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Home » ESSAYS » There but for the Grace of God (“On Gratitude and Suffering,” Part I)

There but for the Grace of God (“On Gratitude and Suffering,” Part I)

I wrote this essay in 1999 while living in upstate New York. These reflections, from a time in my life that many things were working well, seem relevant to “Living in My Car, With Dogs.” I have broken the essay into four parts.
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PART I: There but for the Grace of God

I have so much to be grateful for.

So many people who have had the experiences of abuse, violence, loss, and mental health challenges that I have had are on the streets, or in a brothel, or dead of suicide like two of my childhood friends, or living the life of the dead see-sawing between heroin-induced haze and prison-imposed regret like another childhood friend.

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When I see a homeless man walking the sidewalk, having an animated conversation with an invisible companion or screaming rageful swearwords at the foe inside his mind, I wonder how close his emotional life is to mine, and how close I have been at times to beginning down the road of psychiatric institutionalization and de-institutionalized abandonment he might have trod.

And when I read accounts of forced hospitalization, of sane but troubled people whose beleaguered family members force them into psychiatric units where sadists with medical credentials force feed drugs and destroy spirits while attempting to save minds, I wonder how close I would be to losing my successful career and comfortable home and manageable life if I were to be completely honest with the wrong person about what has gone through my head in this lifetime.

When I read a book or see a televised documentary about women abducted or tricked away from home with false offers of good jobs abroad, or hear about runaway teens who end up raped and forced into prostitution, I think of the time in Paris an older man took my 15-year-old too-trusting hand and wanted me to go with him and I, unable to think of another way out, held his hand and went, but led him to the plaza where my father awaited our meeting time. What of the others, who didn’t have a father in the plaza?

I think of the relative refuge my private high school offered me from my emotionally abusive and sexually unregulated family, and the alternative runaway life on the streets that I might have chosen without that anchor. And I think of a family member, and the lesser degree of luck he had avoiding the streets, and psychiatric hospitals, and teenaged homelessness.

Continue to Part II: Stop Whining 

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