Tuesday, December 20, 2005

The Essence of Christmas by Maria Stepek Doherty

Christmas is not a universal feast, but the underlying spirit is common to all of us, regardless of religious belief.
It is the celebration of light in the darkness, the warmth of hope spreading in the cold winter of life.
Christmas is about gratitude and appreciation of all we have been given and are still to receive.

This is my idea of Christmas.

Christmas is the distilled essence of love.
It is a time of angel's wings on earthly bodies, a time when the soothing touch of a nurse lets a dying man know he is not alone.
Christmas is the distilled essence of all that is good on this earth.
It is a time for softly spoken words of love that reach into the hardest heart, for it is only in giving our love unconditionally that we release the heart song in others.
Christmas is the distilled essence of a quiet joy.
It rings out crystal clear in the singing of the soul. It is the music of heaven played out on earth in each carefully composed note of giving.
Christmas is the distilled essence of the innocence of childhood.
It is their laughter, their astonished delight, their belief in magic,wrapped up in the overwhelming warmth of the love we feel for them that sets free the child in us.
I will always believe in magic.Open your mind and let magic believe in you.
Christmas is the distilled essence of peace.
It is the profoundest stillness of the soul when it quietens the rampant chatter of the mind and hears the single heart beat of the universe. We are never alone.
In that stillness, we are one heart, one mind, one soul.

Hold the distilled essence of Christmas in your daily lives all year around.

Reach out in love to those around you.

Christmas is here and now and every day of your lives.
Live it !

Monday, December 19, 2005

You and me

Once shorn of
our egos and pretensions,
when the mirror castle
around us breaks,
you and me
are the same.
Like denuded chickens,
hanging on the bars,
waiting for the grill.

Vijay © 3rd June, 2005

Winter Blues

Same time a year ago, snowy driveways,
frozen roads, icicles on naked trees,
for several dreaded despairing days.
I dreamt of July and a summer breeze
as the dreary darkness wore out its stay.

But even through this darkness bleak, I sought
a break in time. I did not want these days
to end, ’tis the passage of time I fought.

And so it’s true of our fondest wishes:
Of highs, of moments of joy unsurpassed,
that trail gloom toward weary finishes,
where we choose to let go or to make it last.

Awaiting seasons’ ends and new tomorrows,
we watch each sunset with immense sorrow.



I regret
everything I have done,
leading you this way.
I wish all of reality
would fade away.
I lied.
I did!
Don't say you love me.
I want the pain to end.

Never regret
what has already been done,
what you cannot change.
Don't wish it were not.
Because it was.
It happened.
It did!
I told you I love you.
This is not the end.

Saturday, December 17, 2005

A Special Kind Of Christmas

Carol Roach

The Christmas season is upon us once again. The stores will soon be crowded with people frantically rushing around buying just about everything in sight. Though the season is meant to be a celebration of the birth of Christ, apart for the odd Christmas pageant at the church, or a child’s pageant at school, many people ignore this most important occasion and replace it with a shopping frenzy.

It does not matter that stores are piping Christmas carols and songs of joy through the airwaves when still allowed by law. People listen with one ear, no longer drinking in the wonder of these songs. They are the old standards, comforting to hear, but few give much thought to their content and what they represent. The retailers use these songs, and wonderland displays to hoist their profit for the year. Many years it makes a difference between making a profit or going into the red. Even Santa and his little elves are there for a reason; to delight small children and fill them with wonderment, but most importantly to get their parents to buy.

Commercialism has taken over our world during this most precious time of the year. People are nervous and anxious, especially as the days before the 25th of December rapidly approach. But what are they anxious for? Is it to celebrate the birth of Christ with their family and love ones?

For the most part, it seems they are anxious since they have not finished their Christmas shopping. What should they get Aunt Martha who has everything? Should they buy uncle Bob another shirt again this year? What possible toy can they buy Suzie? She has just about everything on the market as it. How do they overcome the problem with Peter, their teenage son; unless his gift costs $200 and over he doesn’t want anything.

