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!

Sunday, October 04, 2009

Going to the chapel

My goddaughter and good friend Sheryl got married Friday night in Durham, NC. It was a lovely ceremony, and I was very grateful to be there. Grateful to be there to share the moment with her and her husband (a strange word still, though he will wear it well), but even more so because this wedding was one that, for me at least, wove together well the love story of groom and bride with the love story of Christ and church.

I could say much more in this regard, but two quick points and two quick stories. First, the preacher certainly made the point that learning to love one’s spouse over time can be as difficult as the great challenges of the Christian life, like learning to love one’s enemy. Thus he drew a strong connection between marriage and the life of Christian discipleship more generally. And, secondly, the group assembled for these particular vows was an oddly ecumenical bunch.
There was something wonderful about how many people of different faiths came together. And yet it was painful to know that we could not share Eucharist together because of those divisions. Still, I have strong hopes that, like our love for Andy and Sheryl brought us together across various divides, our love for Christ will likewise restore the unity of the church.

First story: I was speaking with one of my former professors after the ceremony. He mentioned being surprised that I had made the trip. I think that he was thinking of Sheryl and me as friends and colleagues, but perhaps not close enough to justify the trip (or perhaps the invitation!). I simply said, “She’s my goddaughter.” He remembered that connection, and it immediately accounted for my presence. I love people who take church seriously enough that such answers are sufficient.

Second story: the groom was received into full communion in the Catholic Church this past Easter. The man who served as his sponsor was talking to me about his own journey into full communion with Rome. He told me that the first time he ever attended a Catholic liturgy was when he came to the Easter Vigil for Sheryl’s baptism four years ago. I don’t think you can draw any kind of causal chain from Sheryl’s baptism through Nate’s becoming Catholic to Andy’s doing the same. But the set of connections is striking. It just seems to me that you begin to see the strange workings of God’s providence in such things. Our lives are woven together more intimately than we can imagine.

It was truly a gift to be a part of it. It was a joy to be reminded of how much history I share with Sheryl, of the power of Christ to connect his people, and of the privilege it is to have such friends.