Tuesday, December 12, 2006

A Rare Moment of Compassion

For the sad old man in the corner of the McDonalds.
The last few weeks I've had compassion for the first time for my father.
He is dead now, but was once one of those sad older men sitting in the corner of a McDonalds drinking endless cups of dreadful coffee, too lonely to go home, too mentally ill to hold a job, too emotionally unhealthy to have a family's embrace. Now that I'm 42 I see that 59 was young to die of alcoholism. Young to look old and yellow. And that the mental illness that swept over him when I was 7 would make him about 40 at the time the depression hit hard and he was put on a drug regimen complicated by binge drinking, endless gray skies and no social outlet beyond a spouse who frowned upon medication.
My own struggles to find balance with anxiety, depression, medication and life gives me compassion for him, for the first time. I can't imagine throwing up my hands, giving over the reins of my life to government support and terrorizing my family before abandoning them, confused and wounded, to the aftermath of my struggles. Maybe there was no curing him, there was certainly no changing him, and we (his wife and two daughters) struggled ourselves with hope, disappointment and guilt for somehow letting him down.
The older men in the corner of the McDonalds aren't always depressives seeking the stimulation of cheap caffeine and flourescent lighting. Some are lonely. Some are passing time before meeting up with friends and family. I've always managed to feel compassion for the other ones, not knowing their crimes as I know my father's, but right now, I feel compassion even for him.

On the laptop: eHow to come out to a stranger
On the easel: Azul the Great Dane in oil pastel
On the art table: the detritus left over from the da Vinci Art Fair
On the nightstand: At Bertram's Hotel
On tape: Death of a Charming Man by M.C. Beaton
On my mind: Gray skies, diet coke, Starbuck's Christmas blend coffee, our daughter home sick, airport security stories, our three year old, naked at the computer playing a game

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