The spirit of Christmas and the season of giving have been reduced to giving from the pocket book until it hurts. Unfortunately for many Americans and Canadians alike, finances are at an all time low. We no longer can keep up. I know in my family as well as many others, the adults have elected to gift exchange with one other adult in the family. They choose names out of a hat. It is just too expensive to continue to buy for everyone.

Every year we complain about how hard it is to buy gifts. We rectify the situation by choosing one name for an adult; so we cut down. However, we still go overboard with the children. We still must get a gift for Ruby and Frank; after all they are spending Christmas with us. How can we open presents and leave them out? The list goes on, but the fact remains, we still go over budget, if in fact we had a budget at all.

Every year we talk about the olden days and how Christmas was much better then. We remember how families truly celebrated the birth of Christ. We remember the stockings hanging from the chimney filled with goodies from the oven: oranges, nuts and grandma’s knitted mittens. We complain that the kids just would not accept those gifts anymore. Furthermore, who has time to sit down and crochet or knit? We live in a fast paced world and everything must be done quickly. So we are reduced to buying a ready made overpriced gift.

This year, I propose that we put the love back into the word giving. We can truly celebrate the birth of Christ by following in his footsteps. We can celebrate humankind in a healthy inexpensive way that will not limit the number of people we can reach out to.

I propose that we do make Christmas stockings for everyone. Instead of filling them with expensive gadgets we truly cannot afford, we fill them with well wishes. Each person in the household would write something good about the person whose name appears on the stocking. Each piece would remain secret until Christmas when the recipients open up their gifts. These pieces must be positive and celebrate the human spirit and individuality of the giver and the receiver.

Here are some examples:

From a child: You are the best daddy in the whole world and I love you this much.

From a teenager: Uncle Bob, you are okay but could you just once let me win at chess.

From a visitor to the family on Christmas Day: Terry, I have just met you a while ago and look forward to getting to know you. What I have remarked in our brief encounters is that you have the warmest smile I have ever encountered. When you smile the whole room lights up and you make every one feel so warm inside.

These messages of love will light up the festive occasion and create good memories for years to come. These gifts are priceless and more importantly come from the heart.

Merry Christmas one and all!

Peace on Earth

Morning stars glimmer
Softening the darkest hour.
Snow wraps us in peace.

Virginia C. Foley

A Christmas Story in Haiku - Maria Stepek Doherty

Bright star in the East,
Lamb of God, Light of the World,
Leading the way Home.

Divine spirit sparks,
Life flows through the empty Womb,
Holy Vessel filled.

Night of love made flesh,
Choirs of angels singing loud,
"Holy Babe is born".

December Haiku~Jodi Flesberg Lilly

Sun shines on bare trees
Mother Nature's gone to sleep
December morning
Children sing, bells ring
Red and green, silver and gold
Heaven smiles on earth
Mistletoe delights
Promising a kiss and love

Woman waits alone
Champagne bubbles rise
Looking innocent, delight
Pack a morning punch

Sparkling lights on trees
Reminder of the Divine
Blessings we receive


Winter Solstice - Maria Stepek Doherty

Dark of night deepens,
Light now slips into shadow,
The sun lies sleeping.

Winter solstice comes,
Darkest day of nature's night,
Gateway to the Light.

See the blazing fires
Drive away the deepest dark,
Warm the earth for Spring.

Tuesday, December 13, 2005

your voice...

on tip-toe
your voice enters
and snuggles next to
my slumberous form
still lush with
your words
in my ears,
softly humming
a trance-inducing
lilting tune
that melts
and languidly suffuses
in me, all over…

it collects me closer,
gently pulls the
warm duvet
of your
lingering memories
around me
and whispers
“sweet dreams, pretty”
kisses me tenderly
on my eyelids
and a fond smile playing,
lightly withdraws
on tip-toe…



Cycle of Blues

A Blue note,
Resonating within my heart.
Extended arms open,
Like the welcome of my bed
I lay to rest.

