What is important about Sammie is what has happened to him, what is even more important, is how people around him reacted. Why his story is here is how we as a society view the illness that Sammie suffers from and how we normally react to that type of story.
Sammie's story is not unique at all. It is repeated thousands of times daily around the world, usually suffered in silence, day after day with no attention paid at all to what is happening. More often than not, there is no attention paid to any events that surround the day-to-day story because that is the story itself. Sammie was, because of his state of mind, unable to do anything. Sammie suffers from major depression, just like countless others all across the globe, many without anyone to turn to for help and compassion.
When I took the NAMI Family to Family class seeking support for my daughter's illness, one of the classes featured guest speakers from NAMI's nationally known "In Our Own Voice" program. It was there when I first met Lynn Hornbrook. Lynn was someone who was a pastor of a church for the deaf as he could speak in sign, the language of the deaf. Lynne described the time when he was conducting a marriage ceremony for a couple from his church and he became so burdened with his disease that he just simply stopped performing the ceremony even as he was supposed to lead the ceremony. Someone had to tell him to go on as he had become unaware that he was no longer continuing with the ceremony. In Lynn's own words "I just stopped."
For Sammie, an All-American football player at Oregon State University, this would be something akin to running a pass route on a football field and stopping in the middle of the play. The difference is that where Lynne was performing his life's work in front of a small congregation, Sammie was performing his life's work in front of thousands on a football field.
The problem for Sammie, however, is that he was unable to even get on the field. When you are an All-American at one of the premier athletic conference schools in America about to enter into your senior year in college, playing in a macho sport, this, to say the least, is pretty visible to the public. Sammie was given a bit of a reprieve at first and some might say a fortunate circumstance in that when he tried to play, he was injured and took the rest of the season off and applied for a medical exemption so he can repeat his senior year in 2008.
Still, all of this would not matter more than any other story except for the public nature of Sammie's position. When Sammie cannot play, fans are interested. Coaches are interested. Media is interested. His family and friends are interested. What happened with Lynn was just as important, just as impactful, just a lot less public.
When attempting to get people to understand the plight of those who suffer from a disease that is cloaked in stigma, few things matter more than the ability to get the story seen. Having a marriage stop in mid-ceremony just does not gather the interest of a All-American football player that becomes unable to perform on Saturday afternoons. Even more important, newspapers like the Portland Oregonian then devote front page coverage on the Sports section to the issues faced by Sammie.
I served on the Board of Directors for NAMI with Lynn. We joined the board on the same day in 2003. Because I am in the computer business, I set Lynn up with a computer I donated to him and got his e-mail working. I learned that we were born in the same year, about a month apart. Because we connected we sent some e-mails to each other. Here are a couple of e-mails that Lynne sent me as he knew that my daughter was hospitalized at the time. Lynn reached out to me by e-mail with the following messages;
>From: LW Hornbrook [mailto:email@example.com]
>Sent: Tuesday, August 03, 2004 1:32 PM
>I have been meaning to write you. I want you to know that I am
>How is it going Don??? I care for you.
Then this reply from August 5, 2004
Thanks for making the effort at this difficult time to update me.
I wish you and your family the best always.
Remember the Serenity Prayer??
That was the last time I heard from Lynn.
I was vacationing at my Mother's home in Michigan when I heard the news. The Portland Tribune summed it up this way;
Man leaps from bridge
A retired minister and board member of the National Alliance for the Mentally Ill in Multnomah County jumped to his death Sunday from the Fremont Bridge.
Lynn Hornbrook, 51, had struggled with depression for 13 years. In late 2003 and early this year, he was hospitalized for depression and was receiving treatment until the time of his death.
Surviving him are his parents, wife, four children and two grandchildren. Hornbrook was minister of the First Assembly of God Church for the Deaf in Spokane, from 1981 to 1987, and held the same position at the Portland Christian Deaf Church from 1988 to 1991.
The alliance is a nonprofit organization providing support and advocacy for individuals and families seeking to cope with mental illness.There was no fanfare, no mid-field ceremony, no retiring of a jersey, simply a news item of public notification. NAMI Walks Team members from OHSU summed it up this way:
Another unique aspect of Team OHSU this year is that we are
walking in memory of our dearly departed friend Lynn Hornbrook.
Will we care as much when the games are over?
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