Friday, June 17, 2011

June 17: Homeless Man, Saint Harvey, Lost Tooth

In the area in which I live, a homeless man died of exposure in the woods this past week.  Usually, in early June in the Upper Peninsula of Michigan, it can get chilly at night, but not so cold it would kill somebody.  Homelessness is not an issue most people think about in the U.P.  We have our share of group homes for people with mental illnesses, and we also have a low-income hotel, as well.  However, when you walk down the streets of our towns, there aren't people begging on the corners or pushing loaded shopping carts around.  Homeless people live in the big cities--Detroit, Lansing, Flint.  Not along the shores and beaches of Lake Superior.

Not in my hometown

When I attended a NAMI (National Alliance on Mental Illness) meeting last year in Marquette, one of the people there (let's call her Tina) had a brother who was schizophrenic.  Tina's brother wasn't taking his medications, and she was at the end of her rope.  Until her brother tried to harm himself or someone else, Tina couldn't get her brother hospitalized.  It's one of the horrible truths in the treatment of the mentally ill in this country.  In the effort to protect the rights of a person with a mental illness, that person has to try to kill somebody before he can be helped.  My coworker, who also attends NAMI meetings, told me yesterday that she thinks the homeless man who died in the woods was Tina's brother.

Tina's brother slipped through the cracks, the victim of a system that was set up to protect him.  He died, homeless in the woods, his civil rights intact.  I understand the reasons behind the laws, but I have also been in a situation like Tina.  My wife needed help, was obviously out-of-control, but her therapist, her doctor, couldn't tell me anything.  They just had to let her march down a self-destructive path.  Thank God it turned out better than it did for Tina's brother.

Today's saint, Harvey, was born blind.  His father died when Harvey was an infant, and his mother gave him to a "holy man" to raise.  Eventually, the holy man sent him to a monastic school to continue his religious education.  Harvey eventually became Abbot of the monastery, even though he was never ordained a priest.  He's famous for being a wandering minstrel and performing miracles as an exorcist.

In today's world, a wandering, blind, holy exorcist would probably end up freezing to death in the woods.  At the very least, Harvey would be one of those people you avoid in subways and bus terminals.  Poor.  Homeless.  Hungry.  When I think of people like Harvey and Tina's brother, I find myself a little humbled.   My first thought isn't about their mothers or uncles or brothers.  My first thought is how lucky I am to not be them.  My second thought is how lucky I am to have a family member with a mental illness who is relatively stable, healthy, and happy.

My third thought is about my daughter, who called me this morning to tell me she lost another tooth, and my son.  I think about the capacity for mental illness they've inherited.  I pray that they won't end up homeless in the cold woods. 

Saint Marty prays they will end up performing miracles with their lives.

My kids, reaching for the stars

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