A murky water,
Stagnant and festering,
Distorting the sound,
As rippled trails run down.

The hollow feeling.
Emptiness, pulsating,
Within my broken soul.
A darkness rises.

Raw anger,
Bubbled to the surface.
My vessel bursts, screaming
Begging relief from the heat,
And scalding liquid hate.

The cool, calm, and inviting,
Air, moist and soothing.
From a soft whisper,
I am renewed.

Every ounce,
Sliding down my throat,
A bittersweet sensation.
And yet,
It is still there.

The sound,
A chorus resounding,
Echoing boldly,
In the darkest chamber.
A single note.

(c) Steve Johnston

Saturday, December 10, 2005


Will you not watch one hour with me
In this dread garden of Gethsemane?
Oh, Lord, you have forsaken me,
Abba, father, set me free.

I wander twisting paths of madness
Lost in a shadowed shadow world,
As though in a mirror dark I see
The crucifixion of my mind.

The serpent coils within my brain,
An ancient darkness writhing here,
As fangs plunge deep into my soul,
The venom of insanity.

Here are demons dwelling darkly;
I fear the coming of the Night.
Hell spawned voices of delusion
Nail me to this living cross.

I ask their name, they answer Legion
Devils from the pits of hell.
I burn, I burn; put out my fire,
Put out this night, this life, this now.

"Eli, Eli, lama sabachthani",
Words from sacred woundings rise.
I hang upon this cross abandoned,
Eternal void of endless pain.

Monday, December 05, 2005

Being Shy

Carol Roach

I used to be a shy person. Today I am a quiet person, but I am no longer shy.
When I was a child I never went anywhere unless I had a friend with me. I was dependant upon my friend to make my evening a success. Of course I did not realize it, at the time.
So if I wanted to go somewhere badly and my friend didn't go, neither would I. Instead I stayed home and remained miserable.

Up until my divorce, nothing much had changed. I was 25-years-old, still shy, and still depending upon my friends to make my social life for me. I will say in my defense that I joined a group called single again, all by myself – imagine that!

I had no other choice. None of my friends were divorced at the time. I was finding my married friends and I no longer had the same issues and they looked at me as the odd one. I was a failure; they told me so. I knew from that point onward, if I was to make a new life for myself, it had to include new friends who shared the same interests and the same concerns.

A few acquaintances from the Single Again group talked about a single parent association which held wonderful dances. I was never a dance person, but was very much interested in the meetings and outings that the association had to offer.

We arranged an evening to go, but one by one, they cancelled out. One couldn’t get a baby sitter, another didn’t have the money, and one said she was sick. Of course I did not go by myself and they never brought up going to the association again. Who knows they probably decided to go without me. In any event, these new friends proved to be friends only for the duration of the course we were in. Once we no longer had that common bond between us, the telephone calls ceased and the communication between us ended.
I missed out on an opportunity to join a new group because I would not go anywhere on my own.

One year later, I still remembered the single parent association. I still wanted to go, but I was just too shy to meet people on my own. I found the location of the group and literally begged one of my single friends to come with me. She was not interested. I bugged her so much she decided to go, just to get me to shut up.

When we walked into the meeting, the first thing we noticed was that everyone was white. My friend is a black woman and felt out of place. We sat down in a corner and remained pretty much to ourselves the entire evening.

The membership director of the group came over to talk to us. We scoffed it off. It was her job to do just that, we rationalized, but what about these other unfriendly people?
It was obvious to every person in that room, that we had copped an attitude sending out the signal - leave us alone we don’t fit in.

We left that evening complaining the people were not friendly. Nobody bothered to say more than hello to us. “Who wants to be a member of this snotty group anyhow? We whined.

