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On the Placement of a Time Capsule at the Austen Riggs Center

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Austen Riggs Center Medical Director/CEO Eric M. Plakun, MD, offers remarks on the burial of a time capsule to commemorate Riggs’ centennial.

On Sunday, July 21, 2019, the Austen Riggs Center marked the official 100-year anniversary of its founding with a Founding Day celebration for current and former staff, patients, and Board of Trustee members. As part of the celebration, a time capsule–its contents curated by current staff and patients–was buried and Medical Director/CEO Eric M. Plakun, MD, offered these remarks (a copy of which is buried in the time capsule): 

On this date, on the grounds of the Austen Riggs Center in Stockbridge, Massachusetts, a hundred people gathered to celebrate the hundredth anniversary of the founding of Riggs at its first Founding Day Celebration. The group included current and former staff, patients, and members of the Board of Trustees. Sweltering through a heat wave, with temperatures near or above 90 degrees Fahrenheit, we convened to commemorate “the hospital on Main Street” and its century of helping people reclaim and take charge of their lives. Although mindful of our imperfections and flaws, we nevertheless take pride in our aspiration to build treatment on respect for the voice and dignity of patients, and on a commitment to the importance of relationships, community, and the pursuit of meaning as part of healing. As part of our celebration of the past, we also look to the future, and place this time capsule to be opened at the Riggs bicentennial. 

This morning, on a quick 20-mile bike ride around Stockbridge Bowl, I had a surreal experience I decided to include in these remarks. In mile 4, musing about today’s events, I spotted, several hundred yards ahead of me, a Model A Ford driving toward me. As we closed on each other I realized what an odd, surreal moment of synchronicity I was experiencing. The past was meeting the present, even as the present was meeting the future. As we passed each other I met the gaze of the driver. He had a bushy white beard, and twinkling eyes—almost like Santa Claus, I thought. In that moment we smiled, nodded and moved on, going our separate ways through the verdant hills and bucolic Berkshire landscapes of a warm summer morning. It felt like a wrinkle in the space-time continuum. In a way, that moment captures what we are experiencing today. 

If events have unfolded as we hope, that is, if human-induced climate change, global pandemics, encounters with celestial bodies, political upheaval, misdirected mental health policy, war and other forms of man’s inhumanity to man, and other unfathomables have not destroyed Riggs as we know it, then, on opening this time capsule, we hope you will imbibe the warm greetings of those of us gathered here who are long gone. We also hope you will appreciate the mementos of our time that we have included in this time capsule. 

We envy your access to learning about humans and about how to impact the sources of their suffering that inform your work in ways we cannot imagine. We also hope and expect that our pride in Riggs’ mission resonates with your clinical work in 2119, and that Riggs, its staff, patients and Board members continue to provide high quality care, while striving to shape a society where the stigma of mental illness and dehumanizing treatment do not burden patients, where patients receive real treatment that helps them live self-directed lives, and where all who suffer have access to medically necessary care, and are treated with dignity.

On behalf of all of us gathered here today, I extend to you our best wishes and warm regards.

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