Thoughts on Depression & Adults with Multiple Disabilities, Finding Enthusiasm
You always know it is getting close to Halloween when they air "It's the Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown" on TV. I find it comforting that this show has been on the air from when I was a kid many decades ago. It is a time honored tradition to sit on the floor, eat popcorn, and watch Linus wait for the Great Pumpkin for the hundredth time. You know exactly how it ends but the allure is still there, as though you are sitting in the pumpkin patch yourself, certain that this time the Great Pumpkin will appear. I don't know about you but I can relate to pretty much all the Charlie Brown characters. I believe that these cartoon images are an accurate mirror of the human condition. And I also believe that Charles Schulz was brilliant in being able to capture so much of our human frailties within the scope of a half hour holiday special.
One of my favorite lines in The Great Pumpkin is, "I got a rock" from a disappointed Charlie Brown who gets rocks in his trick or treat sack instead of candy. Who among us cannot relate to that feeling of despondency when life unexpectedly gives you a kick in the butt? There are many times when we expect a "treat" for our efforts but instead end up feeling tricked or cheated. Charlie Brown's simple statement of fact shows a quiet acceptance of yes, sometimes we get rocks. Despite the rocks, Charlie Brown doesn't give up. He keeps on trick or treating in hopes that some day he will get some candy.
I can relate to the character of Sally as well. Sally is Charlie Brown's little sister and she has a crush on Linus. When Linus tells her that the Great Pumpkin will rise out of the pumpkin patch on Halloween night, she is thrilled by his enthusiasm. She wants to believe in both Linus and his Great Pumpkin. And so she gives up a night of trick or treating to stand by his side. But the Great Pumpkin doesn't come even after spending the entire night in the pumpkin patch. And Sally lets him have it.
The conversation between Linus and Charlie Brown, the morning after, is classic Charles Schulz.
Linus: You've heard of the fury of a woman scorned, haven't you?
Charlie Brown: Yeah, I guess I have.
Linus: Well, that's nothing compared to the fury of a woman who has been cheated out of trick-or-treats.
Schulz finds humor in the universal emotion of anger at someone who causes us to sacrifice and then lets us down. It can be extremely difficult to take someone we look up to and admire, off the pedestal, and see them for the vulnerable human being they really are. I always wondered if Sally would ever spend the night again in the pumpkin patch, not believing in the Great Pumpkin for herself, but wanting to support Linus nonetheless. Would that make her an enabler?
Of all the Schulz characters I think I like Linus most of all. He is an incurable romantic and idealist. On the Charlie Brown Christmas episode he is the one to tell a jaded Charlie Brown what the holiday is all about. And on the Halloween special Linus won't let go of either his blanket or his belief in the Great Pumpkin. Linus understands that some people won't share in his beliefs when he says, "There are three things I have learned never to discuss with people: religion, politics and the Great Pumpkin." Linus reminds me of a client I used to have when I was working at a day program for adults having multiple disabilities.
"Bobby" had high functioning autism and was in the midst of coping with his parent's divorce. He had some violent outbursts which put him in the mental hospital. His mom, newly single, didn't think she could take care of him at home anymore. And so placement was made for him in a group home. During this highly unstable transition Bobby was seeking comfort in something he could believe in.
When we had a meeting to discuss Bobby's needs, part of Bobby's written plan included a section entitled, "Non-Negotiables." These were things that Bobby deemed as so important that he could not do without them. One of the things on his list was his video game system. The second item on his list was that I would always be his instructor at the day program. And the third item was that he would be able to retain his belief in Santa Claus. Bobby found that when he talked about Santa Claus with most of his workers that they tried to dissuade him from this "childish" belief saying it was not age appropriate.
I felt that Bobby always did understand that there was no Santa Claus but I think he just wanted to have something in his world which would not desert him. His mom and dad had let him down. Soon I would let him down by leaving my job to stay home with my babies. But an icon like Santa Claus, well, he lives on forever. Who were we to take away Santa from this young man who had virtually nothing left to count upon? When others wanted to take out the part about his belief in Santa Claus I fought to keep it intact and in writing.
Perhaps some would consider Bobby's belief in Santa silly. When The Great Pumpkin doesn't show up for Linus, Charlie Brown does a poor job at providing consolation when he says, "Well, don't take it too hard, Linus. I've done a lot of stupid things in my life, too." But don't we all believe in things that may seem ridiculous to others such as having hope when it appears all hope is lost, to believe in purpose when life seems purposeless, or to feel that there is a reason for our suffering.
I think we all need something or someone to believe in.
The Great Pumpkin? Sure why not? I will be with Linus in spirit, as he waits in the most sincere of pumpkin patches. Maybe, just maybe, we will see a glimpse of The Great Pumpkin's orange hue as he rises up out of the pumpkin patch with his bag of toys. And if not, there is always next year.