Personally, what had I learned from that experience? I learned to reinforce my own negative thinking and justify my behaviour by putting myself in the victim mode.
Was I really a victim? I was shy, but was I blameless? Hell no! I never made an effort. I didn't get up and mingle, I sat there without even a smile on my face, and picked fault with everything I saw.

By the following year I had taken self awareness courses and started to seriously look at my weaknesses as well as my strengths. I still wanted to be involved with the single parent association. But this time, it would be different. I was going to let them know who I was. I was not going to sit in the corner and be ignored.

I had decided that being shy was not working for me. I was unhappy and unless I created a new life for myself, I would continue to be unhappy.

This new life meant I had to decide, whether or not I wanted to continue to be shy, stay home and be miserable, or go out, push myself forward, and see what happened.
I chose the latter. I went to yet another meeting of the single parent association with my friend. The difference this time was that I wasn't depending on her to make my evening for me.

Lavenia assumed her usual stance in the corner. I went up to the group immediately and introduced myself. I participated in the ongoing conversation; Much to my delight, the people were very open and receptive. They invited me to join the board of directors that very evening.

However, they found Lavenia was very hostile. She refused to contribute to the conversation. When someone tried to talk to her, she would respond with one word answers. Needless to say, she did not enjoy herself and told me she was never going back again.

On the other hand, I was opening up to a whole new world and its accompanying experiences. I am now 50-years-old, and I still have two friends that I met through the association twenty-three-years before.

I took on different responsibilities within the organization. My favourite board position was membership director. I meet with the new people as they joined, processed their applications, renewal fees, and listened to their issues.

One of the biggest membership concerns was about being shy and not knowing how to open up to people. From my observations, I could see there were two ways of approaching this concern. Some displayed a positive attitude, taking responsibility for their behaviour. However, others pulled a “Lavenia and Carol” sitting there doing nothing and expecting everyone else to make their happiness for them.

I had the opportunity to share my own experience with some of the membership, and with others, I just stated,

“I understand exactly what you are saying. You are right. Nobody talked to you. I saw that myself, but while you were watching the others have fun, you were sitting with people who were just as shy as you are. Did you ever think that maybe they were thinking you were unfriendly because you were not bothering with them either?”

The proverbial light bulb went off for a lot of them. They promised to make an effort to take one baby step at a time; to talk to at least one person sitting beside them. It was necessary to coach some of them on how to start up a conversation with a stranger.

I began, “Start with Hi, I am Jane. It’s my first night. Then just see what happens.”

Quite a few came back over the years to tell me they made friends with Joe or Jim or Mary who were also new and just as shy. Later a veteran such as Fred or Lucy became their friend as well.

Isn't it amazing just how much a shy person can really do when they make an effort?

Carol Roach


Morning colors has just been played and Old Glory streams from the flagstaff. The morning muster formations are breaking up and the enlisted men and officers are heading for their duty stations. It’s Tuesday as I hurry to a meeting with the Ops Officer. We will discuss a proposed air show that we are considering for Armed Forces Day. The consensus of the senior officers is that we should put on an aerial, acrobatic display for the local community as part of the celebration commemorating the holiday.

At 0800 I meet with Commander Winfrey, Operations Officer at Naval Air Facility. This is the military side of a larger facility called NADC Johnsville. Here basic research is performed for the aviation wing of the Navy. The air facility part provides the men and aircraft to make the ideas a reality. Commander Winfrey is charged with the responsibility of providing men and equipment that are qualified to perform these tasks. The conversation turns from discussing the morning flight schedule to the proposed air show. Commander Winfrey informed us that there would be two pilots coming to do aerial demonstrations for us this morning. The first is due to arrive in about a half hour. He is the owner of Ransome Airlines flying a blue, single-engined, acrobatic aircraft. Ransome Airlines is a small commuter airline based out of North Philadelphia Airport and Mr. Ransome is a qualified airline pilot as well as an accomplished acrobatic flyer.

