Everybody is a genius. But if you judge a fish by its ability to climb a tree, it will live its whole life believing that it is stupid. – Albert Einstein
Albert Einstein was a genius. He was a German mathematician and physicist, most noted for his famous equation, E=mc2. We know what the letters in the equation stand for. Yet I have a feeling that I’m not alone in being unable to explain precisely what those letters actually mean, much less how to use them. How many people know that Einstein also studied the way in which materials draw moisture upward despite gravity pulling it downward? We may thank Scott Paper Co. for making paper towels, but the idea came from Einstein’s study. He came up with the idea of a refrigerator that kept things cold in a more eco-friendly way than the freon that, until recently, our air conditioners and refrigerators used. His theories and studies made things like lasers, superconductors (with Satyenda Bose), solar panels, and DVDs, more possible.
There are things we don’t often consider when we think of Einstein. He was born to a Jewish family in Germany. At school, he was not a star student, although he learned to play the violin and fell in love with the music of Mozart. By 15, he had taught himself differential and integral calculus and had begun formulating his own theories for study. By 1933, he came to the US to escape rising antisemitism and became a professor of physics at Princeton. That antisemitism made him identify more closely with Judaism, and his first visit to the US was a fundraising journey to support Zionism. When asked about his belief in God, he once responded, “We see the universe marvelously arranged and obeying certain laws but only dimly understand these laws.” He understood that God had set forth those laws that are seen in order and nature.
There have been speculations that Einstein had any or all of a few psychological or neurological disorders such as Aspberger syndrome or Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder. It would be unfair to offer a definitive diagnosis given that he lived before these conditions were understood, though one still wonders. Regardless, we still have his valuable and incredible contributions to our world. In short, we can’t judge a fish by its inability to climb a tree.
Every year, on October 10th, we celebrate World Mental Health Day, noted for its emphasis on recognizing mental health as a worldwide issue needing attention. Mental health is often an invisible disability and is often mistaken for laziness, being “crazy,” or a “lunatic.” Often those in mental health crises might appear perfectly normal on the outside while internally, their world is spinning out of control. They feel powerless to experience security and be in charge of their lives. For years, soldiers returning from combat have been expected to return home and resume the life they left behind. However, the veterans find they cannot meet those expectations, given what they have experienced, and continue to experience flashbacks. Anyone seeing or experiencing a traumatic event may find they cannot move past that event and, subsequently, are stuck in an uncomfortable, if not untenable, place.
Many homeless people are mentally ill, yet so are many people who live in comfortable houses. People suffer from mental illnesses caused by heredity, injury, or even experiences like being bullied or subjected to psychological or physical abuse. Still stigmatized in many areas of life, work, and even religion, mental illness is blamed on the devil, demons, or even personal choice. Some believe that exorcism is the answer when modern chemistry can often help make life more like normal. Would God have given us brains if we weren’t supposed to use them to help our fellow human beings? Doesn’t that include kindness and understanding, not to mention help, for our mentally ill neighbors?
Jesus helped people suspected of possession or who had traumatic events. He didn’t turn them down; they were his neighbors and the children he had been sent here to help. Look at the Gerasene demoniac, a man condemned to exile, imprisonment, and isolation because of his fits and bizarre behavior. Jesus stopped at the very place where the demoniac was and healed him (although a herd of pigs wasn’t so lucky). It should be a lesson to all of us that we, as Jesus’ followers, must not isolate the mentally ill but try to help them.
This Monday, add the mentally ill of the world to your prayers. Contribute to mental health organizations and causes, and perhaps volunteer to help through food banks and soup kitchens. The world needs all of us – and Jesus expects us to love our neighbors, including those who bear the mentally ill label. After all, some of our greatest inventions, theories, stories, poems, musical performances, and insights come from those otherwise stigmatized. Jesus taught it, and God expects it.
Linda Ryan is a co-mentor for an Education for Ministry group, an avid reader, lover of Baroque and Renaissance music, and retired. She keeps the blog Jericho’s Daughter. She lives with her three cats near Phoenix, Arizona.