A Prince’s Story, by Nancy Sidhu

Once upon a time, in a kingdom far away, there was a prince who fell in love with a beautiful girl. But the girl was a commoner. The prince defied his family and married her anyway, and the whole kingdom came to love her. They had two beautiful sons. But one day she was riding in a carriage and went into a long dark tunnel. The horses started running too fast. The carriage crashed, rolled over, and the beautiful princess was killed, leaving her young sons without their mother. The kingdom mourned, weeping and placing a mountain of flowers in front of the palace. The young sons were lost without their mother.

Years passed, and the boys grew up into handsome strong princes themselves. The older one would one day become king, and he managed to discover within himself the strength to take on his royal responsibilities. For the younger one, it was harder, much harder. His life seemed to flounder. Both brothers became warriors. They learned a warrior’s discipline and how to join their comrades in a common purpose. But the younger one eventually realized he needed to do more than fight – he needed to help others like himself who struggled with the most basic aspects of living.

I want to pause in my story to ask you – do you recognize this story? Because maybe the ‘once upon a time’ was really not so long ago…..and the ‘far away kingdom’ actually isn’t that far away – at least not by airplane. And one more confession on my part – there actually were no horses leading the carriage in the tunnel  – it was horse-power. Do you recognize this story now?

The year the beautiful Princess died was 1997, twenty years ago. Princess Diana of Great Britain was in Paris when she had a fatal car accident. Her younger son, Prince Harry, is now 32 years old. He, along with his brother, Prince william, has started a non-profit called “Heads Together” to promote mental well-being.

Let me fill in a few more details. Last month, Prince Harry gave an unusually long interview with a reporter from London’s newspaper, the Daily Telegraph. The reporter, Bryony Gordon, also lives with mental illness, and they spoke quietly together as the prince told of his life reeling into “total chaos” at times during his 20’s. He spoke about the encouragement and support of his older brother who urged him repeatedly to seek help. He also said it was an experience in Afghanistan that made the change inside himself that led him to honestly confront his life. He became part of the ‘personnel recovery unit,’ helping soldiers suffering from wounds, both of the body and of the brain and heart. Listening to the struggles of those wounded warriors, he found the courage to seek help for his own wounds that he traces back to the loss of his mother. Finally he was able to listen to his brother, admit the truth about himself, seek help, start talking openly, and change his life for the better.

This is what he had to say: “the experience i have had is that once you start talking about it, you realize that actually you’re part of quite a big club.”

It is a big club. Every one of us either suffers from mental problems or knows someone who does. We’re all too quiet about it. When we start talking, we see how big that club is, and how we can all help and support each other . ‘heads together’ in the u.k works to end the stigma of mental illness. So does each ‘mind matters’ here in California, and many, many other non-profits and government agencies. And so do we here at Congregation Emanu El.

By the way, the prince is now in love himself, and with a commoner, and she’s beautiful. Maybe it’s foolish to wish that they live happily ever after, but I’m wishing them strength, courage, health and a good, loving life.

Let’s all start talking – and end the stigma.

Nancy N. Sidhu, co-chair, mental health awareness in action

For erev shabbat, May, 2017