At 0835, the tower calls the Ops office and informed us that the Ransome aircraft has entered the flight pattern. We walked outside to watch him land. Shortly after landing we walked around the hanger to meet him. Commander Winfrey stopped to talk to the Maintenance Officer as I walked ahead to greet Mr. Ransome. We shook hands and chatted as we walked back to join the group of officers and men waiting to meet him.

After meeting all those assembled, he told us his plans for the aerial demonstration. It sounded like something the public would enjoy. At the end of his presentation, he asked about the necessary procedures to meet the Navy’s requirements for fueling his aircraft before he flew back to North Philadelphia. With all questions answered, he entered his aircraft and we moved to a safe distance while he started the engine. With a wave, he turned and taxied out to the taxiway and down to the approach end of the runway.

We can see and hear his aircraft as he runs through his engine run-up procedures and shortly thereafter; he takes position on the runway for takeoff. We can hear the power of his engine as he winds it up and then begins to roll down the runway. As he lifted off, he waved and turned to the right to gain altitude. And then he began his demonstration flight.

It was an impressive show as he made this blue bird climb and twist, roll and dive maintaining a minimum altitude of five hundred feet at all times. At the completion of his routine he came in for a landing, fueled his aircraft and left. The second aircraft was not due until after noon so we headed for the cafeteria to make up for the scant breakfast that we all had.

At 1300 we walked back over to the airfield just in time to see a bright, yellow biplane complete its landing. It taxied over to the parking area and the pilot climbed out wearing a Navy flight suit with a white silk scarf draped around his neck! He looked like he had just stepped out of a barnstorming magazine from the 1930’s. As we approached him, a black automobile pulled up in front of the hanger and two men got out. One was carrying a large movie camera and the other looked familiar. As they joined us, we immediately recognized one of the men as Tom Snyder from the local NBC-TV station. He does the nightly news in Philadelphia. Tom introduces his cameraman and Commander Winfrey introduces the pilot to all of us. He is a Lieutenant Commander in the Naval Reserve and lives in town He flies a Great Lakes Special, a biplane with open cockpit that has been outfitted as a highly maneuverable, aerobatic airplane. The instruments normally found on the flight panel directly in front of the pilot were also embedded in the trailing edge of the upper wing so that the pilot could see them when his head was cocked back doing aerobatic maneuvers.

The pilot is explaining the basic maneuvers that he will perform for the demonstration and they sound very impressive in deed. He finishes and turns to climb back into his aircraft. We walk to the corner of the hanger as the cameraman sets up his equipment. And then the yellow plane taxies to the run-up area. We can hear the throaty roar of the engine as he puts it through its pre-flight tests. And soon he is taking position on the runway.

The tower has given him permission to takeoff and he begins his roll. He is gaining speed and then he quickly lifts the plane into the air. It is racing down the runway at about one hundred feet off the concrete when he suddenly rolls the aircraft inverted and continues to fly upside down past us. The plane begins to climb but it’s upside down! He rolls up right and begins a series of spectacular maneuvers that make all of us stare in awe. And then he dives down to the runway rolling inverted again. Half way down the runway, he rolls upright and is increasing his speed. And then he pulls back on the stick and it looks like the airplane has just made a ninety-degree turn straight up! It keeps climbing and falls over on to its back and continues to fly inverted. Then it makes a ninety-degree dive straight down pulling out at the last possible minute and touches his wheels to the ground. The tires smoke at impact and he slows the plane to a crawl! He quickly turns off the runway and taxies back to the hanger. We just stand there with our mouths wide open, still not believing what we had just witnessed. A Square Loop! It can’t be done but we just saw it!

Tom Snyder is yelling at his cameraman. “Did you get that?”

“No! he replies. “I ran out of film!”

“I am going to ask him to do it again so load your camera,” responds Snyder. And he walks over to the pilot and talks to him. The pilot nods and climbs back into the aircraft.

“He’s going to do that square thing again,” yells Snyder.

