Have you ever heard something, in the course of a day, that strikes you as so profound that it seems as if the world pauses just so you can take it in?
I had such an experience yesterday, and I have to tell you, my mind is still trying to process that moment. I was with my "second daughter", who is a nurse. But not just a nurse, she is a psychiatric nurse, and she works at a large, inner city hospital in the lock-down psychiatric unit.
We were discussing someone we'd come to visit on another unit of that hospital, someone who'd been a patient there for a few weeks, and who'd been admitted with some sort of an infection. Sometimes, medicine is an inexact science. The doctors have been unable to determine the source of the infection, but have been treating it, more or less, with a general course of antibiotics.
At one point this person was unable to communicate, or to even sit up. Then, as the infection began to clear, speech returned, but it aphasic speech at first. Nothing she said the last time I visited her last week made any sense at all.
We went to visit her yesterday, my second daughter and I, only to discover that this person was in the process of going homeagainst medical advice.
We added our voices to the voices of the staff, urging her to remain in hospital. We tried to convince her husband that her going home was not the best course of action, even if it was what she wanted to do. But reason no longer seems to have sway with this woman. In fact, I do believe that reason has fled her for good.
Her husband only wanted to do what she asked of him, and would not consider that it wasn't for the best.
As we were leaving, I lamented that something could not be done, because quite frankly, without further treatment, this person will not get well. Then my second daughter said, "I know you're upset, and I understand. But she's not a danger to herself or anyone else, and she has the right to be crazy."
She wasn't using that word lightly for it has become clear over the last several monthsand I am probably the last person aside from her husband to see thisthat this person really isn't quite sane anymore.
You know, I never before considered the possibility that one could have the right to be crazy.
For me, life has always been what I would characterize as a challenge to be faced. It's something to be lived, certainly, but lived judiciously, and even strategically. Sort of like an obstacle course where you must meet and surmount challenges before going on to the next levelor the next thing.
I've only ever considered that life is damn hard work, with some rewards and nice surprises along the waybut only some, and that my perception is yes, right for me, but basically recognized as valid by everyone.
And all along, instead or maybe as well, one has had the right to be crazy.
There's no question in my mind that my second daughter is right, of course. I wouldn't force my religious or political views on another person; I would never dream of telling someone what sort of music they should like, or movies they should watch or books they should read.
If someone is living in an alternate reality, responding to ideas that are only in their own minds, believing things that are not as I know them to be, who am I to judge them? Who am I to insist they must conform to my standards over theirs? If they are no danger to themselves or someone else, then they do indeed have the right to be crazy.
I've known for some time that this personthe one that we visited in hospitaltruly only felt secure and happy in her home. It doesn't matter, does it, what `home' is? In this case it's a very small apartment in a large building. She's lived there for probably more than 20 years.
It's her place, and where she needed to be, so of course as soon as she was well enough to communicate this desire, she told her husband she wanted to go home.
Yes, she needed to stay in hospital and be treatedin my point of view.
But as much as I demand to be granted the right to live my life on my own terms, when it comes to those I care about, I have to give way and allow them to live their life on their own terms. It's not easy, but I shouldn't be surprised at that.
As I've often said, and as I've always believed, life isn't easy. Nor is it supposed to be.
You've heard it said, I am sure, that people come into your life for a reason, a season, or a lifetime. My problem is I can't tell the difference. I am constantly, even eagerly, slotting folks into that last category. I'm like an excited little puppy all wound up having someoneor several someone'snew in my lifea puppy who gets all frisky and happy and bounces back and forth as if saying, "Wanna play? Wanna play?" Then when things happenthings that seem inexplicable to me, things that leave me wondering what I could possibly have done wrong, I'm left broken hearted because those people turn and walk away with no backward glance whatsoever and I am left feeling totally and completely bereft.
I'm beginning to suspect that the only thing I keep doing wrong is slating people into the "lifetime" category who never should have been there in the first place. I've only begun to realize this flaw in my previous behavior because the ones I have now in that "lifetime" slot were the ones meant to be there all along.
I know I can't be the only person this has happened to. Life has taught me that very, very few of us ever experience something that no one else ever has. I've had a number of traumatic and tragic things happen in my lifetime. I know that probably most of you have, too. At some point, maybe twenty years ago or so, I came to the decision that if life really was only 5 percent what happened to me and 95 percent how I dealt with it, then I'd better see if I could deal with things in a way that would be beneficial to others, and therefore beneficial to myself.
Yes, that's another variation of making lemonade out of lemons.
Because I am, down to my soul, a writer, then dealing with things in a beneficial way meant I had to write about them. Those who can look beyond the wink-wink-nudge-nudge of my novels will discover that I deal with a lot of issues that many of us struggle with in life. What I don't deal with that way, I manage to tackle within the pages of these essays, every week.
Life is a journey and like any long trip, not all of it is made over smooth roads. Sometimes we have to travel the gravel side roads, and sometimes we find ourselves on deeply rutted dirt trails. Sometimes we're making our way in the company of good companions, and sometimes we are achingly alone.
Everyone has to define the terms under which they want to live their lives. We each of us have our own priorities, and we're not all the same. We aren't all given to the same purposes or causes; we don't define happiness or sadness in exactly the same way. We really are unique, each one of us. We share a common humanity, yes, and a common spectrum of possibilities, but the fine points, the details, are different for us all.
As I've gotten older, as more milestones have gone by my personal window on this, my life's journey, I understand as I never did before how self sufficient we are, and at the same time, how isolated we are.
I believe that we were created to help one another. Do you want to have a good, really good, feeling inside of yourself? Then take your eyes off yourself and help someone else. Do you want to feel as if you matter? Then matter to othersdo something that makes a difference either to an individual or a group.
Are you the only one who has ever made a horrible mistake, lost someone dear, or suffered an injury to your body or your soul? Of course not. We all have. Is every day a day of joy and laughter and all things positive and light?
If only. Nope, there are at least as many dark days as there are light ones in anyone's life; the difference lies in how we rate them. I personally give happy, sunny days a 5 rating, and the gloomy, sad ones a 0.5 one.
Oh yes, that is stacking the deck in my favor, but then I can do that if I want to. Because the most important principle I have learned in life says I can. What is that principle? Gosh, I am glad you asked.
It's that, in the final analysis, everything emotionaland I do mean everythingis a decision. How you handle the firestorms that come your way, is a decision.
Life doesn't control your heart or your mind or your soul. You do.