The Deacon's Bench

The Deacon's Bench


From Salon comes this wrenching story of a young woman struggling to save her brother from his own madness:

Like any New Yorker, I was no stranger to homeless people. I passed by them on my way to the shiny glass tower where I worked for a glossy women’s magazine: the older lady perched atop a milk crate in the subway station, the man curled up in a dirty sleeping bag and clutching a stuffed animal. They were unfortunate ornaments of the city, unlucky in ways I never really considered.


Until one hot summer day in 2009 when my little brother Jay left his key on the coffee table and walked out of his house in West Texas to live on the streets instead. In the days that followed I spent hours on the phone with detectives, social workers and even the FBI, frantically trying to track him down. A friend designed a “Missing” poster using the most recent picture I had of him wearing a hoodie and a Modest Mouse T-shirt, a can of beer in his hand and a deer-in-headlights expression on his face. I created a Facebook group and contacted old acquaintances still living in our hometown of Lubbock, begging everyone I even remotely knew to help me find him. No luck. If it had been me, a pretty young white woman, chances are my face would have been all over the news — but the sudden disappearance of a 20-year-old guy with paranoid schizophrenia didn’t exactly warrant an Amber Alert.


In the year and a half that mental illness had ravaged my brother’s mind, I’d learned to lower my expectations of what his life would be like. The smart kid who followed politics in elementary school probably wouldn’t become a lawyer after all. Instead of going to college after high school, Jay became obsessed with 9/11 conspiracy theories. What began as merely eccentric curdled into something manic and disturbing: He believed the planners of 9/11 were a group of people called “The Cahoots” who had created a 24-hour television network to monitor his actions and control his thoughts — a bizarre delusion that appeared seemingly out of nowhere. Eventually, his story expanded until “The Cahoots” became one branch of the New World Order, a government whose purpose was to overturn Christianity, and he had been appointed by God to stop it.


This made it hard for him to act normal, even in public. He’d lost his job busing tables after yelling, “Stop the filming and hand over the tapes” to everyone dining in the restaurant. Having friends or even a coherent conversation wouldn’t be possible unless he took the anti-psychotic medication he’d been prescribed while he was in the mental hospital. A legal adult, he was allowed to refuse treatment, and he did. Otherwise “The Cahoots” would win.

I counted each day he’d been missing until they became weeks, until the number was so high I wondered if he was even still alive. That number was about the only thing I continued to keep track of. Dirty clothes and dishes piled up at home, deadlines were missed at work, and I only got out of bed if it was absolutely necessary. I cried often, but especially during thunderstorms, a reminder that wherever my brother was, he was unprotected.


Read it all.

And then whisper a prayer for all the lost souls of this world, and all the families who love them. (Might I suggest a prayer to St. Dymphna?)

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posted August 1, 2010 at 2:05 am

Ah St. Dymphna….what a great gal! Her traditional patronage of mental illness has been popularly expanded to include something so prevalent in our times and affecting just about everyone one way or another: emotional disorders and well-being. She should be proclaimed patroness of all recovery groups for all addictions or compulsions or disorders. Her own family was disrupted by death and emotional suffering and she stands before the Lord also as patroness of our too many broken or wounded families today.
I do a bit of ministry among 12-steppers and have given out holy cards and blessed medals touched to her relics. These and more as well as information can be had from her National Shrine in Ohio. I urge everyone who to learn about her and as the article you linked to tells us…the best way to get to know St. Dymphna is by praying.

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ron chandonia

posted August 1, 2010 at 7:53 am

The key line here is the one about a “legal adult” being permitted to refuse medication and treatment that would curb his dangerous and disturbing antisocial behavior. This so-called right was created by a society that has made a fetish of tolerance because it is unwilling to acknowledge and respect standards of normal behavior. As a result, homeless mentally ill people roam our streets, bringing great harm to themselves as well as others. There is a way to stop this, but evidently common sense is just too much to ask of the elites who run our judicial system.

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posted August 1, 2010 at 10:11 am

Thank you for finding this story. I will add Jay and his sister, Ashley to my prayers.

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posted August 1, 2010 at 3:54 pm

Ron is correct. That line: “A legal adult, he was allowed to refuse treatment, and he did.” says it all! This happened due to the freedom given to the mentally ill during society when there were hundreds and thousands of mentally ill in hospital. Many were treated very poorly and people advocated for the humane treatment of the mentally ill. However, the issue of “rights” have been extended beyond common sense. If a person is so sick they can not even comprehend the need for their medication, it is necessary that a legal caregiver be assigned to them. Half-way houses for mentally ill work better than huge, impersonal hospitals but many allow the adults to “do what they want.” There is no proper monitoring of the mentally ill. It is about time changes take place regarding the matter to help the many who are homeless.

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posted August 1, 2010 at 4:41 pm

I have no interest in entering the hospitalization debate–that’s now for others as I have put my time in those fields with very little effect. I will pray for Jay and Ashley and others toSt. Dympha. But what do I do when I pass someone like this on the streets and he is begging for money? Give it without judgment, hoping that God sees that I share his estate (and mine) or withhold it so that he goes for real help sooner? What would St. Dympha counsel? What would Christ expect?

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posted August 2, 2010 at 4:00 pm

Years ago, following the example of a man older and wiser, I adopted the personal policy in street encounters of always saying yes unless there was a reason to say no. It seemed to me that’s what Christ expects.
It also requires stopping and making eye contact, offering the person my name and asking theirs, and extending a hand in greeting. So often these folks only experience physical contact from others in the form of a beating. My handshake or gentle hand on shoulder or arm doesn’t make up for that, but it sure can’t hurt and it appears from experience to be taken as non-intrusive.
Policies or habits aside, the question you conclude your message with was answered in very real terms for me the day I stopped at a known panhandling intersection on the way to work and my younger son staggered up to my window begging for money.
It wasn’t him, but if it were not for the valiant but failing attempt at a mustache on this young man on the street I could not have told the two apart. He wasn’t drenched in freezing rain or up to his ankles in filthy slush or with a mucous-covered face and soiled clothes as so many on the street are, but the sheer familiarity hit me hard enough that after giving him what change I had in the car’s token drawer and wishing him the best I had to pull over to the side of the road after a block or so until my hands stopped shaking.
It reminded me of how very, very thin the line is between the blessings I enjoy (to my great joy my two sons live at home) and the harsh reality Jay and so many others must deal with.
I never saw the young man (his name is Peter) again, but I see a bunch of folks like him in my Ministry work. And every time I pass through that intersection I think of him and pray that God is protecting him. Sometimes if I see another young man or woman in hard times and Peter’s face comes back particularly vividly, I weep a little while I pray.
May St. Dymphna intercede for the lost and the lost in spirit.

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