Freedom Center radio show recently focused on a memorial of John Brodie, who died in Brattleboro Vermont in an encounter with the police. Freedom Center was working to advocate for John with his friend Inez Kochius for several months before we learned he died.
Below are some memorial statements about John and the Freedom Center radio show we did:
REMEMBERING JOHN H. BRODIE
John Brodie, the man from Brattleboro who ran from a Hinsdale
police officer and drowned in the river, was not an anonymous
recluse as the article in last Friday's Reformer implied. John
was a brilliant, creative, and deeply spiritual person who lived a
rich, full, and courageous life in spite of his struggles with
bipolar mental illness.
John had a Ph.D. in Physics from Princeton University and a Post
Doctoral from Stanford University. An online search turns up many
links for his work in this field.
John had traveled the world and lived and worked in third world
countries. He loved to hike and had explored portions of the
Appalachian Trail. Like many of us living here, he was drawn to
Brattleboro because of its liberal, creative, and spiritual counter
cultures. He was seeking a small town that fostered the freedom
and openness that felt crucial to his inner growth. He was making
the rounds of this area's diverse meditation, self-awareness, and
ecological groups. When I asked John which groups he thought were
good, he responded that he liked them all. He found something
useful in each group and did not discriminate among them.
More than anything, John reminded me of a modern day wandering
Sadhu. He had been inspired by the life of Peace Pilgrim, who had
walked this country without possessions, promoting world peace.
Like her, he had a dream to walk this country. But like the sages
in India and China he wanted to do it barefoot. In our culture
sages and madmen tend to be lumped together and condemned, rather
than revered. But it would behoove us to understand more clearly
the connections and fine lines between geniuses, sages, madmen, and
saints. The lines are thinner than we think.
John was a very genuine and heart centered person. He allowed
himself to be vulnerable, sharing openly of himself and his
struggles. He had taken a job at Price Chopper because he felt
that the simple, basic work would be of help to him. He wanted a
change from the complexities that the realm of Physics presented.
He spoke with humility and humor about how his job at Price Chopper
turned out to be anything but simple. Even when bagging groceries
he entered into a competition with himself. He strove to be the
best and fastest grocery bagger. He then felt humbly relieved to
realize that he was just an ordinary bagger like anyone else. John
recognized what was most essential - our common humanness.
John spoke about his struggle with shame, and his own Christian
like meditations for self-forgiveness. For him, silent meditation
and spontaneous creative movement flowed together, one giving rise
to the other. He was starting to teach his form of moving
meditation locally at Bhava Yoga Center.
I only knew John for too brief a time. However, each encounter I
had with him was meaningful, because of his openness, honesty, and
humility. I admired his courage to be vulnerable and exposed in a
culture where those qualities are not typically safe to express.
There was some ineffable quality about him that inspired me, and
yet at the same time made me want to reach out and protect him.
His eyes radiated light, and his soul seemed to burn with a
religious fire that was very gentle and respectful of others, and
did not seek to convert anyone to anything.
Unfortunately, John's death for me is linked to my friend Pheobe
Bowditch's death (who also died tragically when encountering police
officers) and to Woody Woodward. My heart goes out to the police
officer involved. However, in a small town with a large
Brattleboro Retreat Hospital, it is imperative that we have police
officers specially trained to gently handle people exhibiting signs
of mental illness. For me, John, Pheobe, and Woody are examples of
a type of endangered human species. May we as individuals, and as
a community as a whole, come to respect and value the more
courageous, vulnerable, and gifted among us before it's too late.
Letter to the Brattleboro Reformer from Inez Kochius:
To the Editor,
It's with great sadness I learned about the death of my best friend John
Brodie. John died in the Connecticut River Jan 28, 2006 when running
from a Hinsdale police officer.
Even though I live in Ontario, Canada, John and I were very close. We met,
when John started working as a theoretical physisist in Waterloo a few
years ago. We became very close friends and remained such. Over time our
friendship grew stronger. I am devastated by his unnecassary death. John
was a kind and gentle man. He believed in nonresistance to evil by force,
in peace, compassion and love. I miss John very much.
I am angry at two things:
One is the climate of fear that is promoted by governments, the media and
society in general. It paralyses people to the point of not being willing
to take responsibility for their own feelings and opinions anymore. No, we
call the authorities when a man walks around in the neighbourhood ringing
doorbells. Whoever called the police must have thought that something was
wrong with John's behaviour. However, there were many options for this
caller to have dealt with that "problem" him or herself: the person could
have ignored John, or asked John to stop ringing doorbells, or, how about
talking to John and inquiring what was up? If the caller had chosen the
latter, he or she may have heard John's message: A BETTER WORLD!! Now,
how threatening is that?
What John wanted most at that moment of his life was to be listened to, to
be taken serious, to be respected and validated. A birthright we all take
for granted, but for whatever reason, we don't seem to be able to grant it
to others. How much harm could that have possibly caused? None!
Sadly, at that point in John's life, there was no compassion. Instead the police was
called.... Why this kneejerk reaction? John was not a threat.
