This I Believe

Liz - Spencer, New York
Entered on February 6, 2007

I believe in doubt.

I was raised to believe with unswerving faith. I was the third generation of my family to follow a religion which believes in strict reliance on spiritual power to heal physical conditions without medical intervention. When I was thirteen years old, the bone disease in my knee received this treatment. For months the infection worsened, but as my leg and health deteriorated, we believed. I survived, and my ruined knee fused itself solid. My family’s faith twisted to accomodate my improvement, although each limping step I took told of resilience rather than cure. Nevertheless, I was admonished to believe. I couldn’t imagine disobeying. But rigid belief only insulated me from potential help. It prevented my parents from seeking medical advice during my illness, and later from the counselling that might have stemmed my depression. As an adult, my religious belief isolated me, forcing me to maintain an artificial optimism. Being so positive often led to logical dead-ends, which in turn made me defensive. I felt obligated to appear sure.

In the novel Lost Horizon, James Hilton writes, Doubt is the beginning of true faith. My unquestioning belief lasted until my thirties when a doctor suggested my knee could be replaced. At first his words caused me to panic; seeking medical help meant I would forfeit my elusive, miraculous healing. And casting doubt on it suggested everything I believed about my world might be wrong. Finally, I began to examine my faith, and when doubt broke through my rigid mindset, it was pure relief. I could view the world around me in a way I never had. Doubt gave me possibilities I never expected.

The ability to doubt has made me more honest. Expressing doubt allows me to give up the assurance I once forced myself to project. I don’t have to know, and I don’t have to be defensive if I’m wrong. Doubt lets me play devil’s advocate. It allows me to find second opinions and ask for help. Healthy skepticism makes me wonder whether a certain relationship, or job, or politician, is my best option. Doubt gives me humility. It’s an expression of my humanity. My childhood illness left me with bone-deep despair and depression that clung even when my belief was strong. Ironically, acquiring doubt has brought me a new sense of hope. My body is wearing out from compensating for my limp, and my fused knee has proved too complicated for joint-replacement. But other medical options are accessible and have the potential to improve my life. Even during my most pessimistic days, chinks of doubt allow optimism to shine through my fear in a way that the rules set by my old, unswerving belief never allowed. Doubt’s gift is the power of choice.

Is doubt a profound quality? I’m sure it is.