I’m missing our YMCA book club meeting again today. This month we’ve been reading The Shock of the Fall by Nathan Filer. It’s a first person story about a young man who is mentally ill. It is as beautiful as it is sad. Here are a couple of things I am taking away from the book:
- It hit me hard when he is observing the attitudes of those who work with those with mental health. A few examples are the condescending way the staff talk down to him, the language they use (i.e. calling him a ‘service user’ – who wants to be called a ‘service user’?!) and that when the Day Centre was closing down the staff were clearly more moved by the fact they’d lose their jobs than by the loss of the service for those that needed it. In fact that was pretty much the most emotion the staff gave out in the whole book. I was challenged with relation to how we work at the YMCA. As much as you come in with your ideals, they quickly get squished by other pressures and before you know it you’ve forgotten that you’re there to serve other human beings.
- I’ll not spoil the detail, but the tragedy involving his brother is gut wrenching. It is referred to from the start and more information about what happened is revealed throughout the narrative. And the information given is the finest detail, the acutest memory, the hurtful consequences, and it brings home pain and loss in the most devastating way. How can anybody know what somebody else is experiencing? I think life can sometimes become one long trail of judgment on others and yet we haven’t got a clue what is going on in another person’s head.
These lessons for me are summed up in Jesus’ famous saying, ‘Do to others as you would have them do to you.’ This quote is often reduced simplistically – i.e. don’t hit someone if you don’t want to be hit etc. However, if we are to really reflect on the essence of this saying then it is that we need to treat one another with respect and with humanity in as much detail as is observed and described in The Shock of the Fall‘. When we fail to do this, ironically, it is ourselves who lose our humanity as much as, if not more than, those we are disrespecting.