As Monty Python would always say, “And, now, for something completely different…” I wish to share a brief experience I had while traveling in February back to the east coast.
I arrived at the Newark International Airport on the evening of Wednesday, February 22nd, without any fanfare whatsoever. It was a smooth flight and my only regret was that my trip had me flying out bright and early from Sacramento on our son’s 23rd birthday. Granted, we had celebrated earlier and, also granted, he’s not a little boy anymore, but it just wasn’t ideal. I exited the plane and made a beeline for the men’s restroom (long flight, middle seat – enough said!).
When I went to the sink to wash my face and hands, I noticed the gentleman at the sink to my left was wearing a Cal Berkeley t-shirt. Since I’m so terribly shy and, even more, so terribly sarcastic… (LOL) I decided to strike up some small talk with him. I told him that I had just been in Berkeley only 2 nights earlier seeing a musical concert at the newly renovated UC Theater on University Avenue. He said that he went there a ton as a kid growing up there for over 20 years, and now lives in New Jersey for over 30 years. I said to him, “That’s too funny. I was born in NYC and lived between there and New Jersey for over 20 years and have now lived in California for over 30 years!” I introduced myself as Marc with a “c”, and he laughed and replied by informing me that his name, too, was Mark, but with a “k”. We both stopped and laughed aloud at that coincidence. If that wasn’t enough, I then told him that I was a clinical social worker who had retired from Napa State Hospital last year. He then really shocked me when he told me that he is a social worker too and was actively employed at a residential treatment center in NJ. We were truly blown away by the parallels, and I remember even referencing the Lincoln / Kennedy connection, although that one is beyond belief.
I shared that my brother had dealt with Schizophrenia from an early onset at age 14 in 1972 and that he had spent a number of years of his life housed at Greystone Park Psychiatric Hospital in Morristown, NJ. I know that I told him that, through my “teenage eyes”, I thought those were fairly horrific times in the delivery of psychiatric care given the custodial treatment and antiquated medications available at the time – not only in NJ, but around the country still. It felt very sterile, from my memories, and seriously institutional. I said, “One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest minus Nurse Ratched,” but not much better. I told him that I gathered up the internal steam last year during my annual trip, and braced myself to drive up and see the old Roman gothic inspired hospital! I arrived to learn that it had been razed to the ground and replaced with a much more modern set of buildings and well-groomed landscaping. I had gone inside and actually spoke to a few hospital staff including security who left me with such a positive feeling regarding the type of treatment that is now being delivered today at their psychiatric facility. It was very similar to my experience over the years at Napa State Hospital from 1991 forward.
He really surprised me at the next moment. He shared with me that he was actually there the day Greystone Park was torn down and even had a photograph on his phone. I stood there, in the bathroom… Still. I gave him my cell number and, within seconds, I had this photo on my phone as well. We parted ways, but not before Mark told me that he planned to send me more photos that he had contained on his personal laptop at home. This occurred recently, and with much appreciation. We have been conversing somewhat now.
A week later, after my airport encounter, I stopped in at the Hibernia Diner, by my old house in Rockaway, NJ. I was chatting with the fairly new owner about all of the decades that I had eaten incredible food there. When I went to pay for my corned beef sandwich, onion rings, and butternut squash soup (yummm), the woman at the register had overheard my letting the owner know I am a psychiatric social worker and that my brother had been at Greystone Park Psychiatric Hospital during my younger years having suffered from a debilitating mental illness. She told me that her daughter is a photojournalist and had actually done a one-hour piece on this hospital and that there is aerial footage via a drone helicopter recording the day it was torn down. It led me to research many YouTube videos; many that were quite difficult to watch and some that were cathartic for me.
The point of sharing these chance encounters, and ever so brief moments in time, and in life actually, is to remind myself and, hopefully, to inspire others that the universe truly works in mysterious ways. I believe that the key to either receiving or delivering these life-changing moments is to be open, and open wide, to the universe providing in this fashion. Initiating a brief hello in a bathroom and chitchat at a diner can yield one greater rewards than one could imagine, and / or provide the other with something similar, in turn. Putting out positive vibrations, taking some emotional risks might lead you to the world of unknowns and surprise revelations. One never knows, does one?