My Brother's Keeper by Bret Callentine

Los Angeles, California: A man, recently unemployed and spiraling into debt, decides to take his own life after ending the life of his wife and five children rather than face the hardship and harsh reality of joblessness.

Columbus, Ohio: A man, also having recently been faced with the stress of unemployment, chooses to end the life of his wife, two kids, and then himself. His brother suggests, “There was no indication of anything like this coming. Nothing.”

Bay City, Michigan: A man, a World War II veteran, a 93-year-old widower, froze to death in his home, after the utility company had restricted his service. Having more than enough money to pay the backlog of bills, this man simply slipped through the cracks.

Tragic?  Yes.  Sad?  Definitely.  Needless?  Absolutely.

But, when I heard these stories come across the news, my thoughts weren’t of sorrow, and they didn’t focus on loss. I was angry, confused and restless. I kept thinking the same thing over and over: Where were these people's families and friends? How do people get so alone? There is a problem central to all three of these stories that, in my opinion, has become an epidemic. It’s a deadly cocktail of pride, ego, and a misunderstanding of the proper balance of independence and interdependence. And the underlying reasons for these, and other tragedies to come, are wide enough to cover entire neighborhoods.

None of these incidents could possibly happen without isolation, whether purposeful or accidental. Hindsight might be 20/20, but people who have a good support system and strong faith rarely succumb to this type of desperation. Because, with a more involved family and a more interactive collection of friends, people automatically become more accountable, and having strong faith means believing in a higher calling, which almost instantly makes unacceptable such a narrow-minded and selfish conclusion.

Forgive me for being harsh, but I cannot honestly come to any other conclusion; where these men failed was not only in their inability to solve their problems, but in their stubbornness to reach out for the help of others. To choose this path, you have not only to submit to the realization that you cannot do anything to save yourself, but also egotistically think that no one else can help you either. And sadly, as we can now see, these men were dead wrong.

Okay, look, I myself am not all that optimistic about the immediate future, but there is a huge difference between self-sacrifice and self-pity. And in times of crisis, the successful ones are those who know their boundaries, recognize their weaknesses and then find ways to overcome them. Everyone faces difficulties sooner or later. Not everyone seems to understand that they don’t have to face them alone.

As one of the adult leaders for the annual Homeless Awareness Sleepout, I straddle a fine line between trying to teach teenagers the true nature and feeling of desperation while keeping them safe. But this year, I think it was one of the adults who learned the most important lesson. Being with us out in the cold for only a couple of hours, one of the parents turned to one of the Sleepout veterans and said; “I don’t think I could ever deal with this, I hope and pray I never become homeless.” To which the youth leader calmly and lovingly responded, “Do you realize that you would have to go through all the people of this church before you would ever get there?”

Along with other, more universally recognized definitions, classifies a family as, “a group of people united by certain convictions or a common affiliation.” A relationship is only as sturdy or as frail as you choose to make it. And with all due respect, I think it’s about time that we all (and I am no exception) start focusing on increasing the breadth and strength of our families.

With all the discussion of how bad the recession has become, I hear lots of people clamoring for action, and lots of smart people telling us that we should prepare ourselves for the worst.  Unfortunately, lost in the relentless barrage of financial instruction is a course of action and a simple lifestyle change that can do more to help than any new monetary policy. When in doubt, get help. Drop the ego, we can’t afford to be stubborn or full of pride. Take care of yourself not by tightening your defenses, but by opening up your hearts and homes and becoming a more interactive part of your community. Enlarge your family, become more dependent on others and likewise, become more of a provider at the same time.

We may not all have a similar family history or socioeconomic background, but we all are now facing a similar financial affliction, and believe it or not, we all have the same conviction not just to survive, but to flourish. And that makes us all family. It’s time to start acting like it. We need to share meals, share resources, and open ourselves up to accepting the benefits of a broader community. Groups don’t fail nearly as often as the isolated individual. And a strong family at its broadest definition is the best defense against hardship and struggle.

Read More on Perspective
Volume 5, Issue 3, Posted 9:15 PM, 02.10.2009