Janus is the Roman god with two faces: he looks to the future, he looks to the past, all in one moment. He observes the dichotomy of life: comings and goings, all occurring at once.
Last night my namesake god presided at a gathering of my friends. He was most unwelcome.
The Bookbags had scheduled a meeting, but we had had weddings, babies, school starts and numerous complications. Most of us would be speed reading and were not happy about it. My friend Alberta reconfigured the meeting as a simple get together. In reality it was a birthday celebration for me at Mecenat, a local restaurant with great food and a warm ambience. As I arrived with my materials for our Book of the Year voting, but was soon sporting a tiara and boas. $5.00 burgers and sangria were ordered. Complimentary champagne and desserts were proffered. Missing one of my friends, I texted her to hurry and join us.
The response: cannot come, family emergency. Sorry- happy birthday, love to all.
This friend has had a rough ride. Her husband died a few years ago, after she had nursed him for two years. More pressing: her son suffered from mental illness, and had lived with her for the last half decade. A few years ago, he had had a very bad episode with the local police, and the highly charged interaction had led to a felony conviction. After the authorities better understood that he was fearful and defensive, but not violent, they actually became part of a safety net for him. But the damage was done. Work was hard to come by for a “violent” felon, and his depression became acute.
This summer, he went missing for almost a week. My friend called Beds, shelters, police departments. Local officers looked for him. Then he returned home, looking thin, wet and dirty. He did not have answers for his Mom. That was his way: uncommunicative. Still, she never stopped looking for answers to help him.
As the result of her searching and her determination, he received that most rare of opportunities here in the state of Mental Health Services abdication: an in-patient psych evaluation. The goal was to balance meds, stabilize him. Thirty days and out.
Out to where in Illinois? A Half Way house, complete with violent offenders and parolees. His Mom recoiled from the desperate conditions. And so he returned home. He was defeated, but he soldiered on, and seemed to be making progress.
Seemed. But no.
Yesterday he went to a gun range and injured himself. Grievously. Fatally. It was a studied move. No laws were broken. Perhaps he wished to go back to the safety of a hospital; perhaps he had lost his way. Maybe he wished to spare his Mom ongoing heartbreak. I do not have the heart to probe for an answer.
I only know that as we were toasting to the present, so happy and silly, Lynne’s world fell upon her. Her son was a quiet, fragile soul. He was wise about the reality of his future, and was unable to grab any of the lifelines that were proffered by family and friends. When we saw his name on a news crawl this morning, yesterday’s mirth faded into a leaden sadness.
Lazy reporters will dredge up his prior interaction with the police and assume he was dangerous and violent. He was not. They will ignore that he was given probation with the mandate to seek mental health services. They will not acknowledge the extraordinary cooperation that some local authorities eventually contributed to keep him safe. They will make this tragic day into something it was not.
They will not care that he has children, or that his Mother’s life was about saving him, trying to get him into the light. Yesterday was not a failure of gun control, it was a failure of our bankrupt state to provide treatment for those whose mental health defeats them. It was a testament to the challenge of rewiring a brain that has misfired. Schools and community organizations patch together safety nets, but those nets have giant gaps. Yesterday my friend’s son fell through. He had lost hope.
Janus presides over beginnings and can see the endings. He blessed the plantings, and could foresee the harvest. Lynne always prayed that the seeds of therapy and treatment would eventually take hold. It was not to be. If only she could have seen ahead, like Janus- perhaps she could have prepared. No. A mother will never concede. No wonder Roman gods faded into irrelevance. Who needs a two faced idiot watching humanity suffering and not interceding?
But my friend’s dedication should be noted; her son’s despair is not to be distorted into evil. There is dignity and glory in the struggle. Not all battles are won. But to stop fighting is to guarantee a loss. We’ll keep both mother and son in our heart and prayers.
We will hope for a day where the answers for a lost soul are not just maternal or penal, but systemic. And odds are, we will wait a lifetime.
Thank you for allowing me this outlet to vent my sadness. I often have happier things to proclaim, so please-come back.
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