When Terrie and I met, she was married to a cantor and I was just starting to see the rabbi who would become my husband. Almost 35 years later, what has lasted and deepened is our friendship, for which I am grateful every day.
The gifts of giving
by Terrie Turner, Palm Springs-Palm Desert area, California
I thought my rage toward our leadership and upset about the divide in our country could not get worse. Well, it can. Last evening, I watched a documentary called Bedlam (available on PBS until May 13). As the film’s promotional materials say, it “examines the mental health crisis through intimate stories of those in-and-out of ERs, jails and homeless camps.”
Before rage took over, profound sadness set in. It was clear to me that I have never given mental illness enough thought. I have been lucky enough not to have my personal life and family affected by such diagnoses as bi-polar, psychosis, or schizophrenia. Watching this film, I became connected with Meryl, Monte and Johanna. They were human beings with severe illnesses. Their families were either ashamed or did not know what to do.
Mentally ill patients should not be in jails or prisons, and certainly not homeless. They should be treated as patients with an illness and nurtured as human beings made in the image of God—with dignity. And, as a society, we are missing out on the gifts that these challenged people could give to all of us.
The federal response to the pandemic mirrors both the national and local treatment of the mentally ill for decades. We are seeing the same lack of compassion, only now it is about the COVID-related suffering and deaths. No compassion, no humility, no humanity.
According to the National Alliance to End Homelessness, “People experiencing homelessness are uniquely vulnerable to contracting COVID-19, and to experiencing harsher effects of the virus.” According to an article in the Los Angeles Times in October 2019, “76% of individuals living outside on the streets reported being, or were observed to be, affected by mental illness, substance abuse, poor health or a physical disability.”
This is where the pandemic and the shame of our national neglect of the homeless and mentally ill converge.
I watched Bedlam because Ruth recommended it to me. Many years ago, she and its producer, Dr. Ken Rosenberg, made a documentary together, An Alzheimer’s Story. In Bedlam, Dr. Rosenberg shows the reality of how mentally ill people are treated, the reality of the prisons and jails, the reality of the situations that people are put in, the lack of facilities and housing and treatment centers.
As reflected in the documentary, our leadership should be held to a higher standard, and have compassion for human life. We are not a Third World Country; we can feed our people, treat our sick, and care for human life.
Especially because our leader isn’t rising to a higher standard, we are each called upon to give our gifts. We seem to forget that concept when we do not see our giving as meaningful. We compliment and are grateful for our essential workers but still complain that we cannot get our hair done. Staying home when possible, wearing a mask at all times when out, postponing travel, and obeying the 6 ft. distancing, are our ultimate gifts to give today.
The greatest gift from giving is the extraordinary feeling we receive when we give.
Think about others. Keep your distance. Wear a mask. And smile with your eyes.