There’s an old story that goes like this:
On a flight across the Atlantic to France, two men got into a heated argument over the effects of global warming. One of them, a scientist with a bad speech impediment lost the argument due to the fact that he was unable to get his point across because of his handicap. To make matters worse, he was laughed at by the people seated around them as he stuttered and stammered.
Angered at his opponent, who had smugly fallen asleep after his victory, the scientist took a piece of Limburger cheese off a relish tray and rubbed it under his nose. When the plane landed at Orly Airport in Paris, the smug victor awoke, took a quick sniff, dashed into the terminal, and bought a ticket for London. Landing at Heathrow, he repeated what he had done at Orly, this time buying a ticket back to New York. Landing at Kennedy, he again dashed off the aircraft and took one quick breath of air, but this time he sank to his knees in despair.
“Oh, my God! He was right! It’s already happened. The whole world smells like s—t!”
Funny? Yes. But also educational because it makes the point that when we see, or hear, or smell something with our own eyes, or ears, or nose, we believe it.
For example, what would you do if you woke up tomorrow night and standing beside you were three men dressed in black from head to toe, one pointing a pistol at your head, one reading a sentence of execution, and one digging a grave?
There you are, sitting up in bed and seeing something which is seemingly impossible, but real. The blue-steel barrel of the pistol, barely an inch from your face, smells of burned gunpowder. The words of your death sentence echo off your own bedroom walls. The musty smell of damp soil fills the air as the relentless shuff, shuff, shuff of the shovel does its horrid work, piling soil from your own grave in a sodden heap on your clean bedsheets.
Sweat runs down your face. Your hands shake. Ice runs up and down your spine.
You turn to the men, asking them who they are and why they want to kill you, but they pay no attention. The words of your death sentence drone on. The shovel continues its work.
And then the words stop. The shovel is set aside. The pistol moves closer as the hammer is thumbed back ...
Suddenly, a voice intrudes, seemingly out of nowhere, the voice of someone you love. You listen to the words, desperately trying to hear them above sights, and sounds, and smells that fill you with abject terror.
“It’s all right,” someone you know and love says. “It’s not real. Don’t be afraid. It’s not real.”
But it is real. You know it’s real. You can see them. Three men. Three black-suited men who have come to kill you.
This very moment!
In your own bedroom!
You see the hand holding the gun shake slightly. You hear the click of the hammer as it locks back. You can almost feel the tension on the trigger.
Who are you going to believe? A quiet voice telling you that it’s not real?
Or what your own eyes and ears are telling you?
Put yourself in that situation and tell me what you would believe.
I know what I’d believe.
And I’m pretty sure I know what you would believe, too.
That folks, is what is meant by an hallucination. And it is one of the most misunderstood things on this planet. Because of years, and years, and years of poorly written films and television programs, you and I have been trained to think that when some poor soul suffers an hallucination it is somehow his or her own fault!
It isn’t, you know.
Nor is it the fault of that poor homeless guy you might have seen about two weeks ago squatting in the Safeway shopping center to stay under cover out of the driving rain, the one with the ragged filthy clothes, and the ruddy, dirt-stained face, and the aluminum foil you might have spotted wrapped around his head under that sweat-stained hat if you had stopped to look at him.
The one who told me, when I asked about the aluminum foil, that even though the Cold War is over the KGB is still trying to trace his whereabouts by monitoring his thoughts.
That’s a delusion, and it isn’t his fault that he’s suffering from it any more than an hallucination is the fault of the person who suffers from it.
That old guy, though he was nice enough under all that dirt, wouldn’t tell me his name or anything more about the KGB. He talked a lot, but most of it didn’t make a whole lot of sense. However out of an almost constant stream of words I managed to pick up a few things I recognized. One was “crypto clearance.”
Another was “Jody drill.” And I’m pretty sure he said “KP pusher” a couple of times, but I could be wrong about that.
All in all, though, I came to the conclusion that sometime, somewhere, he had served in his country’s uniform.
There are thousands more like that old guy, you know, maybe even millions more. The Lost People. The discards. The ignored. The ones we see, but don’t see.
They don’t ask for handouts like they used to when I was a kid. Not anymore.
They know better. They’ve got the scars to prove it. They just scuttle around the fringes of society, mostly living on what we toss in the garbage.
They’re sick, of course.
Well, it may have been the result of physical trauma. Or some overwhelming emotional event. Or of medical error. Or injury. Or accident. Or disease. Or a genetic predisposition.
Or maybe just the result of downright lousy luck.
But two things are certain:
It isn’t something they asked for.
And, aluminum foil or no aluminum foil, it isn’t funny.