A Guest Post by Menno Fieguth
Menno Fieguth is a long-time friend and supporter of ACT 3 in Canada. He is also a gifted writer who still stays pretty busy long after formal retirement. When I saw this article that he wrote many years ago (Nelson Mandela was still Prime Minister of South Africa as you will see in the article itself) I asked him if I could re-publish it.
During my years in the Psychiatric Research Department we had numerous animals which were used for a variety of experiments. This included, rats, squirrels, and cats, among others. There were three cats however which somehow ended up being a part of an experiment not intended for them.
The dairy barns at the Saskatchewan Hospital housed not only the official residents, the cows, but a variety of cats which were always well fed. When the barns were to be shut down, there was the problem of the cats. A patient who had been working in the barn, asked a patient who had been helping to look after the lab animals, including the cats, whether it was possible to accommodate three of the animals from the barn for the winter in the luxurious feline apartments located in the research department. Fine! So they were well fed and warm for the winter. So in spring? We'll get back to that later.
I have long admired Vaclav Havel, not only for his thinking but his commitment and determination. After spending five years in prison for speaking out against what he felt was wrong, he ended up being elected as leader of Czechoslovakia. Nelson Mandela spent twenty seven years in prison for similar reasons. The day he was released he went
and made a speech, eventually got elected, and is still the Prime Minister of South Africa today.
I could not help but think of the cats, Vaclav Havel, and Nelson Mandela in the same context along with a vague recollection of the Chamber of Horrors down in the basement of the Royal London Wax Museum in Victoria. So I faxed the museum as follows: "Greetings from beautiful scenic Battleford. I would like some information…regarding the story of a man who had been in prison for many years. When he was released, he asked to go back to prison because he felt uncomfortable in the great wide free world."…Thank you kindly. etc."
In a little over an hour I received the following reply:
"Greetings from Canada's Best Blooming City .“
Thank you very much for your fax this afternoon. I just came from the Chamber of Horrors with all the information I could gather for you. The Comte De Lorge was a political prisoner of the King of France for some thirty years. He was released in 1789 during the French Revolution. He was very uncomfortable in the hustle and bustle of society and asked to be returned to his prison He was ignored. He died a few weeks later, a frightened and lonely man.
I hope this will be of help to you. Again thank you for your interest.
But back to the cats. When they were taken outside in spring, one disappeared, one went right up a tree, and the third cowered against a wire mesh fence all day long. All of them obviously terrified of the freedom of the outdoors.
So! What is the point I am trying to make? I am not sure, except that I have long been intrigued by the difference between The Compte De Lorge and the cats on one hand and the likes of Vaclav Havel and Nelson Mandela.
After writing the above, I was told about a young man somewhat deficient in his mental capacities. The house in which he and his family were living caught on fire. He helped the others get out and probably some belongings. Then said something to the effect; "I have to stay here". He went back to his room and burned with the building. A horrible story, which I gathered when I heard it, was true. The young man with his limited powers of comprehension apparently could not conceive of a world without his room as its center.
Isadora Duncan (1878-1927) said in 1924; "Most human beings today waste some twenty-five to thirty years of their lives before they break through the actual and conventional lies which surround them."
Where there is a vision and a purpose, the mind obviously does not have to die, regardless of the circumstances. Of course we know from ancient writings that "Where there is NO vision the people perish." (Someone has added that, “Where there is only vision, you have a nervous breakdown.) ( Of course we must be able to distinguish between a vision and a hallucination ) Could it be that the worst prisons are those prisons of the mind which we either build ourselves or permit others to build for us, or around us, preventing us from reaching our full potential?