July 29, 2008
The Dead Body
What feedback I received on my essay “The Fool’s Court” came from two close confidants. Both expressed that a few of my thoughts were a bit too sharp and barbed. If you share those same sentiments then I would like to apologize if I offended you. Their critique of my sobering words reminds me of the late Robert A. Friedrich, a former employer. In the days following 9/11, “Bobby” hired me to come sell commercial insurance at his newly reestablished agency, in my hometown of Mobile, AL. At the time, I was struggling to find my career, to find myself some six years after finishing college. There was no rhyme or reason for choosing this line of work over something else. His offer was simply the only one on the table up for consideration. There rarely were others. I had already been through several mini-careers before he befriended me and took me under his wing.
Bobby would unknowingly serve as a father figure, friend and mentor during our brief time together. Eight months after going to work for The Friedrich Co., while I was off getting married on the coast of South Carolina, I had a nervous breakdown. I flipped into mania. Within weeks of returning home from our honeymoon, I was hospitalized in a psych ward for four days. I hated every minute of it and privately vowed never to return. I fought the illness believing the “stress” of the wedding was a one-time occurrence and that another episode would never happen again.
In serious denial, I politely refused all medication and even stopped seeing my psychiatrist for a year. During that period, I suffered greatly from poor sleep almost nightly. I never made the connection between the mania and my sleep patterns. The end result would be two more wild episodes and two more trips back to psychiatric hospitals just thirteen months after saying, “I do.” The last visit was by court order to a nearby state hospital.
Bobby stepped forward to assist my new bride and my mother against my insane wishes including participating in an intervention with my family and friends in the den of my home. His actions on my behalf and my family were Godly and a reflection of, both, his character and his genuine interest in others. For me, he was more than just an employer. Bobby’s lighthearted and jovial spirit was reflected in the office atmosphere. However, my illness and the chaos that it caused for some thirteen months brought my tenure at The Friedrich Co. and another career to an abrupt end.
Bobby had a great quote that he liked to use whenever we met with a new prospect on the first appointment. In an effort to convey a lasting impression and to express the serious nature of insurance to an often-weary business owner, while delivering his presentation Bobby would announce, “Mr. Customer, it’s my job to back up the hearse to your front door and show you the dead body.” This, not so, picturesque-line would certainly grab any owner’s attention reluctantly listening to one more insurance salesmen’s pitch for their business. In purchasing property and general liability coverage, no executive wants to pay one cent more for what he believes is something that always “costs too much” and that he “never” uses or will never use, in the future, as another company check is cut for payment and goes out the front door each month.
However, being under insured or worse having absolutely no coverage and leaving one’s self entirely exposed is potentially foolish. Having a claim of any real size can quickly bankrupt most small or medium businesses or they could find themselves tied up in litigation for years to come. If miss handled, a small claim can become a large claim – fast. My observations of this nation’s health are viewed through my own personal experience, from listening to other’s stories and the lessons that I learned. I would like nothing better than to see and to speak of a more harmonious and rosy landscape with this audience, but I can’t because it wouldn’t be true to me.
I take to heart my observations and try to accurately communicate my concerns in these commentaries, but never in an effort to inflame or to pacify this group. To put my outlook into insurance terms, I think we are under insured and have a lot of exposure with a storm brewing. The recent piece of federal housing legislation only delays the pain and increases the government’s share of the exposure while the meter continues to run. I know that I am not alone in this view. Our pants aren’t quite pulled up all the way, zipped and firmly buttoned. In fact, our derrière is hanging bare for the entire world to see.
My last essay, at times, may have been a little heavy-handed in an effort to “show you the dead body.” My goal with these writings is to get you to wake up, to see the truth, to see reality and to begin making better decisions in your life. We need to share the same one reality not three hundred million different versions, as is the case, right now. That’s our problem – an inability to face our own personal circumstances while being disconnected to our ever-changing world. We have broken down as individuals and so has our community. Nobody says nothing of value to nobody at the risk of appearing human.
During the early primaries there was much discussion, by some, of needing a “CEO”-type presidential candidate to resuscitate the ailing U.S. economy as a sole solution to our troubles. The voters seemed to have spoken otherwise while our predicament continues to mount. Our $13 trillion economy is equal to or larger than the next four economies, combined. Is that not enough to work with and to spread around to meet everyone’s needs? Growing it by one more dollar won’t solve a single thing. We don’t have a financial problem, from the standpoint of our economy’s size; what would doubling it solve? We have a mental, emotional and spiritual health problem.
