Peter, the storyteller, continues to be compelled to open his treasure chest of stories to an audience that has a heart for others. And who are those “others?” They are the ones the psalmist David refers to as being in “the valley of the shadow of death.” The world calls them ill, hopeless, hungry, lonely, orphaned and behind bars, both real and imagined. This writer wants to focus on one particular group – those labeled or diagnosed as “mentally ill.”
It is this writer’s desire, his calling and his purpose in life, to change and challenge the climate for a group of people who are misunderstood, misdiagnosed, and often mistreated because of ignorance and a lack of kindness. Our social conscience must be stirred so that we will never view or treat these people as second class or demented citizens. Before slavery was abolished in America, England and other countries, the social conscience of a nation, its laws and its attitudes had to be altered. John Newton is well known as an activist who was able to indirectly influence the English Parliament that eventually outlawed slavery. Years later America followed suite, but not before a bloody civil war was fought. Other nations are still lagging behind and either openly or silently condones slavery in its many disguises.
The social conscience and laws need to change in many other areas. The manner that the “misfits” in society have been viewed and treated is one of these. The treatment of the mentally ill has been bizarre, cruel and at best can be described as “experimental.” Dorothea Lynde Dix was a forerunner for the mentally ill. There have been and will be others. Years ago she was commemorated on a one cent stamp. She has been referred to as “The Forgotten Angel of the Madhouse.” Her example has challenged others to become crusaders, including this writer.
As long as this storyteller has breath within him, he shall carry the torch on behalf of what this world calls “misfits” and “outcasts.” This storyteller was not a slave trader like John Newton, the author of the well-known hymn “Amazing Grace;” but he has walked through the valley of the shadow of death and met many of his counterparts – those who are still lingering in that valley. Our world closets these people away from the mainstream of society as if they were not important, not valuable, or do not exist. Yes, we may keep them breathing through our social welfare programs, but only barely. Since they no longer have a voice, we must be their voice.
Our universities educate the head and grant prestigious degrees to those who go through rigorous training programs. This writer applauds their commitment but questions their ability to bring permanent healing to the afflicted. What is wrong? Universities are only able to educate the head. It takes challenging and often painful life-experiences to educate the heart.