Words from the Bimah by Grace Harris

Erev Shabbat–May 25, 2018

Most of you know me. My name is Grace and I’m a member of the congregation.  I have been Bipolar all my life. I’m here to tell you how I overcame the effect of stigma, and how I came to peace with my illness, and found God in a new, deeper, richer way because of it.

They say, don’t worry about the cracks: that’s how the light gets in.

About five years ago, I ended up in a locked ward of a psychiatric hospital with a mixed episode. That means I was both manic and depressed at the same time. I won’t go into detail, because it will take far to long, but it was just a horrible experience where I was being chased by demons.

I wanted to die. I felt incredible shame. I had been born with so many gifts – I should have been able to achieve whatever I wanted to in life. Instead, every time I had begun to build something, a family, a career, it would all come crumbling down because of my illness. Now I was in my fifties and no one was going to hire me, and besides I knew that anything I began would simply fall to ruins again. I believed I was an embarrassment to my family and a parasite upon society. I was unable to care, to even pay for basic rent and buy food. I no longer had a car. The only thing that stood between me and the streets was disability income and the charity of strangers. If you have ever wondered where your donations to the food closet go to, they went to me.

I could feel the scorn of the world burning into me. Everyone was better off with me dead. So, I stopped drinking liquids. It was a slow death, but it was a way that would go unnoticed.

I finally confided in a fellow patient friend who I could trust not to snitch, a wonderful PhD in microbiology with whom I could have nerdy conversations. I remember vividly how he gently but earnestly looked me in the eyes and said that life was a great algebraic equation and every person was a variable. Remove one variable and you change the entire equation. He said I would never know the significance of my variable. I would not know whose life I would touch in what way. Maybe it wouldn’t happen until I was 83 and would talk to a 12 year-old child visiting a neighbor. But suicide would prevent that pivotal moment from happening.

I thought about his words a lot over the next few days even as I cried and cried. I continued asking God why? Then came a moment when I was sitting on the floor in the hall where I simply felt God’s presence. I felt at peace. The answer to the question of why good people suffer is not the answer, but the Answerer. It is experiencing God first hand in the midst of pain. Job learned this. And so did I.

In the animated movie Joseph, Prince of Dreams there is a moment when Joseph, after all the injustices, is alone in jail, betrayed once more. He has begun nurturing a tree back to health. A song begins to play, “Just when I have given up, the truth is coming clear: You know better than I. I’ve let go of the need to know to know why. I’ll take what answers you supply. You know better than I.”

Look, I’ll never be the Prince of Egypt. But there is something intensely beautiful about nurturing that tree in the jail, making beauty in the dark pit, finding hope in the midst of despair. My life is anything but a failure. It gives glory to God.

Do I say that it has been worth it to learn all this, to reach this peace, to know God in this way?  Gee, that would be crazy… 😊