This I Believe

Frank - San Diego, California
Entered on November 24, 2007

I am an academic, a professor of Literature, and so, hold free inquiry to be of supreme importance. I was also raised in a devout, Buddhist household, and I inherited the dedication of my parents; as an adult, I served my religious community by taking on significant leadership responsibilities. I have, therefore, served two masters: critical inquiry, and faith. But in recent years, I lost the profession I spent my adult life cultivating, and in the process, experienced a crisis of faith, nearly losing that as well. You see, I am also a drug addict, and though I am now in recovery, at the worst of my addiction, I engaged in criminal activity, for which I am now serving a term of incarceration in a federal prison.

To be honest, I am astonished that I made it through the dark passage of these last few years and can now sit and compose this essay from a place of recovery.

In my addiction, I engaged in behavior I knew was wrong, while holding positions of responsibility as an educator, and as a religious leader. My open-mindedness allowed me to venture down this road, and my hypocrisy damaged my integrity and character. I lied to loved ones, and put my life in jeopardy. Even after the damage I was inflicting far outweighed any pleasure I experienced, I couldn’t stop.

As a Buddhist, I believe in the inherent dignity of my life as an expression of a fundamental Law. But my actions did not reflect this, but instead expressed a deep self-loathing. Drugs were the center of my life, and I would do anything for them. I had a frightening, desperate life.

My faith felt impotent, useless in my destructive free-fall, and I wondered why it had failed me so absolutely. Though Buddhist, I understood something of the cries of Job and Jesus: “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?”

As it turns out, I wasn’t forsaken at all; it just felt that way. Because of my arrest and imprisonment, my lies were exposed, and I became open to life-saving treatment. And in prison, I began to heal relationships with family and friends. I remembered my dreams, and returned to my values. Going to prison cost me my job, but it gave me back my life.

My faith may just be a story I tell myself, but I need it to make my past useful to me. And isn’t that what faith is for? To help us make sense of the terrible things we do to each other, and ourselves? Faith tells me not only that I can survive, but that I have survived for a reason. This may not be a certain truth, but I believe it wholeheartedly.

I am a person who has made some very bad decisions, and am fortunate to be alive to pay the consequences. I was drowning in a sea of suffering, but find myself miraculously safe on the shore of recovery. I didn’t get here by myself.

I have experienced life both with and without a sustaining faith, and I have thought it through. If an honest appraisal of my own experience demonstrates anything, it is that faith makes sense. I didn’t leave my addiction to stay mired in a world where people are ruled by their basest natures, where nothing makes sense, and where survival is a matter of sheer dumb luck. Having seen the alternatives with my own eyes, I choose faith. From where I sit, it is a reasonable choice.

This I believe.