Out from the Shadows
Last night a close friend let me know his father was going into emergency surgery, so I left my phone in “on” mode instead of “sleep mode.” In “sleep mode” if the same number calls twice in a row it rings through. Otherwise it goes to voicemail. But sleep mode silences all notifications for text messages. I didn’t know if I would hear from my friend or not, but I wanted to be there for him if I could. At 1 am my phone pinged with a message. I thought it would be an update from my friend about the surgery, so I looked at my phone.
“I’m gonna kill my self”—that is the message I saw on my phone. It was from a friend of some years who struggles with mental health challenges. After a short back and forth I realized he was already in the care of medical professionals so I did not panic. I reached out to his father, and offered the support I could. His father confirmed that his son was under medical care and safe for the time being. Then at the father’s request, I reached out to another friend in the town where my struggling friend and his family live, to see if that friend could also offer personal support. And my friend agreed to do so. And the father was consoled.
More and more, many of us are seeing the ways that mental health plays a role in struggles we face ourselves and struggles those around us face. It seems only recently that state and independent service providers, along with lawmakers, are coming to terms with how mental health contributes to houselessness. And this is only one recent example. But cries of suffering from hospital beds and altered mental states that lead the sufferers to live outdoors are not the only kinds of mental health concerns impacting our lives.
For far too many, the silent slippage from social life caused by loneliness, disconnection, and dislocation puts individuals on the firing line of what past surgeons general call the greatest public health threat to our society. The many and varied ways mental health touches each of us is hard enough. But the stigma that still surrounds speaking of it might even be harder to endure. It should be as comfortable for us to discuss or mention casually mental illness as it is to discuss a cold or a sprained ankle. None of us chooses to have those either. In fact, people’s actions have more to do with contracting a cold or spraining an ankle than a person’s actions ever could with regard to a mental or psychic ailment.
Amid all this, what I recognize today, perhaps more than any of the other privileges I know in my life, is the privilege to have people in my life who include me in the knowledge of their suffering, their humanness. And this privilege has taught me that there are deeper things in the world that unite humans, deeper than principles and sources. For it is only when we stand in the shadow of compassion, when we know suffering. It is when we stand in the shadow of justice, when we see manifest wrongs. It is when we stand in the shadow cast down by joy, when we understand pain and grief. And perhaps it is walking together in the valley of these shadows, with the blinding light obscured, when we see each other most clearly. I’m pretty sure it is.
Many blessings of health and understanding to you all.
Rev. T. J.