Wednesday, October 07, 2009

Not walking alone

On the back of the Paul's Pals t-shirts this year, I placed the line "Because mental illness is too tough a road to walk alone." It's funny, because when I did that, I was thinking of Paul and the lonely road he walks and how important it is for me to try to be there for him. But what I had forgotten, and what the walk reminded me of, was how alone I feel sometimes, and how not-alone I really am.

The reality of the thing is that I--like most family members of people with a severe persistent mental illness--often feel very isolated. People sort of share the burden and sort of understand; people try. But it is impossible to convey, even to those who know me well, what it means to remember my brother not simply as this semi-stable though unpredictable and socially awkward man, but also as the sweet baby, slightly devilish boy, troubled teen, and truly psychotic young adult. To carry that whole history with him in a way that no one else does (not even our brothers who mostly haven't seen him in years) is a gift and a burden.

But on Sunday's walk my friends came out, and they came out strong. We had about 35 people out in our purple Paul's Pals shirts. We were the 2nd largest team in number of walkers. The largest team was fielded by PeaceLove Studios. They are a great organization that helps people, including people with mental illness issues, to use art as part of healing and achieving peace of mind. But ... they are an organization. About three or four times during the walk, people asked me "What is this 'Paul's Pals'?" Or, my favorite, "Do you work at Paul's Pals?" I explained that Paul was just my brother and that a bunch of our pals came out to walk with us. People were astounded that such a large team could simply be a group of friends. And I was reminded of what good friends I have and that neither Paul nor I must walk alone.

By the way, this was not simply about the folks who gathered with us in the purple shirts. I was absolutely astounded that about 40 of my friends (and/or their spouses!) donated to NAMI either in my name or Paul's. The two of us raised about $1700 for NAMI, more than half of our team's impressive $3300. (Just $200 short of our goal!) As I look at the list of donors, there are aunts and uncles and brothers, friends from elementary school, junior high, and high school, friends from my parish youth group, from my college days and my M.Div. days at Notre Dame, and a bunch of friends from Duke and from Providence College. I can't resist chronicling the PC departments represented: walkers and donors from theology (of course), philosophy, political science, history, English, education, information technology, and donors from biology, campus ministry, and the Feinstein Institute for Public and Community Service. It really astounds me how many of my friends stepped up and donated. It is deeply touching, and indeed it is another wonderful reminder that neither Paul nor I have to walk alone.

Exhausted from the walk and from my travels this weekend, I dragged myself to church on Sunday night, alone. And yet, somehow, I carried with me every walker, every donor, every friend who has supported us along the way. The communion song was "Blest Are They," and I found myself in tears through it. How truly, truly, blest I am to have such friends.

If you'd like to join us and help us raise that last $200, please click here!

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