Thursday, May 7, 2009

Death and the Office of Behavioral Health

The Eternal God is our dwelling place
and underneath are the everlasting arms.
Deuteronomy 33:27
The Lord heals the broken hearted and binds up their wounds.
Psalm 147:3

Yesterday I received the following email from Michael S. Roth, President of Wesleyan University, regarding the tragic death of a student there:

It is with deep sorrow that I write to inform you that Johanna Justin-Jinich '10 was killed by a gunman this afternoon at her job at the Red and Black Café on the corner of William Street and Broad Street.

This is a devastating loss for Johanna's family, friends, and for the entire Wesleyan Community. Our hearts go out to all those who grieve for Johanna, and we hope all can find comfort in the support of friends, teachers and classmates.

Staff from the Office of Behavioral Health can be reached in their offices until 9:30PM tonight and are always available via the 24 hour on-call system by calling: 860-685-2910.

We mourn together the loss of Johanna.

Michael S. Roth,
President Wesleyan University

Wesleyan is my alma mater. I still treasure the memories of long conversations in the middle of the night, teachers who challenged me to think more deeply and care more passionately. Wesleyan is part of who I am. Some of the parts of me I value most grew out of my time there.

But I was taken aback by the email.

The comfort offered to grieving students and faculty is that the Office of Behavioral Health is working late.

I am not against the clinical response, but I would not start there. Death is demonic and messy. It rips apart the soul and the spirit. The violent death of a young person, the loss of a life filled with promise, is not a clinical problem. It is deeper than that.

Wesleyan has been a fairly secular place for a long time. The Wesleyan Logo is still the design that belonged to John and Charles. You can still see the cross and the shells that symbolize baptism, but it no longer proclaims the Wesleyan (the original, not the university) motto that “God Is Love.” Ties with the Methodist Church were severed over seventy years ago. But I am still surprised there is not more sense of the spirit.

One does not have to be a Christian, or a Jew, or a religious person in any traditional sense to have an understanding of human life that transcends “Behavioral Health.” The human spirit, without any theological guidance or nurture, is still more than chemistry and physics and biology. Those who grieve need to know at the deepest level that there was more to Johanna Justin-Jinich.

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