“There are no throw away people”
As the Rabbi so honestly and passionately spoke these words during one of his many brilliant sermons, I felt pieces of my life connecting. The sentence itself might not seem earth shattering, but when truly unpacked, it means everything.
As some of you know, I work in a leadership position in the mental health field. I happen to work with individuals who have chronic and persistent mental health issues that hinder their day-to-day lives to the point of disorder. Many of the individuals that I know as multifaceted, colorful, talented, smart, and great people are often considered the “throw away” people of society. Have you ever walked or driven down a city street, and seen a person sauntering by, clothes possibly tattered? Have you witnessed someone who was talking to themselves or responding to internal stimuli in some way? Do you also notice how the majority of people tend to avoid, if not ignore, people who seem to be mentally unwell? Let’s be honest here. Who has not at least heard a comment akin to, “Oh, there’s that crazy guy,” or “Avoid that street, there are a lot of crazy people there.” Well, if you have not, I have certainly heard comments like this to make up for us both.
I know so many of “these people” now. I know their names. I know their struggles. I know their backgrounds, their dreams, and their traumas. I know why they are walking down the street, being cast aside as vagrants by much of society. I am lucky enough to be in a position to get to know people. Mental illness, while treatable and certainly manageable, can be a thief. It can take the functionality of a brilliant mind, or the children away from a loving parent. As we Mental Health First Aid trainers say, it can certainly rob an individual of their ability to live, laugh, learn, and love.
This is not a mental health post. I could certainly harp on the statistical fact that 1 in every 5 Americans suffer from some sort of mental illness, or that individuals with mental health diagnoses are actually 8 to 11 times more likely to be the victims of violent crimes than those without diagnoses. In a media which portrays people with mental health struggles as violent and dangerous, many are actually among the most vulnerable of our human family.
While chanting the Mi Shebeirach I thought of the phrase R’fuah Sh’leimah— Complete healing of body and spirit. R’fuah Sh’leimah is not talking about healing only the body, but the wholeness of an individual. Overall health does not exist without mental health. When someone is not sound of mind and body, they are simply not sound at all. As Jews, we bless the ones who need healing. Oftentimes, the man or woman wandering aimlessly around the streets, talking to themselves is in need of R’fuah Sh’leimah. The man on the train who seems unkempt needs R’fuah Sh’leimah. Perhaps he is sick, and having trouble taking care of his activities of daily living. Do we ever take for granted our ability to simply get up and groom ourselves? To someone who is truly suffering from mental illness, this seemingly mundane task can be almost unimaginable. R’fuah Sh’leimah, or complete healing of the body and spirit, tells me that the Jewish way is to take into account the suffering of all types of ailment.
“There are no throw away people.”
The Rabbi repeated this toward the end of his sermon. The face of one of the men I work for (I work for the people I serve) popped into my head. I reflected upon how he walks for miles down the street daily, head down, fighting the voices that kept him awake the previous night. I have the honor of sitting down with him and figuring out how to help in any way that I can. He opens up to me about his torment, and we come up with strategies, we laugh, and sometimes–he smiles. I wonder how many people view him as “throw away” on a day-to-day basis as they walk or drive by him. When I think about it, I cannot help but hope that the world begins to look at what’s behind the curtain of those whom society has so quickly labeled as irrelevant.
If there truly are no “throw away people” we must care about and nurture everyone’s health and well-being equally. R’fuah Sh’leimah should not be reserved for those on the healing list during the Mi Shebeirach, but also for those who have never been counted in any significant way. While we go about our busy lives, perhaps we should take a moment to think of the people who have been thrown away or counted out by society. If we change our minds, we change how we see the world. If we can change how we see the world, perhaps the world will change.