Highrise Jim

Long time friend of Neil and the blog, Jim Reed (Highrise Jim), passed away on March 14, 2013.

REED, Sergeant James CD
Retired, 6th Hussars (15th Armoured Regiment). Member of the Canadian Legion Branch 24-106, long-time employee of Canadian Steamship Lines, left us on March 14, 2013. He leaves to mourn his spouse, lover and best friend, Sharon Elizabeth Sutherland; children Mark and Kathryne; sisters June and Jacqueline Reed. Heartfelt thanks to the staff and caretakers on 5 Main, St. Mary’s Hospital. A memorial get- together will be held on Friday, March 22, 2013 between 6-9 pm at the Collins Clarke MacGillivray White funeral parlour, 5610 Sherbrooke St. W. (corner of Marcil and Sherbrooke St.)

august 2012 ptgs 027


Catharine McKenty writes:

Jim pioneered a unique way of treating depression, that helped change the course of Neil’s life.

In the last chapter of his memoir ‘The Inside Story’ Neil discloses what happens when he makes a phone call:

While picking at supper, I described for Chris as well as I could what a hell hole I had been in all day. Then with a kind of groan and in a strangled voice that came from deep inside me I said to him, “I just want to be real.” Only six words, but they described and distilled a lifetime. I could no longer endure the split of feeling one way about myself but needing others to feel another way. I could no longer summon the energy to bear the mask to maintain that charade, no longer wanted to be a performer. I desperately wanted to be real and needed help to make the journey. Chris said he wanted me to go with him to meet a friend. Little did I realize this friend would guide me on a new journey and save my life.


We drove several blocks, parked the car, walked up a flight of stairs to a mussy second-floor apartment swirling with cigarette smoke, where Chris introduced me to Jim. Jim was a man in his early sixties, medium height, with a moustache, a quizzical if not slightly sardonic expression on his face and the stub of a cigarette in his mouth. Jim lit another cigarette and invited me to come and sit at the kitchen table. I told him what I had told Chris at supper, “I just want to be real.” Jim sensed immediately I was in a panic, perhaps needing professional help, and began to muse about a treatment centre, perhaps in the United States.

I pounded my fist on the kitchen table and said in desperation that I didn’t have time to go looking for treatment places in the States – I needed help and I needed it right now! It was Jim’s turn to pound the table. “All right,” he said, “this is what we’re going to do.” Then, as though he was firing a machine gun, he laid out a program of activity that made my head swim – which is precisely what he intended. He wanted to change the tapes.

First, I was to come to his apartment, on foot, six nights a week at seven o’clock for a discussion; every evening before I came I was to sit down at my desk and write out a detailed agenda of my next day’s activities; I was to fix a reasonable time for getting up in the morning and stick to it; I was to do at least an hour of physical exercise a day, preferably brisk walking; I was to watch for interesting.films – to get me out of myself; I was to sign up for a weekend retreat with a group of Jim’s friends – because their serenity and laughter might well be contagious; and I was to plant some kind of garden in,my back yard so I could get real earth on my hands and stop and smell the roses (or, in the case of my garden, cherry tomatoes).. And that wasn’t all. Jim loaded me up with a stack of books to take home and read, most of them on some aspect of mental and emotional health, many of them based on the spirituality of twelve-step programs. I walked out the door that first night, with Jim’s words ringing in my head: “You’ve been saying ‘no’ most of your life; try saying ‘yes’ more often.”

As I walked home after that first meeting, I felt a twinge – almost imperceptible but still real – a twinge of hope. Jim had given me a down-to-earth program that I could begin immediately, and he also gave me the impression that if I didn’t buckle down to it seriously, he would dump me. So I set my alarm clock for the morning, and to make doubly sure I would hit the deck running, I arranged to have breakfast as many mornings as possible with Chris in a nearby restaurant. I set aside time for the reading Jim gave me, checked the newspaper for entertaining films, went with Catharine to the Atwater Market to buy our tomato plants, and tried to say “yes” more often: for example, becoming involved with Benedict Labre House for Montreal’s street people.

