Thursday, January 26, 2012
This is a photo of my great grandmother Estelle. Estelle died in her early twenties, leaving behind a husband and three children, one of whom was my paternal grandmother. Estelle died from a horrible disease called pellagra. Pellagra was rampant in the South at the turn of the 20th century. It's cause was unknown at the time and there was very little research going on to determine its cause because of politics. Southern politicians denied that there was a problem so there was no way to investigate it. Pellagra was a horrible disease that led to insanity and death. The cause: a vitamin deficiency. Had the politicians admitted the problem, research may have revealed its cause in time to save my great grandmother and untold numbers of victims. It was the denial that killed.
This last fall, I had two separate conversations about serious issues in my community. One conversation was with a minister. She is a survivor of domestic violence and so has a heart for working in that area. As a pastor, she is often a first responder in domestic violence situations yet she is frustrated with her inability to navigate the complex system of politics and social services. According to this minister, the clergy in our area, which is mainly male, is in denial about the problem. Further, a social worker I spoke with said most of the clergy in our area, when approached for help, counsel the victims and their abusers to "work it out." Again, it is denial that is causing pain, suffering, and sometimes death.
Another conversation I had was with a friend who works with the homeless population. He said that he was concerned about his friends who live on the streets as winter approaches as they lack adequate clothing and shelter to protect them from the freezing temperatures. Again, politics comes into play because he said that the leaders in our community don't want to acknowledge that we have a problem. Despite the fact that we have over 150 registered homeless people (and countless unregistered homeless and semi-homeless people, many with mental health issues), the elected officials deny that we have a problem. Denying that these people exist means their lives are at risk in the coming months. Denial is death.