This I Believe

Patrick - Marina Del Rey, California
Entered on February 14, 2007

Sometimes, only when we have lost a belief and through great struggle have to find it again, can we truly say, without hesitation, “This, I believe.”

I believe in Free Will.

As a boy, I learned free will was the tacit gift of a loving god. Our bodies might be imprisoned, our limbs impaired, but if not on the outside, inside, we were all free to chose who we truly are and how we respond to the world.

However, I did not know about mental illness then, how it could destroy self-determination.

At nineteen, my oldest son, a warm, bright, soulful young man, was diagnosed with adult onset schizophrenia and my belief in the gift of choice began to die. It withered though years of hospitalizations; catatonia when he mutely refused to eat or drink; through aggression, belligerence, and delusion; and always the voices, telling him to fear things, to do things.

Though no one event did it, my belief in free will finally broke on a nameless night on yet another ward when, without warning, my son attacked one of the staff, hallucinating the man was a murderer and rapist he had to fend for the innocent. I locked my arms around my boy, fighting with all my strength until help could arrive. Tears streamed down my face as I remembered all the times I held him in love, comforting his pains, and rocking him to sleep. The last I saw of him for many nights to follow was through the single tiny window of a padded room. Bound in a straight jacket, he writhed and called to me.

Nothing in parenting prepares you for such a moment.

In the darkest nights of my soul to follow, I cursed a god who could allow the promise of choice taken from this beautiful boy.

And then the dream…

I dreamt of a hall where many souls of the dead awaited new lives. The Creator stood before them with a large, ornate box from which he withdrew white tiles. Each was a life. “You will be a plumber”, he intoned to one, “that you may know the many twists and turns of living; and you, a carpenter,” to another”, that you may know the shaping of life and its strength.” Yet another would be a businessman, a statesman, a mother.

Someone then noticed a small unremarkable box next to the big one. “What is that?” they asked.

The Creator became grave, “ In this box are the lives I cannot assign. There is illness here, loss, and pain. Such lives are only for the greatest of spirit, those who would not lose their way. These lives I do not give. They can only be asked for.”

It was then I saw my son stepping from the gathered. His face was so beautiful.

“I will take one of those…” he said.

My son’s life is a daily struggle. He speaks openly of his illness, takes numerous medications, and makes value of each day. I am proud of him.

If the purpose of a life is to have what we wish for; – the freedom to think clearly, to pursue wealth, fame, or power- my son was robbed; but if the purpose is to inspire truth and possibility in others, to every day learn and remember, all who have the privilege to know my son, know beauty.

I believe in free will.