By Fr. Francis Pizzarelli
Have you ever stopped in the middle of Penn Station amongst the noise and human activity and just think?
Recently, I did exactly that. It was rush hour. I had just finished teaching at Fordham University’s Lincoln Center Graduate School of Social Services. I took the one train to Penn Station. There was pandemonium like I have not seen since pre-pandemic days.
This was a different kind of energy. It was opening night for the New York Rangers. People’s excitement was contagious. I almost wished that I had a ticket so that I could go to the hockey game even though I hate hockey.
In the midst of all of the noise and excitement, I stopped, took a breath and looked around. My eyes caught sight of a little girl with a Rangers jersey on that was bigger than her; she was on fire. I waved and caught her eye; she waved back with a big smile. As I was waiting for my train back to Ronkonkoma. I couldn’t help but think of her innocence, of her positive energy, of her genuine openness and that one day that beautiful little smile and abundant energy could be severely impaired because of the world we live in.
Soon enough she will move from the innocence of childhood into the chaos of adolescence and young adulthood. The world is a very negative place right now for the next generation to be nurtured in. We need to protect them from the garbage and hypocrisy that is everywhere. We need to attempt to change all of that negativity and make the world a place that is welcoming and inclusive, even if we disagree!
We need to work harder at building bigger bridges rather than stronger walls. We need to create a language grounded in respect and love for everyone, even when it’s hard, challenging and demanding.
No little girl should ever have her innocence and joy threatened or impaired because the world is filled with narcissism and selfishness.
Every day I see pain and suffering in the eyes of the mentally ill and the drug addicts that I live and work with; but I also see hope and potential for change and transformation. I see miracles every day which make me believe we can make the world better; make it more loving and caring for all the little ones who live in our midst.
Mental health is a major concern that is rapidly disarming and paralyzing a growing number of young people of every age and walk of life. We don’t have enough licensed mental health professionals that can cost-effectively meet the epidemic need before us. We must collaborate now to erase the stigma that painfully exists around mental health treatment. We must demand accountability from all our insurance providers who tend to play games with our mental health and access to comprehensive mental health treatment.
The government needs to stop talking the talk and begin walking the walk. Our faith leaders need to have the guts to stand up, be counted and lead us in the fight for protecting all life that is scarred by mental health disorders. This cannot wait for tomorrow.
Father Francis Pizzarelli, SMM, LCSW-R, ACSW, DCSW, is the director of Hope House Ministries in Port Jefferson.