Friday, November 09, 2007

For the hidden ones

Over the last couple years, I have come to know the hidden ones among us. One day they are with us, and then, suddenly, they vanish. Only a few people know where they went, and many times those people suffer in silence with their secret.

The rest of the people go about their business, unaware of the hidden ones nearby. The laborer gases up his truck at the 7-Eleven, and the businessman goes inside to get coffee, and they never notice that non-descript brown brick building across the street, the one with the resort-like name of "Trinity Springs Pavilion." They are unaware that on the second floor of that building, behind 3 locked doors, is a diverse group of people brought together by the circumstance of madness. While the businessman exchanges pleasantries with the cashier or tries to choose which donut to buy, the hidden folks on the second floor are listening to a manic pizza delivery guy read his horoscope aloud, watching men pacing up and down the length of the hall, walking around the baby-faced young man who stares at unseen visions.

And there are the church ladies in a city in Florida, who once were friends with a respected woman...a school teacher and principal, active in church and community groups, who loved to entertain and most of all to talk. She starts to act odd and rumors circulate that she is crazy. The church ladies stop calling or coming to visit. One day she disappears. She has been moved by her family to an Alzheimers care facility in Texas, where she can be near her sister and nieces and nephews. She has become one of the hidden ones. When she passes away, two years later, a small group of family gathers for her funeral. If she had not become one of the hidden ones, she would have had hundreds of people at her funeral.

And there are the travellers and commuters on the interstate approaching Dallas. The scenery is rather bleak in that area south of the city, so few notice the group of barn-like blue metal buildings about half a mile off the highway. If it weren't for the signs which warn "Prison Area-Do Not Pick Up Hitchhikers," few would surmise that the blue campus is a prison. These are the hidden ones who arrive in the middle of the night, sit naked in a holding cell, and then go to the newcomers' dorm, where they listen to the troublemakers in the neighboring cellblock raping someone for their shoes. The ones with an inner strength manage to maintain a sense of self and their dignity in a place that aims to take both from them. And one way to maintain that dignity is to let no one know where you are, let no one see you in that place...except your mom. So you are hidden to everyone but her.

I feel compelled to write this for the hidden ones. Most of us will never see them or see the places they inhabit. Try Googling for images of these places. You will find only pictures of administration buildings or front gates. These places are truly hidden to most of us. But some of us must go there. We are the connection to the world "out there." We hold the memories of the past and the hopes for the future, even if the hidden one cannot. We are the person who reminds the hidden one that he is more than a patient or a schizophrenic or an offender. We are the people who see the hidden ones.