The Cost of Freedom

            I will be the first to tell you that freedom means everything to me. I do not appreciate anyone telling me what to do, and I admit that I sometimes have trouble with rules, especially the ones that make no sense. I celebrate the concept of free will and I dance to the tune of my ideas as a way of life. Think what I want, live how I love, engage with what I enjoy is my motto! And I have spent much of my life assisting those who have trouble with self-expression to overcome it. Free yourself up, express your feelings, learn to enjoy and live life to the fullest I encourage! So the prospect that someone else should have the power to make a decision for me is utterly revolting. But what if you are not of sound mind? I am a psychologist and the question requires an answer. Should another individual or a state have the power to make a decision about how an individual leads his/her life? Should an individual’s free will be confiscated? I was just wondering……………

            I recently left my Cape Cod home where a major controversy is brewing over the homeless population. The homeless, it seems, have become a blight to the community, a community that relies on tourism to thrive. Main Street in Hyannis, Massachusetts has become the living room to the homeless.  They walk the streets, they populate the park areas, lying on the greens and benches. One evening after dinner at a downtown cafe, I noticed a homeless man sitting on the bench in front of the restaurant. An unwelcome advertisement for the restaurant, I thought, yet the poor man most likely had never actually eaten there.

            Because of the growing homeless population, the local authorities have been identifying their camps, creating a great deal of controversy. Some were located next to schools and the town spent many hours razing these camps where they found used hypodermic needles and other drug paraphernalia, and a great deal of waste product. The camp conditions were deplorable and found to be extremely unsanitary, a definite health risk. While the materials in the camps were removed, the officials were acutely aware that they would most likely be reconstructed again elsewhere.

            The problem is that probably 100% of these individuals are alcoholics/addicts, mentally ill, or both. They are simply trying to survive in the best way they can given their impaired judgement. That is, they are trying to survive while also supporting their addictions, being unwilling, of course, to give them up. Some agencies in town have even assisted them to continue to live this way. One agency gave out free needles, so this homeless and sick population could prevent infection from HIV, hepatitis C and other diseases. Seeing this as a do-gooder service, this agency overlooked the fact that this was enabling them to continue their dangerous and demoralizing lifestyle and habits. This agency looked the other way when it came to clearly seeing the conditions in which the homeless lived with their “clean” needle supply. Apparently it is okay to live in squalor as long as your drug needle is clean. It doesn’t matter that your camp is surrounded by your human waste, filth that causes as great a risk as the infections the clean needles were to prevent. Even slums have some kind of shelters. Even slums, at least in this country, have toilet facilities. Even slums have a place to keep and prepare food.

            We have no excuse for the existence of these homeless camps, except that this is what we call free will. They are choosing their own fate, we say. They don’t want any help, we think. We have no right to interfere in another’s chosen direction in life. This is a free country, but just don’t rain on our parade. Don’t use Hyannis as your living room. Hide your squalor better so that we don’t see it and the tourists don’t see it and then everybody will be happy. Make a camp deeper into the woods. Enjoy your drugs all you want but out of our sight.

            From my perspective, the de-institutionalization of mental patients that occurred about 25 years ago is not working. Most of the homeless today would have been institutionalized 25 years ago. They would have had a shelter, warmth in winter, clean clothing, and a balanced diet. Those with addictions would be removed from their supply. Those with mental illness would be receiving the treatment they need.

            But the question still lingers. This seems to be the cost of freedom, and for the majority of these homeless individuals, and it is a very high cost. The chance of them ever finding a better way of life is virtually nil. But I pose the question to you, my readers of sound mind, what would you choose now when your brain is neither addled with drugs nor with hallucinations? I know that if I were to ever be so lacking in judgment I would hope that someone would rescue me. Most likely in such a sick state of mind it would be against my will. But I do not ever want to live in the conditions of the homeless I have recently seen. But you readers of sound mind, what would you chose? Would you choose freedom or protection? I was just wondering…

Claim On A Train

Docked in Warnemunde, Germany, our cruise ship offered a one day excursion to Berlin, three hours to the south. While we had been to Germany several times before, we had never visited Berlin, so we approached the train that would take us there with great excitement. We quickly settled into two window seats facing one another in a small cubicle containing six seats. We were joined by two sisters and their husbands from Australia. Because it was a three hour train ride, we got quickly acquainted with our Aussie mates and spent hours of laughter with our new friends. Each section of the train had an attendant, and before we left the train in Berlin, our attendant requested that we return to the same seats for our return trip in order to prevent arguments over seats on our way back. I thought this a bit silly, but we were happy to share the return trip with our Aussie mates. Could this really be a problem with adults I mused silently?

We began our tour of Berlin at the remains of the Berlin wall. It was humbling to experience that piece of brutal history, as our guide recounted the failed efforts of so many who died while attempting to cross that barrier. I felt myself being carried to the past, almost as though I were living it, and I felt a deep sadness. All of Berlin feels infused with the memories of those evil years, and despite the absence of the wall, I felt like the city remained surrounded by the souls who suffered there, as though their ghostly remains lingered in the firmament.

On to the Brandenburg gate, the Berlin version of the town square, filled with gaiety, music, and visitors everywhere. This was followed by a classic German lunch of sauerkraut, pork, sausage, and potato, accompanied by rollicking accordions, and of course beer, hoisted high for toasting! After lunch we stopped for photos at Checkpoint Charlie as we continued our tour.

