Thursday, February 18, 2010

Snakes in a Pit Rather Than on a Plane

The movie I watched the other night, which I wrote of a couple of days ago, was "The Snake Pit." It was made in 1948 and stars Olivia deHavilland as a mental patient in what passed for a mental health facility at the time. I thought it was a better portrayal of the situation than One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest, which is a great movie but I think it takes some copouts. The Snake Pit does, too, in that after her cure, she leaves happily, and of course that is not true. But until she gets there it's a downright scary movie and probably shocked the audiences of the day, although it's tame by the standards of today sado-masochistic stuff Hollywood produces.

The movie's portrayal of the patients and staff of the institution is touching. At one point the male and female patients are allowed to have a dance, which may strike some as odd but it's fairly common to have such carefully supervised outings. One of the patients gets up with the band and sings "Going Home." There is a double meaning, although the second might be lost on some, but is inherent in the words, given below, which go perfectly with the haunting, unforgettable melody of the song that is based on American folk music but was incorporated into the New World Symphony. First, that the clients may one day be able to go home and re-enter society; this is the hope of the main character, who has a loving husband waiting for her. Second, that there is the hope of a real, eternal home where mental illness and separation from others will play no part.

All of us suffer from some small traces of mental illness because all are fallen; some of us hide it better, some are blessed to have very, very limited amounts of mental or emotional illness, some have learned to cope, some go undiagnosed, and some truly battle it for long periods or all their lives.

The other day a student in my class volunteered, in the context of a discussion of autism and perceptual overload, that he was autistic (and another sort of confessed to it as well). I was surprised and am sure my face showed it; although the student was a little too serious at times, nothing would have said "autism" to me. So I said, "Do you have Asperger's syndrome?" and he said yes, and ADD. Obviously, there is a wide continuum of what is called autism (which I know is not a mental illness per se, but a developmental one, so don't get me wrong on that). And there are lots of lots of people walking around with Asperger's who don't know it.

I told my SS class a few weeks ago, "I'm pretty sure I have ADD, but when I was little, nobody cared." We learned to cope. Some simply can't learn those skills by themselves, and need help. It's up to the rest of us to understand, help, but not excuse.

Going home, going home
I'm just going home
Quiet light, some still day
I'm just going home
It's not far, just close by
Through an open door
Work all done, care laid by
Going to fear no more
Mother's there expecting me
Father's waiting, too
Lots of folk gathered there
All the friends I knew
All the friends I knew
I'm going home
Nothing's lost, all's gain
No more fret nor pain
No more stumbling on the way
No more longing for the day
Going to roam no more
Morning star lights the way
Restless dream all done
Shadows gone, break of day
Real life begun
There's no break, there's no end
Just a living on
Wide awake with a smile
Going on and on
Going home, going home
I'm just going home
It's not far, just close by
Through an open door
I am going home
I'm just going home
Going home, going home

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