It was a typically hot and dry summer in Utah Valley and I was a newlywed trying to finish up my bachelor’s degree, the only thing that stood between my and a diploma was a semester-long internship in recreational therapy. I inquired about internships at several facilities but was turned away because the intern positions had already been filled.
The state mental hospital was not far from my home so I decided that I would apply there and see how I fared. Not only did this facility have positions but there were several that I could choose from. I thought about it for a little bit and decided that the internship where I would learn the most and would be the most interesting would be on the forensic unit (the criminal lock-down unit). When I announced the decision to my family I got mixed reactions, my husband was supportive but a little bit wary and my parents weren’t too thrilled with the idea, especially my dad.
I began my internship and it lived up to all my expectations. There was quite a variety of men on the unit. Some who had fried their brains on drugs, murderers, rapists, pedophiles (quite a few), men who thought they were either Jesus or some kind of prophet, and my personal favorite, malingerers. It was interesting to say the least!
As a recreation department we had a lot of activities for the patients. On my first day as an intern I ended up line dancing with the patients, I guess the full-time therapists decided I needed to just jump right in. It actually turned out to be pretty fun. We taught the patients to do beaded jewelry, tye dye t-shirts, and cook a few meals. The most common activity by far was playing card games. I became an expert at all kinds of games and I even learned to do that card shuffling bridge trick (I tease my parents and tell them that was the most valuable thing, besides my husband, that I got out of college).
Toward the end of the summer it was time for the annual hospital talent show. The patients were very excited about it and I was extremely interested in what would take place. A few of the patients on our unit who were permitted off the floor proceeded to prepare their acts and the closer we got to the show the more the excitement grew on our unit.
Finally talent show day arrived and I walked a few of the patients from our unit to the auditorium where the entertainment would take place. We sat in our places, and pondered with those around us on what the night might hold. Finally the MC stood up to the mike and the chatter of the crowd grew silent. He announced the first act and the show began. It was disappointing. One guy told really dumb jokes, a few people sang songs off-key, and another guy ran around stage strumming madly on a guitar. The patients I had brought with me appeared interested but it became an exercise in endurance for me.
In the midst of the “entertainment” an older patient walked up to the stage and sat down at the piano. He was one of the hospitals more colorful patients and when I saw him I did a mental eye roll, wondering what he could possibly add to the evening. I leaned forward, put my head in my hand, and wondered if I could possibly fall asleep until it was all over.
Suddenly I heard the first few bars of a song being played really well! I sat up to look and realized he was playing one of my favorite Beatles songs, “Let it Be”. He started to sing and the result was beautiful! The words he sang were clear and strong and loud. No, it was better than that… he joyfully belted the song out with reckless abandon. I could see the audience lean forward together to hear the music that this man was creating. It was a joyful experience to see him perform with out any inhibitions and really become one with the music. It was almost as if his soul had shoved his broken mind aside for a moment to show us the spirit of the man inside. How uplifting that moment was for me.
The rest of the evening proceeded as before, but it didn’t matter, I was a changed person. I now looked at the patients around me and saw not just their oddness, but that inside they were still children, just like me, of my Father in Heaven.