At the supermarket this afternoon, I saw a man standing in the bakery section, staring off into space and ranting at people who weren't there. He was a short, thin, seventyish man with a beige windbreaker zipped right up to his chin, and his voice carried all the way through the adjoining produce department, over the piles of broccoli and pomegranates and potatoes and bananas; loud and piercing, but curiously uninflected. I couldn't make out the individual words, but I could tell he was repeating the same few sentences over and over again, as if he were anxious to make sure that his audience got the message. No one in the vicinity said anything, though a few of us exchanged nervous looks as we grabbed what we needed and hurried away.
While I finished my shopping, I kept wondering how that man had gotten where he was. He was alone (I'd looked around for someone who might be escorting him, but there wasn't anyone), so obviously he'd been in touch with reality long enough to drive (?) himself to the store, get a shopping cart, and go inside like everyone else, but what happened after that? Did he get overwhelmed by all the different colors and smells and sounds? Had he forgotten to take some medication this morning, and it just caught up with him right then, between the vegetables and the bread? How was he going to get home again? He wasn't there by the time I got to the checkout - or at least I couldn't hear him anymore - so the situation must have been resolved somehow. I hope it was a solution that worked in his favor.
The worst part is, I suspect the distance between that man and the rest of us isn't as far as we think. All it would take would be a random chemical imbalance, or the onset of Alzheimer's, and you or I or anybody could be standing there and yelling at no one in the supermarket, and everyone around us would be too scared to approach and ask if we were okay. It's a sobering thought.