Returning to the train many hours later, well informed, well fed, and very tired, we searched for our cubicle. As we arrived I encountered an unfamiliar fellow who was about to take a seat in our space. I reminded him politely we were to return to our same seats. He seemed annoyed at this and grumbled something under his breath while reluctantly moving out of the way. Just then our Australian friends arrived and apparently the fellow with whom I had just spoken decided he would move into their seats. Well, our new mates were rather outspoken and quickly reminded the fellow that he was to return to his original seat. Now his ire had escalated and a verbal fight ensued. The large fellow actually shoved at our mate and for a moment I feared a physical altercation was about to erupt when our Aussie friend took great offense at this push, but the large fellow retreated angrily, muttering all the way into the next car.

About the same time, a group of women who were traveling together also came to our cubicle and attempted to take our seats. We all reminded them they were to return to their own seats. They complained that someone else was in their seats, so we suggested that they take this up with those individuals occupying their seats.

As we finally settled into our “assigned” seats, voices began to roar in the other cubicle for six. The six women traveling together were having no success with a fellow and his wife who had occupied themselves in the two window seats facing one another. The women tried gently at first, but as the couple refused to move, their agitation increased and the women became very excited. They kept repeating they were traveling together and we were supposed to return to our “assigned” seats. The fellow occupying the seat became increasingly adamant, refusing to move, while his wife sat with a silent pout. As the altercation continued, the fellow announced he had as much right to the seat as anyone else and he was going to remain there. About this time, the attendant arrived and politely asked the couple to move to their original seats, to no avail. The attendant sought the assistance of his boss, who also politely requested the couple to move, also without success. The man became louder in his claim for the seat and refused to listen to any reasoning. A couple in the middle cubicle between us and the other one offered to move, so that the man and his wife could sit in their own private cubicle, undisturbed by anyone. This, too, was rejected, as the man was now only focused on his rights and his claim of ownership! Even moving to a better seat was not palatable!

We tittered nervously in our own seats, appalled and astounded at the behavior being displayed. The uncooperative man and his wife reminded me of the Hitlerean attitude that created the war of which our day in Berlin was such a vivid reminder. He was, sadly, an American, an example of the “Ugly American,” and I was embarrassed for us all. What had we learned from that horrible war and our recent tour about ownership and territory and the human condition?

I recall a photograph of myself at about age three. I am clutching tightly a balloon which I have claimed as my own and refuse to share with my friend who looks at me with a pout. My dogs do this too. One grabs the toy from the other, even though there are lots of toys right in front of them. Then she turns her back to the other dog so he cannot get it back. Are we really any different from children and dogs when it comes to territory, ownership, and human emotion? It felt to me like the scene on the train was a microcosm of a much larger issue that we hear about every day in the news. These wars never end. How do we contribute to this? For a simple seat on a train, what would you have done? Would you readily give up the seat or would you fight for it?

I was just wondering…………

The Truth…Or Not the Truth

I was just wondering………when should we tell the truth or not tell the truth?  Most of us like to believe that we are always honest and always tell the truth.


I think the truth is a little fuzzier than most of us believe.

While I was lost in thought the other day writing my first column, a friend phoned me.  I shouldn’t have answered, which was confirmed immediately as I heard her ranting hysterically about a pair of boots. This friend is great fodder for amusement, however, so as she interjected that the present situation was like a Seinfeld episode I began to listen more carefully.  I soon realized that this may be good! So, my interest now piqued, I listened intently as she related her story.

It seems as though several month earlier a woman in her apartment complex offered her a pair of second-hand boots she felt that she no longer wanted. My friend went on to explain at length how she resisted, with questions like “Are you sure you don’t want them?” and so on. Having been duly assured, my friend took the boots, claiming them now as her own.  After she wore them a few times she decided they hurt her feet and they were no longer useful to her.

As my friend is wont to do, anything that she finds useless soon makes a trip to the consignment shop. My friend actually has a part time job there.  No, not as a paid employee, mind you, but as the recipient of the money we all pay to acquire someone else’s clothes.  She does all right for herself and it has become almost an art form for her.

Anyway, I digress.  So, back to the boots.

As I continued to listen to her ravings, I came to realize that she was, in fact, driving full speed toward that very consignment shop. I expressed a brief concern about her ravings while driving, but when my friend is in one of these states the listener can barely get in a word, let alone be heard, so I gave up on this idea, put the phone on speaker and let her rant.

Sometimes it’s just better to keep quiet and this was one of them.

What I was able to assemble out of this mumble jumbo were things like, “When someone gives you something, it’s yours, right?” “Once they give it to you you can do whatever you want with it, right?” You probably have guessed by now, but it seems as though the giver of the boots left her a message that she would like to borrow them back now to wear somewhere special.

At about this time my friend arrived at the consignment shop and after a rapid appraisal of the current stock she exclaimed in a state of horror, “They’re gone!” It seems as though she hoped she could still salvage this mess, but now all hope was gone. To further complicate this dilemma, she now would be the recipient of profit from her action.

My friend’s thoughts quickly shifted to what lie to tell about the boots, things like: she spilled nail polish on them, she lent them to someone else, she lost them, they’re at the shoemaker’s being reheeled, and so on. She asked me which story would be most suitable, and at first I demurred, noting that only she could answer that question for herself.  Finally, unable to withstand her pressure anymore, I shouted in exasperation,

“How about the truth?”

This seemed to come as a refreshing surprise to her as she mulled it over.  “Maybe I will,” she replied, but I heard enough “maybe” in her response to know that the solution was still under question.

A simple moral dilemma, another little joke on the human condition.

What should she do?

What would you do?

I was just wondering….