Many years ago I lived in a house that backed on to a huge hospital for people with mental illnesses. (There were such places in those days.) This hospital was set in acres of beautiful, landscaped grounds. That was all you could see of it from my home. There was a 7ft 6in chain link fence separating these grounds from the gardens in our road, which was kept in good repair.
One day I witnessed something there that has left me wondering ever since. I was standing at my bedroom window, gazing at the autumn leaves, when I noticed two figures. The first was one of the patients. He was a middle-aged man, wearing pyjamas, a dressing gown and slippers. He was running towards the boundary. The other was a youngish, small, female nurse who was pursuing him.
As I watched, I could see that he was heading straight towards a garden some way down the road from mine. I was fascinated to see what would happen when he reached the chain link fence.
To my astonishment, as he approached the barrier, he didn’t even break his pace. He was over it in seconds and racing through the garden, down the side path and out to freedom. Still more amazingly, the little nurse also mounted the fence with no difficulty and continued to chase him.
What I had seen seemed to defy reason. Both people had scaled a swaying fence, with no footholds, which was far taller than themselves and they’d done it in very unsuitable clothing.
So how did it work? As it flashed into my mind this morning, I could see that for the patient, at that moment, the fence didn’t represent a barrier, it represented an opportunity – a gateway to freedom. To the young nurse, it was simply a part of the path she needed to follow to protect her patient. Neither had the time for limiting beliefs to kick in and prevent them from achieving their goals.
Reality is far bendier than we tend to expect…