This I Believe

Joan - Grand Forks, North Dakota
Entered on May 30, 2006
Age Group: 50 - 65
Themes: community
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I believe that it really does take a village, and not just to raise a child.

There is a culture of individualism in America that is unhealthy. We argue for personal responsibility. We believe in pulling ourselves up by our bootstraps. But I say it’s not so simple. I say we need to take care of each other. I say that my problem is your business.

Let me tell you about my brother. There is a long backstory to Eric, but the bottom line is that he was mentally ill – schizophrenic, in fact, as we learned when he died. You might think that people don’t die of schizophrenia, but you would be wrong. Schizophrenics can be incapable, by the nature of their illness, of making wise choices. In my brother’s case, that led to a sad series of events that culminated when Eric was shot to death by a sheriff’s deputy, in a situation where the officer had reason to fear that my brother posed a danger. Eric’s death certificate probably says that he bled to death. But he died of schizophrenia, in a ditch by my mom’s farm, with her watching. My brother died of mental illness.

And here’s how Eric’s death connects to the village idea. Mental illness isn’t supposed to be fatal. But it kills people every day, in larger numbers than most of us would imagine. And this happens because we’ve agreed, as a society, that mental illness is an individual problem. We forget that it takes a village.

My brother needed a culture where the willingness to provide help was greater than the fear that someone would get something for nothing. My brother needed a society where the sense of mutual responsibility was every bit as great as the sense of individual responsibility. My brother needed a county social services agency, a social security system, a mental health system, a veteran’s health system, and a legal system in which the concern for his well-being was greater than the need to conserve limited resources.

And here’s the thing. I tell you that my brother needed a village. But I promise you that your family needs that same village. You have a loved one who will die of a lingering, painful, resource-intensive illness, and you will need a village of people to help you care for that person and cope with the loss. You will have a child born into your extended family, and you will need a village of people to help you give that child the richest and most productive life possible. You will experience tragedy and adversity, challenges that are more significant than you think you can bear, and you will need a village of people to care about you, support you, reach out to you, pray for you, provide services for you.

We are individuals but we were born to be in relationship, to be responsible to and for each other. It takes a village.