We have executives who can build global businesses from scratch, yet they are unable to build healthy relationships with their spouses and their now-adult children. They have a set of golf clubs and all the right memberships, but no emotions and no feelings of joy. We, as a society, can neither laugh nor cry. We have a cancer that’s metastasized in our body and is killing us. Why can’t any of our great American physicians see that this patient is clearly sick and properly diagnose the illness?
Do you think throwing good money at your problems has ever solved anything? We’re pretty good at that. Try telling your oncologist, who’s treating you, if only you can get that promotion or pay raise at work that all will be fine. Isn’t that what our politicians and Wall Street wants to believe and are telling us – more commerce, cheaper oil? Our individual and national character is being eaten away by Formosan termites while no one is at home “tending to the store.” I bet this current line of reasoning is more conventional wisdom that’s served up as a substitute for the real thing – the truth. There is such a thing.
Throughout the 1930’s, according to Professor J. Rufus Fears’ course “Churchill”, while out of office and holding no political power Winston Churchill repeatedly raised dire warnings of impending war with Germany’s Adolf Hitler. The Government of the United Kingdom repeatedly snubbed him. Churchill, a dyslexic, had a sense of history and the gift of foresight. I share this same attribute among other qualities with him. Anyone who has read several of my essays knows that I regularly draw from, both, American and world history by bringing past events forward into the present and putting our current affairs into some historical context. The foresight is seeing how repeated behaviors are converging in the now and how they will intersect sometime in the future, if a course correction does not take place.
In the case of Great Britain and Germany’s Hitler that day of reckoning came when Winston Churchill was elected Prime Minister. Churchill’s “dead body” speech occurred, on June 4, 1940, three weeks after being installed as the U. K.’s leader. Before the House of Commons of the Parliament and a war-weary nation, Churchill stated that Britain would not make peace with Hitler. In his speech known as “We shall fight on the beaches,” Churchill, the great orator, declared…
“…we shall fight on the beaches, we shall fight on the landing grounds, we shall fight in the fields and in the streets, we shall fight in the hills; we shall never surrender…”
His words and vision rallied a nation to defend its self, to fight for Britain and Europe’s freedom and to defeat tyranny.
I am greatly troubled by the complete absence of any outward concern by our elected officials to possible seismic activity occurring inside the real State of the Union. I haven’t heard the first word come out of the mouth of President George W. Bush, either, presidential candidates who appear clueless to the larger issue or from one of the other 535 members of Congress. What’s the take of our rich and famous? None of our celebrity billionaires including Microsoft’s Bill Gates or investor Warren Buffett seem to be taking a public stand while academia at the highest levels have become irrelevant. Why am I all “hot and bothered” when no one else seems to be? It’s a great question. Who’s the crazy one – this society or me? Am I sensing something that most Americans have long tuned out and turned off? Is this a mirage that I am seeing off in the distance?
It’s a new day when the words of a dead man validate another man’s journey. That was the case, in 2007; I found myself some five years having spent a total of three nights in jail and over ten weeks in four different insane asylums all due to bipolar disorder. My life was a complete wreck with a brief marriage now over, old friends who had long scattered and moved on, my career, which never got off the ground, was in the trash heap and my precious reputation after enduring a firing squad was finally put to rest. I was lost, confused and in great need of a lifeline.
This society has never worked for me – as a struggling student, an employee and now slapped with a diagnosis of mental illness. I have long sought to change this world. Those around me can tell you that. After all that history, who wouldn’t? I have come to know all to well the injustice served up each day like a bad case of morning breath. As a child with a learning disability, my Catholic school and church dispensed incredible amounts of searing pain and humiliation that I continue feel when quietly reflecting on it. Beginning in the third grade, I began attending learning disability classes, tutors almost year around, summer schools and in the fifth grade, at the suggestion of my teachers, I was held back by my parents.
The following August, I returned to my school to face a nightmare and having everyone know my little secret. Lining up on the first day of class and watching as my old classmates passed by on their way to the sixth grade with several of them surprised and asking me what I was doing. It was enough to break my back, figuratively and my spirit, literally. I have since come to know that I was not alone in this trauma. It helps to know, but it doesn’t take away all the pain or the past. Whatever self-esteem I might have had prior to that morning exercise soon drained out of the bottom of my black leather shoes. It was devastating, I felt naked.
I continued to struggle the remainder of the way through school. In the seventh grade, my test scores on the Stanford Achievement Test fell within the 40-60 percentiles among my peers nationwide while two classmates sitting in one row in front of me both scored within the 80-100 percentiles. Talk about feeling dumb. My reading was measured on a third grade level. I could picture little third graders reading better than me. Graduating last in one of his classes, British Prime Minster Sir Winston Churchill had this say about his experience, “It is not pleasant to feel oneself so completely outclassed and left behind at the very beginning of the race.”
