I’m a psychologist, not a politician. But in the age of plague, job loss, economic collapse, and the epic political battles between the antis and the pros on whatever issues you can think of, the differences between the influence of psychology and politics seem to have dissolved into two universal concerns: Survival. And loss.
My oldest friend, Mook, calls me at 5 P.M. every night, just as his mother called my mother every night at 5 P.M. every night until their passings about 50 years ago. So I became a bit concerned when he called with a manner full of snap and snarl not too long ago.
“What’s up, Mook? I asked.
“You tell me…you’re so smart.”
Now I knew there was something very wrong. He doesn’t fall in the sarcastic, irritable category. We spend most of our time on the phone telling jokes, laughing, and lying about girlfriends we had in Junior High School.
“C’mon, Mook, you’re acting weird.”
“Sorry, doc, there’s something bugging me…and I don’t know what it is. I woke up this morning mean as a bear…and sad too…real sad, but I don’t know why.”
“Fights with the kids, the boss…anything like that?”
Before I finished asking that question, I already knew the answer. His wife, Hazel, had died earlier in the year.
“I can’t put my finger on it, doc. It just hit me this morning. Truth be told, when I was shaving this morning, I think I saw a tear or two.”
He needed to talk and mostly he needed someone to listen.
“The last time you sounded like this, it was because of a nightmare,” I reminded him gently. “Any dreams last night?”
“I don’t dream that much, doc, and when I do it’s only a couple of pictures in my head.”
“If you want, we can look at it. Maybe it will tell us something. But you’re on the hook for lunch next time we’re out, mi compadre.” He laughed without energy.
“Ok, here goes…I was in my old house, walking up the stairs to the second-ﬂoor bedroom. I noticed that the railing was missing” (Sighs)
I asked him to imagine that he was in the house now, at the present moment, and to tell what he is experiencing.
“I’m scared. The house is old and empty, still attractive but old. I am all alone. There is no railing on the staircase and I’m afraid I’m going to fall down. That’s all I can remember.”
I asked him to become the house.
“You want me to become the house? Ok. I’m old but I’m still attractive. Fix me up and you’d be proud to show me off. The only thing missing is my railing. But that can be fixed…”
“Let’s take a look at the missing railing, Mook. Sometimes a missing part can be found somewhere else. Talk to the missing railing. Find out where it is.”
I heard the beginnings of a sob.
“You want me to talk to the railing? (He pauses as though he knows what is coming). Where are you railing? Where are you? I need you. I depend on you to be here. You hold me up when I’m weak or drunk or sad. Where are you, railing?”
Then Mook said, “I can’t do it any more, doc. I can’t. She’s gone. She died on me. I needed her and she left me.”
There was nothing more to say. Mook lost his wife and found her again disguised as a missing railing in an old house. He discovered he still needed her but couldn’t have her; he discovered that he was still attractive but might need some repairs. He discovered that he needed a lot more than a phone call to an old friend.
Mook called me again as usual the next day to tell me he had joined a group at the church where he could discuss his loss, his grief, with others who could become—at least for a short while—the rail he so sorely needed.
Now the question is: how does this story relate to the era of Trump?
We all seem to be grieving in this era of change. There is no railing for any of us. There is no security, there’s nobody to hold us up when we’re sick, poor, or unjustly accused. There is nobody to lean on when we mourn for our dead soldiers and our dying parents and children. There’s nobody we can count on when the sorrow and anger surge and helplessness and hopelessness lead to the specter of a bleak future.We have lost our way as a nation and we may well have lost the battle for democracy to the distorted perceptions of politicians in Washington who have surrendered themselves to the cravings of the savage mind.
As Mook’s dream revealed, we need other people and a nation that listens: we need a country and leaders to lean on in tough times. If we can’t find that, we’ll begin to perceive Washington as our enemy and feel like victims. And unlike Mook’s assertion that he’s old but attractive, we’ll simply become feeble and our dreams will wither away.
Originall published on the Geoffrey Malcom Carter blog.