It Was More Fun In Hell

Graffiti In An Abandoned Mental Hospital

Graffiti In An Abandoned Mental Hospital

I once told a good friend of mine that I am someone who finds nothing uninteresting. And that’s true. Except for illegal and immoral activities, I enjoy seeing and hearing about and reading about and learning about new things all the time. We live this life just once, and there’s far too much in the world to settle for one’s immediate surroundings and personal interests.

I find madness interesting, both for personal and religious reasons. If you read the early chapters of Isaiah, there’s the prophet’s vision of the Divine throne room, with the four cherubim, etc. The book of Ezekiel is chock-full of visions, including the horrific image of a valley of dry bones. Ezekiel ate a scroll on God’s orders, and there’s so much more. Hosea took a prostitute for a wife on God’s orders. The apocalyptic books, Daniel in the Old Testament and The Revelation to St. John, have odd, coded imagery, some of it quite terrifying. In one of his novels – The Stand, perhaps? – Stephen King has a character muse that God drives mad those God chooses; sometimes, this character notes, it is possible some of those visions overloaded the circuits in the chosen ones. Which illustrates, yet again, my oft-stated insistence that while God indeed loves us, God doesn’t care that much about us.

As for personal reasons, well, I suppose you can understand, if you’ve been following along with my rather voluble confessions of living with depression. When down deep in that hole, the world just doesn’t look quite right. Colors are wrong, faded somehow, washed out. Sounds have an odd reverb quality to them, as if echoing, then suddenly dying. Brain chemistry is a funny thing. Messing it up in one spot has effects all over the place, which doesn’t help make seeking help easier. The world becomes a different place, unfriendly and uninviting. Even knowing the road one is traveling is no help; the mad-odd quality of perception endures no matter how hard you try to tell yourself it isn’t real. In the end, real is what we see, hear, taste, and touch.

Many years ago, I ordered a very special music CD.  The name of the band was Dead Soul Tribe, which probably tells you what you need to know. The CD, entitled A Murder of Crows,  is a concept album built around the idea that human souls have guides after death; sometimes, however, these guides fail, leaving our souls behind. One song in particular, “Flies”, offers the oh-so-cheery idea that our world is a thin veneer through which we can see, if we look closely, a truth more horrible than we can stand: We are already dead, in hell, with Satan a viper ready to devour us. I was listening to this particular song when my wife came up to me and asked me a question: Did I really see the world this way?

At the time, I said that in fact I did see much of the world this way. For all my protestations of faith; for all my attempts to be an easy-going man, a loving husband and father, and express hope in both our present and future; despite all this, as Devon Graves sings, “Sometimes it seems a laughing god has played its joke on me.” There is more than enough horror in the world to drive you mad if you think about it too much. As Albert Camus noted, the death of a single innocent child can break a person’s spirit if you dwell on it. To look around the world and see and hear and read things that should make you scream or cry or want to hide away could, if you’re not careful, leave you gasping for straws only to find all of them gone. What would be left?

Madness. The comfort of insanity, it seems to me in such circumstances, would be that the facade we build around our lives, from our parents loving arms through the fake security we try to provide our own families as adults can disappear. The allure of madness is just this pretense that St. Paul’s hazy mirror image will be the beatific vision is not only untrue; it’s that such a pretense is a horrible trick played upon us. To be able to scribble on a wall something like what appears in the photo above demonstrates, if not what seems both horrible and comforting, at the very least a familiarity with a way of seeing the world that creates a clever turn of phrase.

Most of the time, I remind myself that such things as the title to this post – another abandoned asylum graffito – are little more than people with a dark humor trying to unnerve the gullible and nervous trespasser. Sometimes, though, in the quiet, or perhaps when I’m wondering just what is and isn’t real, I see things like this and I wonder if I recognize a kindred spirit. Reality is far too porous to allow ourselves comfortable lies; even God can drive people mad, after all. These tiny windows in to the minds of others interest me if for no other reason than it seems there are many out there who, touched in some way – either through faulty brain chemistry or perhaps Divine intervention – what Ray Miland, in X:The Man With The X-Ray Eyesdiscovered at the end of the film. Miland rips out his own eyes, having glimpsed something terrible beyond the bounds of everyday reality, and screams, “I CAN STILL SEE!”

N.B.: I’m quite sure some are going to read this and think, “Oh my GOD, the guy is off his nut.” In fact, I’m offering nothing more than a perspective on particular things – such as graffiti in abandoned buildings – that occur to me from time to time. Is it a far-out perspective? I readily acknowledge that. Then again, my perspective on most things tends to be far out, so why should this be any different?

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About gksafford

I'm a middle-aged theologically educated clergy spouse, living in the Midwest. My children are the most important thing in my life. Right behind them and my wife is music. I'm most interested in teaching people to listen to contemporary music with ears of faith. Everything else you read on here is straw.
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