As the April weather became warmer I joined the Meadowbrook Golf Club in Montreal West. Frequently my good friend, Jean Prieur, would pick me up about 7:30 and we would play four hours of golf, no carts, walking briskly all the way. I arranged to take some lessons at Golf Gardens on Cote de Liesse and started to practise for the Madawaska Classic. This was the family golf tournament at Bob and Patsy Fleming’s island summer home in the St. Lawrence near Gananoque, scheduled for the last weekend in August. Thanks to CJAD’s news director, Gord Sinclair, I was still doing the afternoon radio program, only now I walked the dozen or so blocks to the station. Usually after I returned from CJAD, Catharine and I headed to the Westmount pool for a swim. At home again, I sat do\vn at my desk and wrote out the next day’s agenda, a simple enough task that steadied me and gave me reassurance like a security blanket.

And every evening after supper I set off for Jim’s place on foot. Every time it was the same routine. First, we sat down in his den and watched videos, ranging from biblical archeology to the significance of myth, all raising questions about the meaning of life. As Jim told me much later, we were not seeking knowledge but wisdom; be wanted to find what made me tick; he wanted me to discover a new perception of reality. Then we moved to the living room where we listened to tapes, many of them relating to the spirituality of the twelve steps, most of them chock-a-block with humour. He wanted to see what made me laugh and what didn’t. All I remember now is that for a long time, those tapes didn’t.

And then we talked. Looking back now, it is difficult to remember all that we talked about – anger, resentment, arguments, anxiety, fear, shame. There was nothing theoretical about these discussions. Usually they were about my relationship with Catharine, with colleagues in the media, with the Jesuits and the Benedictines, with my father. If I didn’t respond one night, Jim wouldn’t push. Instead he would come at the same issue from another angle six nights later. Often we discussed incidents that had happened that very day, incidents that now seem inconsequential and picayune, but in fact revealed to Jim, and ultimately to me, patterns of behaviour and attitudes. How did I feel when Catharine asked me to get a loaf of bread? Did I usually open the car door for her? What triggered my last outburst of anger and did I see that it was a control issue?

Looking back on those many hours of discussion, I don’t think what we talked about was nearly as important as my growing conviction that Jim understood me and what I had to do to change. He sensed what he called “the football of pain” in my stomach because he had dealt with it himself. He has a spacious and intellectually curious mind – he wants to do a study of the evolution of the Bible on his computer – but when it comes to everyday garden-variety spirituality, he is as down to earth and practical as a can opener. Time after time on those many evenings of two- or three-hour sessions, Jim astonished me at how accurately he could push the buttons that governed my emotional ups and downs. Sometimes he would use shock treatment: “You’ve spent a lot of your life being a pompous ass.” Other times he would ask a simple question: “Do you think your attitude to Catharine is changing?” Presently I realized this was the key. Jim equated attitude change with personality change. My life had been soured by anxiety, fear, anger, and resentment. There was little room for tranquillity, compassion, love, or real friendship.

So night after night we examined the inner dis-ease, trying to reduce the size of the football in my stomach. It was not easy going. Some days I would goof off, give up and head back t© the security of the couch. On such an evening Jim would warn me, gently but firmly, that I was playing with fire, that we could lose all our hard-won gains in a moment of folly. Another time he was tougher. He asked me if I wanted to go back to the Vendome metro station and, this time, jump.

I dreaded going back to the hospital and managed to convince the doctor to give me another chance. I think my fear of going back to the psychiatric ward provided a strong motive to keep me faithful to the program Jim had developed for me. And I added another element to the program. Despite my almost total lack of skill, and mindful of the dictum about starting to say yes instead of no, I joined a small group in an art class given by Jim’s companion, Sharon, an effervescent woman whom I came to know and like. Little did I realize that for our final session I would be struggling to paint a live nude.

