Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Person Y

I can’t even give Person Y a gender descriptor such as Mr. or Ms. I can only report that Person Y was confirmed alive on Tuesday when I saw them last and is likely mentally ill based on the evidence laid out before me. Evidence: several wool blankets piled on top of Person Y as they slept on the sidewalk in DC. Our capital has an open door law which requires all shelters to take in every walk in when the temp dips below freezing. No one can be denied and if space runs out the district will open reserved emergency space in other public buildings. Shelter reps and other concerned residents do regular sweeps in the evenings and transport any homeless willing to go to the shelters. There is also a hypothermia hotline to report folks you see in the cold. Result: the only people remaining on the streets are those who actively refuse to go to the shelter or walk away from them. And in those cases the caring are left to only drape them with wool blankets and move on. Refusing shelter when it’s below freezing is a certain sign of mental illness to me. As to evidence of life in Person X I observed his/her rhythmic breathing under those blankets while he/she slept. I felt helpless. What are we to do God; tell me what to do! My tears do not fix anything.

Generations ago the public response to such illness was to let the suffering die. People were just too busy trying to survive themselves. Other periods in history the well intentioned do-gooders built huge fortresses of mental hospitals and locked the sick away, putting their dignity and freedom away just the same. When I worked for ARC in New York the directors tried to impress upon us that it was better for society to let the mentally ill remain integrated into daily society and to suffer the reckless deaths of some of them left to their own care in sacrifice to the principle of maintaining free will for the population as a whole as much as possible. Because when you strip freedom from individuals and give control to others abuse is the most common outcome. Even “good” people can fall into monster behavior when given total control over another human being. So we shut down most of these hospitals in the 80s and 90s and and let everyone out to wander “free”. Oh but what a burdensome “freedom” for those imprisoned in their own minds by illness. The whole situation reminds me a bit of our differing approach to animal welfare over South American countries: we lock up the unwanted animals who cannot care for themselves
(and usually euthanize most of them) while the South Americans let them wander free in the streets to “make it or break it” per the laws of survival of the fittest. Sad either way. I feel utterly helpless. I need God; I need God to fix this. It feels callous to go about my life in joy and peace with so much suffering around me but what good does my pity and tears do? There is so much misery in the world and in my own circle of influence even that I cannot fix. And I even call into suspect my own motivations. Do I want to fix it because I love these people like the Lord does? Or do I just want to fix it to spare myself the suffering of feeling guilt, pity and helplessness? I can’t untangle my feelings from what’s best for these people or what God might ultimately desire.

I just fall instead on my knees in prayer and ask God that his will be done.

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