“They got what they deserved.”
“They made their choices. I feel nothing for them.”
“They don’t deserve my sympathy.”
Statements that are easily made when someone, especially a celebrity, dies from a drug overdose. Celebrities are easy targets because they often put themselves in the limelight. This does not excuse people’s behavior when they put them down; it just explains why they are so often the target of derision.
And let’s face it, in our culture today alcoholics and drug addicts are easy targets, too. After all, their problems are of their own doing, right? They don’t have enough willpower, so it’s all their fault, isn’t it?
Recently, Fox TV aired an episode of Glee honoring Cory Monteith, a young actor who died of a drug overdose. Glee is not a show I watch, although I have seen a few episodes. I did not watch this episode that paid tribute to Monteith. But many of my friends did. Maybe you did. What was your response?
I saw many kind responses. I saw other sad responses.
I also saw hurtful, insulting, and disparaging responses. After all, he died of a drug overdose. It was his own fault, so why feel any remorse?
One time, Jesus was a dinner guest at the house of someone most likely upper class. During the dinner, a woman (most definitely NOT upper class) comes in and anoints Jesus’ feet. The host is appalled (silently) that Jesus would let such a woman touch Him. After all, doesn’t He know who and what she is? Her life may be a mess, but after all, it’s her own fault, isn’t it? Why would the Messiah allow her to even come into His presence?
When children are sick, communities spring to action. Volunteers abound willing to help out. Prayer vigils are conducted. Fundraisers are organized. Sometimes, local celebrities or politicians become involved.
In my experience, this is a time when churches truly act like churches should. There is no shortage of church members willing to cook, clean, babysit, provide transportation, or find other ways to help as much as they possibly can.
When children, or other family members, are sick people spring to action to help.
But what about when the sickness is drug addiction? Or alcoholism? Or cutting? Or an eating disorder? Or depression? Are helpers as quick to appear when these are the illnesses?
(Please read the following: No One Brings Dinner When Your Daughter is an Addict )
There was this time when Jesus was out walking and He came upon a blind man. Those who knew the man knew that he was born blind, so they asked Jesus who sinned: the man or his parents? After all, if someone was sick, there had to be sin involved so that people would know where to assign guilt. People wanted to know how to assign blame, so the assumption was that for every imperfection some person was guilty of some act. When the guilt is on a person, there is less need for sympathy or compassion; because after all, it’s their own fault, isn’t it?
When we are afraid of something, we do everything we can to shield ourselves from it.
We are afraid of addictions and mental illnesses.
We want to assign blame so that we can absolve ourselves from showing sympathy. We want to say it is all their fault so that we do not have to do anything to help or show compassion.
Because we are afraid.
What might happen if we get involved? What will we see? What will we be exposed to? Won’t we be let down and disappointed time and time again?
How do we comfort parents when the sickness is not physical? How do we talk about something when we have avoided it for so long and showered guilt and shame on top of the illness?
“Druggies” are still the kind of people we can cast aside with impunity because their problems are all of their own making.
A lot of people attended my brother’s funeral three years ago. Many more expressed condolences through social media, cards, gifts, and kind words.
Yet some of those people are the same ones who I have heard saying, “Who cares about that person? They died because in their addiction because of their own choices.”
So did my brother. (At least, his addictions contributed in a large way; they were not the only issue he was facing.) If I hear you casting aside drug addicts and alcoholics so freely, what am I to assume you actually think about my brother?
For that matter, what am I to assume you think about me? After all, I am an alcoholic. Many of you may look to my time of sobriety and say that I am an alcoholic no longer. But I would challenge that. I am an alcoholic. I am an alcoholic who chooses to not drink, but I am still an alcoholic. An addict. An abuser of substances.
Just like Cory Monteith. And Whitney Houston. And a laundry list of other famous (and totally unknown) people.
When you cast them aside, you cast me aside. When you decide they are not worthy of your compassion or kindness, you decide I am not worthy of your compassion or kindness.
And you tell everyone you know who is hiding their addiction from you that they better keep it hidden.
One time when Jesus was speaking, He said, “Come to me, all of you who are weary, tired, and carrying a heavy burden. Come to me, and I will give you rest.”
I pray that I do not look down. I pray that I do not assign blame. I pray that I do not cast aside.
I pray that I can offer rest.