The police officer was then put in a position that he was obviously not
able to handle, I assume because of lack of training. Let's face it, the police
was called because John was not behaving "normal" in someone eyes. And
John only "verified" that by telling the cop that it was him that was ringing
people's doorbells and that he was running for president. How much more
information did the police officer need to let him know that he was dealing
with someone with special needs at that point in his life? What was the
need to ask for John's ID?? And even if the police officer really
NEEDED to see his ID, what was he thinking when he turned his back on John and left
him standing there?
What cops meant to John was terrifying him. At least twice he had
encounters with police and in both cases because his behaviour was not
"normal", but by no means a danger to anybody. It meant arrests,
restraints, incarceration, being drugged, being mistreated..... loosing
his freedom basically. He panicked when he had to show his ID. He was not
going to go down that road again! He bolted towards the river, only to be
chased by the police officer. What are the chances of someone trying to
escape to stop if they are being chased?? I think they are NIL .
The sad irony is, that not only is John a victim here, but the police
officer who was called to do what the caller wouldn't do, is a victim as
well. The police officer has to live with this. I can't even imagine what
it must be like for him.
No police should have been involved in this case, because had it not been
for the police involvement, we would not be mourning John's death. A
little compassion would have gone a long way. I firmly believe that "crazy" or
"mentally ill" people are not a danger, any more than so called "normal"
people. Could it be that it is the other way around possibly, as John's
death so clearly indicates? Who was being protected here?
It's time we started treating EVERYBODY with respect and compassion and
taking ownership of ourselves instead of threatening everybody with
Statement from Inez Kochius after John's death:
...I remember when I went down to Sykesville, Maryland, to see John in the psychiatric 'hospital' in 2005. Here we all were in this common room sitting around a table: John, his parents, me and John's assigned legal representitive, when the psychiatrist, and others, tried her damnest to get John to be compliant. She asked him, "Don't you want to get rid off the voices?" John just looked at her and said, "No, I don't."
He sometimes told me about his voices and visions. I NEVER felt like talking him into getting rid off them or even suggesting that they weren't real. Just because I don't experience them, does not give me the right to say, "Hey, John, there is something wrong with you." It wasn't always easy, but I tried to accept John unconditionally the way he was. I supported his choices. His choice to do without meds and to seek out alternatives. I never once thought he was crazy, like unfortunately so many others did. Indeed I made enemies believing in John. But when he died I wasn't all that sure anymore. I started beating myself up for being his friend, for standing by him all that time. The 'if only I had...' started haunting me. And even now, I can go there quite easily.
But I know deep down in my heart that love, or total acceptance, cannot kill somebody...
I am spending a lot of time in 'dark spaces' these day because when John died January 28, 2006 part of me died as well. I would like to mark John's death anniversary by publishing my comment to the 'John Brodie blog' from July 25, 2006:
I met John when he first came to the Perimeter Institute in Waterloo, Ontario, and John attended Ouaker Meeting in Kitchener. We quickly became friends and soon became very close friends. I spent the last 3 to 4 years of his life being his trusted friend or confidante.
The comments on your blog sadden me, because most of them seem to focus on â€˜mental illnessâ€™. I sincerely believe, that is exactly why we are looking at Johnâ€™s untimely deathâ€¦ John did NOT represent or embody â€˜mental illness! If there was any â€˜mental illnessâ€™, it was that of our society. Itâ€™s society that is ILL, not the person that needs help on occassion. Unfortunately we are only willing to help with pills and restraints, which is really the same thing. Very sad indeedâ€¦. What ever happened to listening to people without judgement?? The circumstances of Johnâ€™s death are bizarre: a door bell being rung by John and it goes unanswered, BUT!! the cops were called!! What harm did John do that would warrent calling 911 ??? Whoâ€™s crazy here?
I had very close contact with John, especially in the past 2 years. I talked to him on the phone for an hour and a half that very morning on the day of his death. He had asked me to come to Brattleboro the following Tuesday. He wanted to have my input to help him buy a house he had spotted there. Yes, he was â€˜flying highâ€™ that morning, in the mental â€˜heathâ€™ lingo it would have been called â€˜manicâ€™. But that is neither here nor there, when John was â€˜flying highâ€™ he did not change one little bit. He continued to be this very sweet and nice person. Harmless is what he was.
I believe it is society and psychiatry that would not let John live any longer than he did. John was this most amazing man, he had a lot to offer to this world - and Iâ€™m not talking theoretical physics here - he wanted a better world, but the world was cruel. The world failled John.
John was suffering from a deep seated pain that manifested itself in him needing compassion more than anything at times. The ironic thing is that John was a very compassionate person, but there was NO compassion for John that night. Psychiatry seems to be sold on this â€˜chemical imbalanceâ€™ in the brain fraud, instead of investigating and healing the root causes of emotional distress. But, hey, that takes timeâ€¦ Labels and pills cost a lot less, so psychiatry and their cohorts think, but they are wrong. In far too many cases it costs lives.
I was devastated when I learned about Johnâ€™s death almost a week after he had drowned. His mother called me as soon as they had recovered his body. I went to all three of Johnâ€™s Memorial Services. I thought it might help me heal, but itâ€™s a slow process.
To me John did NOT accidentally drown, he was driven into the water by all of us! We all lost a very special person when John died. That seems to be the way, we donâ€™t seem to be able to hang on to people we need most. Crazy world!