January 24, 1988, I was a resident in a psychiatric
ward. No, I was not a nurse or a nurse's aid. I was a patient. On January
10, 1988, I had a complete nervous breakdown. You might say that I was at the bottom of my
life, and you would be right. But I was
also at the beginning. In that
psychiatric ward I learned about a deeper part of myself, perhaps a better part
of myself, which began to understand just how alike we are as human beings.
The hospital was in the midst of an experiment, and you might say that we were the lab rats. In that hospital the young were mixed with the old. The sad and anxious were mixed with the truly crazy, and the violent were included with the nonviolent. What were they thinking? It makes you wonder who were truly the crazy ones.
I disclose this with gratitude, because I learned more in that six weeks, about love, sacrifice, understanding, and acceptance, than I had ever learned in my entire life. I learned that in the eternal scheme of things, I am no better than anyone. I’m no better than that sweet soul who had lost her mind long ago, who believed that she was inhabited by a well-known Country singer, whom she believed lived in her stomach. She argued with him constantly, often shouting orders to “Get out!”
Yes, it was funny and alarming, but I made up my mind to get to know her, to find out what made her who she was. In a strange sort of “we-come-from-different-worlds” friendship, we got to know one another as well as we could. I learned that something terrible had happened to her when she was young, and she learned that I was safe, that I did not judge her, and that I would not betray her.
I was also no better than the young man who shouted and threatened, and chased people around the room, including my new, friend and me. We heard his shout, and when we saw him racing at us. We leaped up and ran, around and around the room, hoping he would not catch us. When he finally was tackled and calmed down, we stopped running, and we just looked at one another. Then I shouted that a violent man like he should be removed from our ward. The nurse replied that he had never harmed a living soul.
“YET!” My friend and I retorted together.
We, suddenly, looked at each other, laughing hysterically, and for one brief moment, the scales of confusion fell from her eyes, and she knew me. Then, her reason clouded over again, and we were strangers, but I’d seen her soul, and I knew that somewhere in the great hereafter, we would meet again. Then, we will know one another. We will remember, and we will be friends, and we will not be ashamed.
There is so much tragedy in this world. I was one of the blessed ones. I have a strong, loving family. I had good medical care, a strong will, and a determination to get well. In March, 1988, I left the hospital with a clean bill of health, and I never returned. However, I will never forget the unusual, hurting people within. I think of them all the time. I tell their stories, as I am telling you, and I will miss them and wonder about them all the days of my life — those tragic, suffering souls, who will never know the impact they had on this single life, forever.
We are the same, all of us, no matter how we protest that we are not. No matter the color of our skin, or our religion, or our lack of faith, or our political beliefs. Our petty grievances and prejudices are like so much chaff, blown by the wind. None of these things will matter, when we stand before God, judged for the works we have done on this earth, whether good or ill.
Jesus said that He will gather all of us together, and He will separate us, as a shepherd separates his sheep from his goats. We will not escape His notice, anymore than our bigotry, our jealousy, our rage, or our evil intents and actions will remain hidden. And yes, my friends, we are, each of us, guilty of these things.
The wife beater — you will no longer be able to hide. The wife who betrays her husband — you will be found out. The gossip, the liar, the proud, and those who do their evil works in secret, you will be made known.
Can anyone escape their shame? Yes you can. Yes I can. I can repent. Every day. Every hour. Every moment, if necessary, and I can live my life reaching for the compassion within me, looking for new ways to convey my respect and love for each individual I meet. I will fail. I will fail today. But that is what repentance is all about. Going back before the only perfect person who ever walked the earth. Going to the Only, One, True God, asking His forgiveness. Humbly, before Him, I can repeat my sins of the day, and cast them at His feet.
Oh, it may seem simplistic, but it is not. It is simple. It is the easiest thing in the world, and the safest place to be. All I need to do is throw off the mantle of pride and self-righteousness, and know that I am forgiven by His grace.
These are the thoughts that are on my heart today. Perhaps I am sick of the assault upon repentance that I see in my own American Presidential Primary. Of course there is repentance, forgiveness, and redemption, even for Newt Gingrich. And there is condemnation, even for the self-proclaimed, perfectly pure Mitt Romney. But, you know, the self-righteous never see. I have to admit that I have only this moment realized what irritates me about Romney. It’s his pompous belief that he has never done anything wrong.
I do not say these things in defense of Newt Gingrich. He has made it abundantly clear that he is perfectly capable of defending himself. I do, however, say these things to defend the free grace that God gives to us, if we will only accept it and admit that we have sinned. That grace, for which we are so undeserving, that we can receive freely, if only we ask, comes from the God of all grace, who deserves to hear us say, “Father, I have sinned.”
I hate when the grace of God is maligned, as though He has no power, as though His arm is too short to save. If that were true then I would still be a lost soul, without hope. But I am no longer lost, because God came to me, and He made me His own, not because He needed me, but because I needed Him.