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Clutching a Penny

Henri Nouwen once told a story of a woman who was brought into New York City’s Bellevue Hospital in an acute state of psychiatric collapse.  The hospital staff could find no identification on her person, and could not induce her to speak so much as her name – but they did notice she was clutching an object in the palm of one hand.  After much effort, they managed to pry her fingers open: only to discover this homeless woman was clutching a single penny.

- Henri Nouwen, With Open Hands (New York: Phoenix Press, 1984).

On the individual scale, the patient’s behavior is easily categorized as mental illness; yet is this not the same sort of behavior we demonstrate, as a nation, in our pervasive fear of economic disaster – when in fact we are wealthier, and have substantially more to share, than any other people in the world?  Is not our persistent denial of affluence a form of delusional behavior?