The Torah orders, “If there is a needy person among you, don’t harden your heart; don’t shut your hand against your needy kin. For there will never cease to be people with need in your land, which is why I command you to open up your heart to the poor and to the needy kin in your land.”
By Laurie Black
June 12, 2008, I stood in front of the mirror on my 50th birthday and was relieved that I survived a half a century of happiness, tragedies, joys, four children, and mother in laws, stretch marks, mortgages…and a joyous loving marriage of almost 3 decades. I simply knew, I had it all and was deeply grateful. Four days later, my beloved “baby” brother Brian Black was killed on Father’s Day in a car accident.
Brian had survived mental illness for over 25 years, which included more than 20 varied hospitalizations, a jump mid-span off the Coronado Bridge in 1988, numerous suicide attempts including a police assisted shooting (1993 he was shot 5 times) eventually, a court ordered “visit” to a locked facility with court ordered medicine, saved his life. After 2 years, Brian went back to school, received a certification to be a counselor for severely mentally ill, he married Judy and was working at Alpine Residential Home as a counselor when he was killed.
What is the point of sharing this history? Today San Diegans are taking this day to educate and share their many stories, photographs, art, poems and lives dealing with mental illness. Homelessness is not a partisan issue; both democrats and republicans get mental illness and become homeless. Including my brother Brian. He lived on the streets of downtown San Diego at times, only because he had a family who cared and were able to keep track of him my parents eventually became conservators via San Diego County to help him help himself.
For over 40 years, most of us in the Western World have been having a party. Some have been encouraged to be self-sufficient and independent, to become successful and rich, to search for true happiness and find the “real us.” We have been encouraged to buy homes, invest in shares, become entrepreneurs, travel the world, and borrow as much money as we liked to consume “things” that, upon reflection we didn’t really need or use. We have been cleverly and ruthlessly advertised and marketed to buy a lifestyle rather than, get a real life. We think we have it all.
This is an important point. Human beings are keenly attuned to each other. When one practices compassion toward the self and internalizes compassion — that is, becomes compassionate at our core — others witness our unique presence and, at some level, recognize the embodiment of compassion. This can have a profound impact on others. When one accepts oneself compassionately as they are, being compassionate to others comes naturally and effortlessly. One of the central characteristics about compassionate action is that it requires that you give something of yourself, that you do not stand apart from the object of your compassion. Our challenge is to use the time we have now to live gratefully and responsibly, knowing that how we choose to live shapes our soul. Each of us has a unique inner potential that we are able to discover and share with others. Our challenge is to make the very best of every day in this life.
Compassion in my own life, involves diligently paying close attention to the plight of the poor, homeless, and mentally ill and learning how we can help them. Today’s “homeless educational celebration” involves paying attention to the plight of the poor, homeless, and mentally ill and learning how we can help them. Our community is overflowing with people whose everyday lives do indeed involve an enormous amount of love and care for others, people who do their jobs but are also generous and compassionate with their lives. We need to cheer these members of our community on, celebrate their works and create many more participants whose daily work includes a generosity of spirit that we can admire and applaud. We need to evolve into a compassionate community.
It is time to finally change the homeless narrative in San Diego, wake up and decide that we, as individuals and in groups, can tackle the horrific homelessness challenges our community faces. We can become leaders and authors of change by living more proactive lives, by inspiring each other and setting an example for our family, children, and friends. Today is the time to set out to build a more caring community and take the next steps toward a more compassionate, caring and generous life for all in San Diego. This is not about money, although giving money to a good cause or even a person – quietly and without ceremony – can be an important element in a life worth living. Giving compassionately of ourselves is a great act of generosity.
This all being said, I know there is HOPE. We live in an exciting time in which ideas, campaigns and movements can spread to millions of people instantly through the Internet and social networking sites. All of us as individuals, media, families, workers, Churches, Temples, schools, businesses, politicians, journalists, faith leaders – young or old – today are using various outlets to spread the power of generosity, compassion and living a more generous lives.
Our community is overflowing with people whose everyday lives do indeed involve an enormous amount of love and care for others, people who do their jobs but are also generous and compassionate with their lives. We need to cheer these members of our community on, celebrate their works and create many more participants whose daily work includes a generosity of spirit that we can admire and applaud.
There is not a day that goes by that I don’t think about my brother Brian and his bravery for so many years handling his paranoid schizophrenia. In honor of his beautiful life I have dedicated my own life to ensuring that people who live with mental illnesses, especially the homeless mentally ill, have direct access to the services that are provided to ensure they have the dignity they so deserve from us. Join me San Diego in helping to create a compassionate community built around love, life and health for all. You will be glad you did.
Longtime Advocate for Homeless Mentally Ill
Former President of the Downtown San Diego Partnership
Former Port Commissioner
Former CCDC Board Member