For over thirty years, I have felt outclassed and tortured being unable to accomplish such simple tasks that were so elusive, both, as a student and later as an employee. I never understood the degree of my troubles nor did anyone clue me in. My mother always said, “you’re so bright”, but that comment rang hollow coming from mom. Isn’t that what she’s supposed to say? Her sincere words were never once reflected in a report card or a pay stub. These stressors along with other pressures were simply too great. Combined, they sent me over the edge a week before my wedding. Was going crazy my reward or just more punishment for me to endure?
Last year, I ran across a copy of the late Fr. Anthony de Mello’s book Awareness while stopping by my mother’s house. de Mello was a native of India, a Jesuit priest and an American-trained psychotherapist. I had heard him quoted numerous times on Sunday. Over the course of that year, I read his paperback from cover to cover over five times, maybe ten and even gave away copies to friends. His words and stories of spirituality complimented my views and filled in the cracks of my understanding. Here’s de Mello’s take on a subject that I have wrestled with for thirty-six years – understanding this world. His words are a lifesaver,
“…you know when you’re on the verge of going insane, raving mad, you’re about to become either a psychotic or a mystic. That’s what the mystic is, the opposite of the lunatic. Do you know one sign that you’ve woken up? It’s when you are asking yourself, “Am I crazy or are all of them crazy? It really is. Because we are crazy. The world is crazy. Certifiable lunatics.
The only reason we’re not locked up in an institution is that there are so many of us. So we’re crazy. We’re living on crazy ideas about love, about relationships, about happiness, about joy, about everything. We’re crazy to the point, I’ve come to believe, that if everybody agrees on something, you can be sure it’s wrong [conventional wisdom]! Every new idea, every great idea, when it first began was in a minority of one. That man called Jesus Christ – minority of one. Everybody was saying something different from what he was saying. The Buddha – minority of one. Everybody was saying something different from what he was saying. I think it was Bertrand Russell who said, “Every great idea starts out as a blasphemy.” That’s well and accurately put. You’re going to hear lots of blasphemies during these days. “He hath blasphemed!” Because people are crazy, they’re lunatics, and the sooner you see this, the better for your mental and spiritual health. Don’t trust them. Don’t trust your best friends. Get disillusioned with your best friends…”
I’ve known both, life as a lunatic and as a mystic. A mystic is defined as someone whose been touched by God. After the breakdown, I began writing for the first time ever in my life, at the late age of 32. I was finally able to “connect the dots” in my head, organize my thoughts possibly due to new neuropathways being formed. I don’t really know. I began writing about matters of religious history that I had never given the first thought to, in decades. What was once as clear as muddy water, I found my manic-self effortlessly typing out the meaning of David and Goliath. I offered up a new spin on the famous story of Mary and Joseph’s ride to Bethlehem and the subsequent birth of Jesus.
With time, I have gone on to explain the oldest question haunting Christianity – original sin and shared my conclusions with this group, back in January (see link below). I have come to see the conflict in the Middle East (see link below) in a completely different light delivering the only long-term solution for peace in this warring region and the war within oneself. It will certainly leave all parties involved pretty unhappy because it requires everyone to get honest and forces them to move from their comfortable positions well rooted in half-truths further down the spectrum towards the center and to the whole truth. The inflated Ego would rather be right than happy and at peace. That’s our problem – needing to be right. Today, I just want my peace and happiness for I have woken up.
“Every great idea starts out as a blasphemy.”
To the heretics,
I am available for speaking, consulting and political advising. My other essays can be viewed at my web site @ http://www.toxicnation.blogspot.com/. All essays are available in a MS Word format upon request. I can be contacted by email: firstname.lastname@example.org.
Copyright © 2008. All Rights Reserved. “The Dead Body” by Ted Burnett.
Burnett, Ted “How the [Middle] East Can Be Won” (July 2007) http://toxicnation.blogspot.com/2007/07/how-middle-east-can-be-won.html Copyright © 2007, 2008
Burnett, Ted “Original Sin” (January 2008) http://toxicnation.blogspot.com/2008/01/original-sin.html Copyright © 2008
De Mello, S.J. Anthony, Awareness – The Perils and Opportunities of Reality Copyright Ó 1990
Fears, Ph.D., J. Rufus, University of Oklahoma, “Churchill”, The Teaching CompanyÒ, The Great CoursesÒ series, Copyright Ó 2001