the rule of swedish farmers

“Just be human.”

I love this. It’s my new motto. I want to to put it on a bumper sticker. I want to go viral with it. I want to found a church on it. I want to become obsessed with it, shout it from the rooftops, have dreams about it and mutter it while sleepwalking through the streets of Albany.

A Swedish farmer said it twice in “Healing Homes,” Daniel Mackler’s documentary look at an alternative program in Gothenburg, Sweden, for people with psychosis. It played in Boston over the weekend, and this one line flattened and wowed me.

The folks being treated in this program haven’t responded to traditional methods. In it, they receive intensive psychotherapy (no drugs) and live on farms with compassionate Swedish host families. And guess what. They do better.

Which makes sense. Most of us, no matter the cause and severity of our distress, would do better on farms with compassionate Swedish host families. (Sometimes I think I could use a few saintly Swedes my life.) And all of us always do better heeding their urgent, plainspoken, breathtaking directive: Just be human. Just be present to others. Just love.

I’ve been dwelling on this since coming home from Beantown and Mad In America’s International Film Festival, which unspooled oodles of movies documenting the travails and triumphs of people inside and outside the boundaries of traditional, meds-driven psychiatry. The problems addressed and alternatives floated during the weekend were many, and complicated, and often profoundly hopeful, and I can’t go into all of them now. (If you’re interested, click away at

But the take-away was easy enough — as easy as anything can be when we talk about people in the grip of depression, psychosis and other calamitous ruptures of mental health and happiness. Two basic, powerful lessons emerged. The first, described above, is the Rule of Swedish Farmers. The second is related: Everyone, no matter where anyone’s mind sits on the spectrum of normal to abnormal, ordered to disordered, can benefit from telling their story. Because only in the telling can any of us turn trauma into narrative. Only in the telling can we claim and overcome what brings us pain. Only in the telling can we confide our pain to others and, in that single, simple, astonishing act of trust, be human together.

How viciously hard life can be — for all of us. Thank God we don’t all get clocked with death and disease and disaster simultaneously, because then there’d be no one around to carry us when it’s our turn to limp in pain. I speak as one who was borne by others during the months after my husband’s death. More people were human to me than I can ever thank, or count, and all I can do is pray that I’ll do the same for someone else who needs a lift. Even Jesus needed help with the cross, right? What if Simon of Cyrene had refused? (“Sorry, Lord. My sciatica flared up last night, and I have a corn on my toe.”)

But he didn’t. He was human to the man who was human to everyone. So sometimes we’re the ones in pain, and sometimes we aren’t. When it’s our turn to carry, all we can do is make like a Swedish farmer.

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