After a few weeks Jim had seized my attention (“pompous ass”), expanded my awareness (Catharine was astonished by my cooperation and thoughtfulness), and begun to shift my perception of reality to diminishing anger and resentment, growing serenity and compassion. In a way, Jim was helping me change the lenses through which I had viewed the world and this change was rooted in and related to a spiritual experience.

Because ultimately that is what the depression itself was, a fundamental spiritual experience. I had reached a spiritual and emotional crisis where, for a few critical and decisive hours, the emotions of despair and hope were balanced on a knife edge. There are, in my view, only two paths out of this existential crisis: giving up (some form of suicide) or giving in (some kind of surrender). The Chinese word for “crisis” has a double meaning, danger or opportunity, pointing the way to these two paths. Thanks to a strong instinct for survival which I have had all my life, with the help of divine providence and of many people, I chose to give in, to surrender.

What did I surrender and to whom? First and foremost, I surrendered control, a lifetime of trying to control the circumstances, the people, the success in my life. I even tried to control the most minute detail of daily living, such as boiling over with anger if Catharine was not at the door the minute we agreed to leave for an engagement. Further, I had to admit that I was powerless over my emotions of fear, anger and resentment, that in those areas my life had become unmanageable. I had to reach out beyond myself for help and had to surrender the front, the mask, the persona I had spent so many years laboriously constructing, the persona disguising how rotten I really felt about myself.

In biblical terms, I had to lose my life in order to find it. The depression had driven me to my knees. Jim told me to get on the floor each night before going to bed and each morning after rising and put the day in the hands of God – whether I believed in God or not. With a smile, Jim told me he knew people who were so shy about praying that even though they lived alone, they would go into the bathroom and lock the door before getting on their knees.

As a practical matter, I had no problem about getting on my knees or asking for help, even if I had to fake it until I made it. I knew full well I could not make myself well. So I had to reach out to a power greater than myself, and I had no trouble calling that power God. But I made a bargain with myself. Never again would I make a spiritual commitment that did not ring true, that was not real. I had been baptized and confirmed in the Roman Catholic Church, taken perpetual vows in the Jesuits, been ordained a priest. Never again would I take a step for which the map had been drawn by other people. So when the right time came, I knelt down with Jim in his smoke-filled living room, his Russian cat watching us, and made a decision to turn my will and my life over to the care of God as I understood God. I wasn’t sure what the words meant or how the decision would turn out. But I had a good feeling about it.

As this program of activities, exercises and discussion continued through the spring and early summer of 1994, slowly, imperceptibly at first, my depression, like a fog on the landscape, began to lift. And I began to see and enjoy experiences – simple things I had not had for two years – a boat trip around the harbour, a sour-cream doughnut at Tim Horton’s, a genuine spontaneous laugh from deep inside. This last was the best because I had not laughed for two years. ,One evening I went out into our back yard and excitedly picked my first cherry tomatoes, imagining how they would shine like red, Christmas balls beside the poached salmon for dinner.      ‘

We shall not cease from exploration
And the end of all our exploring
Will be to arrive where we started
And know the place for the first time.

In the process that Jim took me through, I began to see my world and feel about it in a different way. The lonely, anxious little boy sitting on the steps of my father’s hardware store in Hastings had changed. In a moment of profound crisis when I had admitted to myself I was helpless, I reached out and there was someone there. In that very act, totally honest and real, healing began. The interior split between the way I felt about myself and the way I wanted others to feel about me, began to diminish. I gave up the obsessive drive to control. From being fragmented and tom apart inside, I started to feel more whole – a theme that is elaborated in one of my favourite books, The Spirituality of Imperfection, by Ernest Kurtz and Catherine Ketcham. For the first time in my life the ball was hitting the glove, the arrow the target. I felt I was fitting, connecting in a way I never had before with myself, with other people, and with my understanding of God.


Jim Reed

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