We decide to walk out next to the runway to get a better view. About two hundred feet from the end of the runway is a concrete area called the Crash pad. Normally the Fire Trucks sits here during take offs and landings but it is down at the other end of the runway where the plane is preparing to take off and the truck is on that crash pad.

Snyder, Commander Winfrey, the cameraman and I are standing on the crash pad. The camera is loaded and the operator is focusing on the approaching plane. He makes his roll and continues toward us inverted and then begins his climb out. Once past the end of the runway, he rolls over and continues his climb for altitude. He then turns down wind and flies back to the opposite end of the runway. Turning, he begins to dive for the deck and races towards us at about 50 feet off the concrete! Just as he approaches us he begins a rapid rate of climb to straight up but as he does the lower wing separates and folds back along the fuselage! Simultaneously, the upper wing fold backs over the cockpit! Pieces of debris are tumbling down towards us. We are running to avoid being hit as pieces of the wing fall towards us. The momentum of the aircraft through the air continues, and it appears to continue to fly towards the end of the runway. It is coming down and fast! We start to run after it. Men who had stopped work to watch are racing from the hanger in the same direction. The plane is falling as if it was in slow motion. It hits just inside the airfield perimeter fence and bounces back into the air! It flips and comes down again, only this time inverted! And then there is stillness, broken only by the screaming siren of the approaching crash vehicles! Men have reached the airplane and in a Herculean show of strength they lift and flip the plane right side up!

Commander Winfrey turns to the cameraman. “Stay right there, we will need to develop that film for a formal investigation.”

The ambulance rolls down the taxiway and pulls up by the crowd. It quickly opens as the paramedics run to the plane. They carefully extract the pilot and lay him on the grass. And then the lights are turned off and we know it is over.

Commander Winfrey turns to me and says, “Emil, call the Chaplain. I am designating you CACO. I want the both of you to go and inform the widow of the tragedy and tend to her needs.”

“Aye Aye, Sir.” I replied. Gees, what the hell is a CACO? I wondered as I head back to the hanger. Chief Strunk met me so I ask him.

“Sir that is the title of the officer that informs the family and makes all of the arrangements if they need assistance.” He replied.

That’s great! I thought. What am I going to say to her? I have never done this before.

A few minutes later the Chaplain arrives and we speak. He offers to break the news to the family and we get into the car. This is the longest 2-mile drive I will ever go on. As we pull up in front of the house, we see children playing in the back. The front door is open because the weather is warm. A lady comes to the door and freezes! She looks at us and screams ”NO!!” She has heard on the radio there was an aircraft accident nearby and the two of us stepping out of that Navy car confirmed her fears!

Later that night my wife and I are watching the evening news. Tom Snyder is the anchorman. He hurries through the local news and then he looks into the camera and there are tears in his eyes. He slowly tells the story as the film begins to appear on the screen. Dubbed into the tail end of the film is some film taken by some observers at NADC that were filming from the roof of the main building. Their visual prospective is different than that that of the cameraman shooting straight up at the crippled plane. You can see the pilot. He is holding the upper wing up with one hand as he attempts to steer the crippled plane. It falls behind another building and Tom continues his story. “This man knew what was about to happen to himself but he also knew that there was a factory of people just off the end of the runway on one corner and a gas station on the other. When the crash crew got to the aircraft and looked inside, they found that the pilot had turned off the engine, and turned off the gas to prevent a fire in case he hit one of the buildings!” And then the screen went blank.

The air show was cancelled for Armed forces Day and in its place a tribute was staged for the deceased pilot. Some nights I wake up with a jolt because I hear her scream.

