Thursday, October 30, 2008

Craziness and Commonsense

Walter Shurden shares in a recent journal installment his favorite story from the Riverside preacher, William Sloane Coffin:

When he was a seminary student at Yale Divinity School, Coffin worked in the summer as a chaplain at the state mental institution at Middletown, CT. Said Coffin:

“These patients were uncanny in their ability to spot pretensions. And you never knew when the wildest of them wasn’t suddenly going to make sense.”

One afternoon on the very disturbed ward a loud “POW” startled the patients. They rushed to the barred windows and saw a man who had a blowout and was preparing to change the right front tire of the car. Soon the patients were shouting all kinds of gibberish at him, doubtless making him nervous. They succeeded.

When he removed the bad tire, he stood up to fetch the spare and accidentally kicked the hub cap in which he had put the wheel nuts. They went flying down a drain. The man threw up his hands in frustration. Then one of the most violent men in the ward, one no one had ever heard complete a sentence, shouted through the bars, “Take one nut off the other three tires and drive slowly to the nearest garage.”

The man below looked up and waved his thanks whereupon the violent man shouted once again, “Just because we’re crazy doesn’t mean we’re stupid.”

William Sloane Coffin, Once to Every Man: A Memoir (New York: Atheneum, 1977), 125. Thanks to Buddy Shurden for the story.

Dr Geoff Pound