Our Rag-Bone Hearts

Now that my ladder's gone,
I must lie down where all the ladders start,
In the foul rag-and-bone shop of the heart. -
-W.B. Yeats

The life of a schizophrenic twin brother informs my mind and heart as I ponder why it is that the mentally ill pile up on our streets and the streets of the world. Richard was a freshman at St. John's College in Annapolis, Maryland, beginning his study of the 100 great books, when he was drafted into the Army and sent to the battlefields of World War II. I was never to see him well again.

I have lived with madness.

I have cowered in other rooms while this brother in uncontainable agony of spirit tore pictures from the walls and flung chairs across the room.

I have stood at the foot of a retaining wall while he walked on a narrow ledge 50 feet above, weighing in his mind whether to jump or not to jump.

I have hovered out of sight while the police I had summoned came to take away and "put away" the distraught human being who was the dearest friend I would ever have.

From this brother of mine I have learned what it is to wait through countless days and months and years for the return of someone held dear--so slow was I to know that he would never come back again.

This brother has taught me everything profound that I know about prayer. He taught me liberation theology before there were words for it, making it a part of my blood and heartbeat. From him I know that Christianity is not Christianity unless it has a large and radical incarnational dimension.

Because I have companioned this brother on his grievous walk, I know something of the heights and the depths of the human spirit. Because of the care of friends through his long ordeal, I know that the superhuman love described in 1 Corinthians 13 is a sublimity our human nature can attain.

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Sojourners Magazine January 1993
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