Sunday, December 04, 2005

Season's Greetings

Season's Greetings

May this coming year be full of opportunities

To surrender our indifference

And engage ourselves in compassionate behaviour

Let's declare a war on self hatred and eradicate self doubt

We must decide if we are for self love

Or willing to harbour and support the downfall of humanity

This time of year is one of reflection and sharing

So why not resolve ourselves

To indulging in such behaviour on a daily basis

In the true spirit of Christmas let us give with an open heart

Receive with grateful hands and give thanks

For the smorgasbord of challenges and experiences

That we have been blessed with

May a sprinkling of fairy dust enchant the days ahead

Saturday, December 03, 2005


slowly like tears
down my face.
A black candle lit
in remembrance
flickers as rapidly
as my breath.
My body is molded,
melting downward
like my suppressed
emotions evaporating into nothing.
Smoke lingers, spiraling upward
then vanishes, until re-lit and born again.

Friday, December 02, 2005

New Beginning

All this while
I have been wasting my life
pondering at a world
full of wonders

All my life
I have been busy speculating,
someone else to
blame for

Putting my life on hold
too long-
I need to learn
to let go

To reach out
take hold,
venture out,
in the deep unknown
reaching inside my mind
seeking answers
deep within

when I find
the answers I seek
I will finally stop musing
have a
new beginning

(c)2005 Gautami S. Tripathy

Thursday, December 01, 2005


It is busy in the hospital cafeteria. The Christmas decorations are up and the brightly lit tree brightens the cool modernity of the room, giving it some welcoming warmth. As usual it is filled with a mixture of patients, their visitors and the staff.

It is good to see the patients out of their beds sitting with family and friends in a more stimulating environment than the wards. Even the ones who look deathly ill seem to be more relaxed here. I know that I am. This is my refuge, my still quiet centre of sanity, when I visit my brother.

From the moment the obnoxious stench of concentrated cigarette smoke greets me at the entrance to Ward 17, emanating in foul stale wafts from the smoking room, I am counting the moments until I am here. The image is like a beacon drawing me away from this sea of human misery to safer, gentler shores. There is something so intensely and instantly depressing about that death bringing stench and yet it seems a fitting signal that we are entering a circle of hell, even Dante did not prepare us for.

I walk down the corridor which sometimes smells of urine in spite of the cleaners' best efforts. Not all of the patients are continent. None are sane by any legal definition. I keep my thought shield vision of the clinically clean cafeteria to the forefront of my mind.

I smile at all of the patients who pass, regardless of whether they show any sign of even knowing I am there. Some shuffle past in their drug induced near coma states. Some stare at me aggressively and I rehearse avoidance tactics. There are some here that I have come to know bear careful watching. Ah, yes, we all come to know one another so well over the long years I have been visiting. Sometimes it seems as though we are all serving our time together, patients and families. For this is certainly our own little prison. Think hot soup and tea, Maria. Hold fast to the protective vision of that other place.

I may exchange a few words with the nurses at the desk where they tend to congregate with one another rather than with the patients. I may have a longer conversation with the family members of the other lifers. We share a common burden and grief. It helps sometimes just to know that there are others who understand the longing for the cafeteria.

When I have procrastinated as long as I feel able to, I look through the glass windows into the day room where the shadow people come and go. Some of the shadows are more substantial, lively and talkative than others; the strident noise of their hyperactive minds assaults me and I have an urgent need to retreat. Some have disappeared altogether from this reality and inhabit other worlds. Once they were like you but now they are the projections of their own interior darkness and I cling to the normality of the cafeteria as my talisman against being overwhelmed by their chaos.

Today he is standing in a corner of the room. He is jerking his head from side to side like a marionette whose strings are being pulled by a drunken puppeteer. His arms are held out rigidly from his sides and he is flicking his fingers. He mutters dark incantations so softly yet so clearly we can all hear them. His beard is unkempt, greying and when I kiss him, it feels like a wire scouring brush. His dark curls have long gone leaving a lank thinning mess of long hair tied tightly back in a short ponytail. Sometimes he wears one of his many caps but not today.

