Teri Orr: Mental health crisis requires not platitudes but genuine affection. We don’t all ‘got this.’
The way my bedroom is situated — if all the drapes are open — the sunrise slowly starts to enter my home upstairs, in the study — across from my bedroom — with a quiet light. That light creeps across the hall and enters my bedroom if the door is open. It coaxes the eye to the full-length glass door that opens to my yard and my neighbor’s open field that backs up to the house — streets away — that belongs to my friends. This time of year and the past few days that light has started in a deep blue — black not quite indigo — hue. It precisely silhouettes the bare trees outside in my yard — the tall old cottonwood, the aspens, the Japanese maple that have all been here more than 40 years. That dramatic light against the tree trunks looks like solid bold strokes of a painting. And the thin branches, all curly and entwined, overlapping, look like scribbles in nature. Some mornings a big-winged, seemingly monochromatic bird will land and take off as I slowly admit … it is the start of another day.
And this morning, snippets of a song I have loved and hadn’t thought of in decades came to me…
When day will break
And you will wake
And you will rake your hands
Across your eyes
That it’s going to be a day
There is really no way to say no
To the morning
Dan Fogelberg circa … early ’70s. That song got me through some pretty dark times over some pretty dark years. As mere mortals we can decide to shut out the world. And each morning — despite those we would rather ignore — the morning arrives regardless of what we did or did not do — to invite it back. The force of a new day or the clean slate of a new day isn’t up to us — it arrives unbidden with another restart button — implied.
It has felt for weeks we have been in a time loop — a kind of groundhog day — of a news cycle that presents with more global pandemic deaths and more economic downturns across the globe and more discoveries of climate change that is redefining what it means to be a human on a planet that is trying to heal in our time of record numbers of human deaths.
Each day we are presented with economic downturns, there are more people without basic needs being met — from food insecurity to lack of safe housing. All the while in fear of catching this illusive plague that there is no vaccine against, no cure for. Our first responders tell horrific stories of their impotence — regardless of their skill level — to save their patients. It strikes without regard to political boundaries or geographic location. And though — at first — we thought it landed harder on those who are the oldest, it now appears to cross all ages and races and borders. It has forced people living on the margins into a new kind of poverty. And for those living in the margins of mental health, it has pushed them into a kind of poverty of spirit.
When I hear the back-slapping “We got this!” or “You’ve got this” kinds of euphemisms, it strikes me as painfully tone deaf. Everyone has not … “got this.” We are seeing in these painful scary times, an increase in mental health issues exacerbated by the isolation. It has never been more critical to make the call, drop the note, the book, the flowers, offer to walk or porch sit (all socially distanced). Because humans need humans. And we need to get very, very clear — there is no going back to normal — normal as we knew it — is gone. And the smartest, richest people on the planet — like Ray Dalio and Bill Gates and so many more — are throwing their giant brains and great financial resources at trying to find a vaccine and trying to reset how we do business. Which is the only way out and through.
Resetting how to pull up those who are on the fringes of poverty and mental health is the work of our time. It will take all of us and it will take a resetting of our former priorities that led us here.
When I first moved to Park City in the late ’70s a very, very wealthy, iconoclastic man used to have on back of his business card — If the haves don’t care for the have-nots then one day the have-nots will come and take it all away. I don’t remember who get the original credit for that quote — I think some movie mogul from the 1920s. But it always stuck with me. I kept that card in my wallet, wrinkled and well-thumbed for years. I don’t know exactly when it disappeared. But the expression stayed on as I watched the town become more and more populated by the haves who relied on keeping their storied lives — just so — by having the have-nots to serve as their support systems.
What is remarkable at this tiny window in time is to see how the Park City Community Foundation, Peace House, the People’s Health Clinic, Connect Summit County and the Christian Center especially — though there are plenty of others — have been stepping in — as they learn of the degree of disparity in Our Town. They have systems in place (though all in desperate need of greater support) to serve those who need it most. May is Mental Health Awareness Month and it matters that we acknowledge that in tangible ways. Be there — to touch those who are lost right now. The days will keep unfolding as this pandemic health crisis morphs into a pandemic mental health and disparity crisis. Facing all that together — not with platitudes but with genuine affection — will make the difference in someone’s life. Fogelberg’s words…
Yes it’s going to be a day
There is really nothing left to say but
Come on morning
So … maybe that’s away to start — wake and repeat … Come on morning … starting this Sunday in the Park…
Teri Orr is a former editor of The Park Record. She is the founder and director emeritus of the Park City Institute, which provides programming for the George S. and Dolores Doré Eccles Center for the Performing Arts.
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