Everything he said sounded like a Rumi poem. He wasn’t as dangerous as Preacherman, but his thoughts tormented him as much. Bradley had an open concept brain. No walls. He’d be chatting in the living room and all of a sudden, that mind of his would move to the basement at lightning speed.
When people see the Bradleys of the world, they often sigh and say something like, “There but for God’s grace, go I.” This is not compassion. This is a sentence drenched in pity -pseudo gratitude that implies relief that we dodged some cosmic bullet. For all of us must admit we are lucky. And, no one earns luck.
Like we didn’t earn our looks or good fortune. It was through no act of virtue we arrived here in the location: one more dash of DNA here, or a smidgen of hormones mixed with a splash of unfortunate circumstance there, and we all could be Bradley.
Bradley was from a good family, educated as an architect who had a mental break at 29 and when possibilities of traditional work were wiped off the table, his vocation became to transform public space. While we slept Bradley spent the wee hours digging through recycling and finding ways to beautify the neighborhood. One day you’d go out for your walk see old doorknobs screwed into the stop sign pole. Another day you’d see that he had created breakfast nooks under the trees with recycled patio furniture.
When they built the new townhouses next door, they left all the land between the sidewalk and the road dug up over the summer months. Bradley planted grass seed under one tree next to the curb and faithfully watered it daily. He grew one small patch of grass about 3 feet wide under this tree, and the tree began to blossom.
The first day we spoke, I congratulated him on his accomplishment.
His reply was, “It’s not right to thank me. We are a root system. All the trees are communicating back and forth, and so if I help one tree, I support the whole universe.”
He then went on to explain the Gaia principle that suggests we are all interconnected.
Sounds and vibrations affect the growth of seeds and roots. All living organisms are communicating with us all the time.
At another point in my life, I’d have written this off as the ranting of a madman, but my brother Kevin was dying and at the mercy of not one but four surgeries. We held our breath for the next test result, the next MRI. One half of the family believed God would fix him, while the rest were genuflecting at the feet of neurosurgeons. We tried to keep track of the losses and wreak some meaning in it, but the bad news began to pile up.
One day, Bradley asked about what I did for a living, and I said I was a writer (being a comic would’ve been too hard to explain.) And he recommended John Lee’s Writing From the Body.
I said, “I’ll read it and give you my opinion.”
“Opinion? Does that head of yours need another opinion? Just read the book.”
No. No, it doesn’t Bradley.
“Just let the book wash over you,” he said.
I bought two copies of the book (which ironically was written by a poet who had 30 years of sobriety.)
A few days later, I walked out of my place only to discover the city workers had sodded over Bradley’s garden. I was furious.
Don’t they know Bradley is a Schizophrenic who has a disease that stripped him of his friends and career and not to mention basic respect from most people? Bastards!
Couldn’t they have let him have his one emotional acre to till?
When I saw Bradley, I told him how sorry I was that the city had wrecked the grass around his tree.
“It never was my tree. It’s the world’s tree.” And then, he brought out the hose, began watering the sod, took grass seeds out of his pocket, and started the whole process again.
Over the next few months, Bradley and my dog, Gus and I took many walks together.
I told him of my brother Kevin’s illness and how he wrestled with trying to retain a sense of independence as this tumour shaved his life away.
Bradley said, “He is trying to navigate the real and the imagined mind. His brain is just like mine. It’s out to destroy us.”
Bradley checked up on Kevin. In our daily talks, Kevin began asking me how Bradley was.
My Aunt Sally also started to inquire about the adventures of Bradley.
For a few weeks, when Bradley disappeared, we were all concerned that something terrible had happened to him.
When he resurfaced I greeted him but he shook his head and said, “Don’t look at me. You wouldn’t like me if you knew what I did.”
“Come, Bradley, let’s walk.” He followed along and talked to Gus. Then I turned to him and asked, “What happened?”
“My head took me on a wild carpet ride.”
I didn’t ask what that meant as I wouldn’t likely understand his logic. All I knew was my dear friend had been in agony, and now he was back on medication.
Within weeks, he started to sound more balanced.
But he was full of shame and regret.
He told me he was sorry he disappointed me, Kevin, and Aunt Sally. When I told my aunt about his trials, she wrote him a note telling him she was thinking of him and included a Tim Horton’s gift card.
Using a pencil, Bradley printed a letter back to thank her for the coffee, signing it, “Love, your friend Bradley.”
For some reason, these moments with Bradley and Preacherman were stolen moments of sweetness. For like them, my brother Kevin had a brain that didn’t work well. But his was not a mental illness but a glioblastoma tumor that was ripping through his brain like a tornado; that would uproot everything caught in its path.
This story is from my upcoming book Windowshopping for God: hopefully done soon! 🙂
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Secret Santa Sock Update:
Thank you so much to the 63 elves who have helped raise $3100.00 in donations. ( up by a 1/3 this year!)
750 pairs of socks. ( hats/mitts/pants/and LOTS of grocery gift certificates To Kingston Street Health, Napanee Morningstar Mission, Greenwood Coalition Port Hope, Men and Women’s Shelter in Nunavut, and 519 Church Community Centre in Toronto.
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