He is unbearably thin and his eyes are telling me that he has seen me, but is not yet ready to acknowledge my presence. I must wait until he has completed whatever ritual his voices are instructing him in today. Then he is still for a moment and those sad, mad eyes pierce me. I am impaled on the memory of a four-year-old boy’s huge brown eyes sparkling with the mischief of childish innocence. It is better not to remember who he was, to stay in the present moment of who he now is. It is safer and less painful to simply be with what is. It is the difference between the abyss and the rack. Neither would be my choice but I can survive the rack; I doubt if I could ever find my way out of the abyss, better to suffer than to be forever lost.

He stretches out his arms and twists his head again. This is his crucifixion. He tells me about how his body is being continually broken on the cross and that his work is to heal it over and over again. He is redeeming the world, taking on its sins, and setting us free. It is hard to be the reincarnation of Jesus Christ. It is not so easy to be his sister and I long for the white walls of the cafeteria.

He tells me of the healing work he has done all through the night. He points to the little woman in the wheelchair who can now walk. He talks of the power that flowed through him into the young man admitted yesterday whose arm was broken in three places. An x-ray will show no breaks now. He asks after my son who has been unwell and tells me that worse is to come. We are the family of the Christ and we too are all eternally broken on the cross. At this moment, I am inclined towards believing him. I am one of the disciples who could not “watch one hour with him” in this Garden of Gethsemane. I want to escape to that calmer, saner place.

My head hurts. This is not one of my better days. Today my shield is thin and I cannot bear much more. I want to scream at him to stop his incessant shaking. I want to tell him that his pelvis has never been broken in three places. I need him to know that I don’t see what he sees and hear what he hears. I am ready to explode with the longing to deny him three times before the crowing of the cock or just the end of visiting hours. I also know that this would enrage him. I am not ready to be snarled at. I am not ready to walk away. I am not ready for any of this.

He stops as though he has read my thoughts. He looks sternly at me. Then he breaks into a great face-illuminating grin. He is that four-year-old boy again and I want to take him in my arms and spin him round and round. He laughs at me. “Come on Maria, I’m hungry. Let’s go to the cafeteria.”

I wrap my arm around his waist and we walk away from the psychiatric unit, up the hill in the cool liberating air. We stop to look at the beauty of the sunset and I tell him he should paint it. I only have words but he has art. I know he won’t but it is good for both of us to think that he might.

We walk down the long sloping corridor of the general hospital to my sanctuary. We sit at our table, he with his soup and me with my tea. We reminisce about some of the funnier moments of our childhood. Sometimes he borrows from other people’s childhoods, including mine, but that is so much better than being crucified. I do not contradict him. He weaves his own history just as he creates his own present and future from the rich material of his psychotic mind. We laugh together and if I am really lucky, we will get through the rest of our visit without any more twitching or visits from the voices.

Normality. That is what this place means to me. Here we sit surrounded by people visiting their sick loved ones. Some of the patients are allowed down from the wards. Some are in dressing gowns. Some are in wheel chairs. Some are still attached to drips and are accompanied by a nurse. It is all normality. That is what we are seeking here within these cafeteria walls.

In the far corner a large Christmas tree flickers with soft white lights. I smile at the sight of it. It grounds me in happier times. I will take him back to his ward in a moment, but for now I can pretend that we are simply a brother and a sister who love one another. We are out on the town in a quiet little café, sharing and catching up with our lives.

Here in our special place, schizophrenia is just the subject which I wrote my final year paper on. It does not exist outside of that yellowing document. It cannot enter my sanctuary.

Memories by Vijay Nair

Somewhere, in a chapter in my past,
you were the protagonist,
when your writ held sway.
The monsoons then
were relished in your fertile lap.
A thousand flowers bloomed,
creating a colourful camouflage.
Then you vanished, so did the colours.
Frantic, I searched.
Amidst concrete skyscrapers,
in artificial lakes,
with modern gizmos,
but all in vain.
the raindrops sprout,
invigorate, memories.
In the rainbow I can see,
your smiling eyes,
a reminder of happier times.