As I said in yesterday's post about Mainstay Housing, "Everyone needs a home. A job. A friend."
In the avalanche of personal email this blog seems to generate, you have no idea how many people have told me that when they become troubled, emotionally and mentally, when they begin to act out or when they've confessed to their friends that they "have a mental illness" – these so-called friends ostracize them. They disappear. Drop off the face of the earth.
I am always astounded by these disclosures. Stunned. I believe them. Why would anyone fabricate something like that? But, they are profoundly disturbing to me.
Social isolation is not a symptom of a mental health problem. It is the problem, I believe.
No one deserves to be shut away. Ever. Under any circumstances. When a friend deserts you, nothing is more hurtful. So what happens? You shut off. Shut yourself away. Shut people out. Retreat. How can you heal when you can't be reached? Or if you are afraid to reach out? Or you won't allow anyone to reach you?
Years ago. Years and years and years ago, I remember learning that in order to heal emotionally, to heal when you're in difficulty, mentally, you don't need a psychiatrist. A good friend. A good listener. A wise friend with an empathetic heart can be just as helpful.
Yesterday, I spent the afternoon visiting, laughing, sharing and simply adoring a longtime friend I consider my wise woman – Helen Lucas. Artist. Mentor. Inspiration.
Helen's giclee print above of her glorious sunflowers, titled Trio III, hangs in my home where it infuses me with warmth, energy and joy every time I see it, and that's most of the time.
Helen is one of the most spirited, gifted, brilliant, honest, and endlessly generous women I've have ever known. She is surrounded with extraordinary people. Her life and her personal journey is the subject of an award winning documentary film that inspires and provokes my women's studies students at Seneca College every time I screen it for them. Her most recent collection of spiritual Dove paintings are being installed permanently in a community centre in Kigali, Rwanda for 20,000 widows and orphans later this month.
Her paintings are in private and public collections all over the world and she has been honoured numerous times. In 1991, she received an honourary doctorate from York University and most recently she was named Ontario's Senior Citizen of the Year 2009.
But when we're together, all her honours, distinctions, accomplishments and accolades seem to slip into the background, and we're just two women who simply love each other and can listen to each other with our ears, eyes and souls. Without a shred of pretense, Helen shares her wisdom because she knows me so well and I trust her with my life.
This is healing.
Then, last evening, I celebrated my goddaughter Alexandra's 21st birthday with her mother, my bosom buddy and longtime girlfriend Peggy Weir and her family and friends. And yes, Peggy is every inch my "girlfriend" in the truest sense of the word. She has always be "there" for me. It goes both ways.
My wise woman in the afternoon and my closest girlfriend at night.
This was healing, too.
I met Helen and Peggy at about the same time – around 1978. Both because I interviewed them for features I was writing for The Toronto Sun. These interviews developed into treasured friendships. I don't see Helen and Peggy every day or even speak with them every day. But the moment we connect, it's like yesterday. We pick up where we left off.
Our relationships, in their own ways, are as healing and therapeutic as any relationship I've ever had with a psychiatrist or psychotherapist. Even more so, perhaps, but in an entirely different way. As human beings, our hearts are not like balloons. They will not burst with too much love or because they're filled with too many people we adore. And I guess that's part of it, too.
Being willing to give ourselves over to our friendships. To be open to loving people which means being brave and courageous and vulnerable to potential pain or even rejection, makes us exquisitely human.
And isn't it worth it? I would rather risk friendship and bringing people into my life than put up walls to keep them out. I love being open. Wide open.
Perhaps, that's what Mainstay Housing is really all about, too. Perhaps the power and the success of Mainstay is that the buildings that give people who've fallen into homelessness a place to call home, an apartment with a door that can be locked to ensure their safety and protection, also allows these people to begin to build friendships. To open themselves up. To be brave and courage. To take risks and yes, even to love one another in friendship.
Ironic, isn't it.
This morning, a letter arrived in my mailbox from a longtime resident of a Mainstay apartment.
She wrote, "We need to get the word out that there are housing providers that want more than just your money... they want you to recover, spread your wings, and fly. Mainstay wants you to thrive and enjoy your life and realize that you are more than your "label" or illness. You are a person first at Mainstay... and I have been given many opportunities to learn, teach, explore, volunteer, and thrive."
She went on to talk about her friends and fellow tenants at Mainstay and ended by saying that Mainstay "builds more than you could ever know. Community, self-esteem, self-reliance, confidence, support and lives. Which for some, may be the first time that they've ever felt 'at home'."
This has been a wondrous week for me. My only holiday this summer. Next week, it's back to school and a new year begins. New students to meet. It's very exciting.
Thank you for sharing with me, for being open with me, for trusting in me and for being with me.
I send you all my love.