Thursday, December 30, 2010

thursday's reading

"as the rest of my colleagues emerge from their rapture and gather up their belongings, I'm thinking of the last patient I saw before I flew to anaheim. she was telling me that every time she contemplated breaking it off with her junkie husband, she became paralyzed with fear. she described what the dread felt like in her body, what thoughts and fantasies it brought to mind, and soon we were talking about he father, also an addict, whom her mother finally kicked out and who then turned up dead in a snowbank. 'I never put that together before. I'm afraid I'll kill him if I end it,' she said. she gave a little laugh. 'probably only because of how much I want to.'

"she gathered her jacket around her like a carapace. after a short silence, she said, 'how did you get us there?'

"'I didn't,' I replied. 'I didn't know where we would end up.' it's an answer I'm regretting now. not because it pushed away her admiration (which, of course, I crave) or because it was disingenuous (after a quarter century of delivering the talking cure, you have some idea about where these excursions will end up), but because I see now that she was asking me what made me believe it would be worthwhile to have the conversation that we had, rather than all the others we could have had. she was asking after my faith, and I had handed her only my doubt."
--from "the war on unhappiness: goodbye freud, hello positive thinking" by gary greenberg in the september 2010 issue of harper's magazine.
do we do people a favor by affirmatively answering their requests for faith, rather than expressing our doubt? greenberg's ultimate answer is perhaps not, but I would argue further: we do them a disservice by pretending to have an answer to something for which there isn't an answer, or at least not one we know now. when a junkie going through withdrawal asks us for a hit, is it going to be better for him to say "you don't really want a hit, you're better off without it" or to say "no"? it's similar to what a minister experiences (or should experience) when someone asks him if there's a heaven and hell; he must say, honestly, "I don't know. and neither does anyone else." it won't leave the asker any happier but should leave her more trusting of the answerer.

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