knew the secret about God and Jesus, that the authorities didn’t want anyone to know. Oh well.

Those were anxious days, and I called the Main Squeeze at work shortly after this “revelation” , when I knew he had just visited our relative again. By a fortuitous coincidence, the Main Squeeze was working a writing stint at a national tabloid magazine at the time, not far from the mental hospital.

“Are you busy?” I asked, the way you do, when you call someone at work.

“Well, yes a little,” he said. “You see a meteor is about the crash into the earth, and I have to figure what to do about it. I may have to call in the BVM.”

Calling in the Blessed Virgin Mary to intervene in planet-threatening catastrophes was a reliable solution to the kind of stuff he was assigned to write about for that particular tabloid.

The biggest difference of course, between him and our hospitalized relative was being paid to deal in such verbiage, as opposed to being locked up for it.

Big difference. Then there was the chicken-and-egg conundrum of who was making who do what . . .

Was the Main Squeeze, with his divine intervention as deus ex machina, creating a climate in which our relative’s cheese slipped off his cracker? Or was our relative just a particularly extreme example of the audience for those imaginings?

We still don’t know, and it doesn’t matter. Our relative returned, thankfully, to normal, which of course was for the best, although his Christ-like phase saw him at his most selfless. But was there a connection? Of course. Neither of them — tabloid writer, or mental patient — was the inventor of God and Jesus. That distinction belongs to more powerful and prolific minds than either of theirs. But blame? Who needs it? They were both part of the same culture.

So here’s what’s bothering me. I don’t remember anyone blaming you-know-who and her crosshairs map for the shootings that killed six people and injured 18, just pointing out the connection between one psychotic mind, and one with no such excuse. Before everyone got confused, I think the point was about what kind of culture we choose to live in.

If we can’t do anything about profitable politics, gun control, and inadequate mental health resources (and I think you have to be nuts to accept any of that), well at least — at least, as our President said this week, “how we treat each other, that’s entirely up to us.”


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