On Friday, February 20, I was discharged from Edgemont Hospital. The complexion of the hospital had changed somewhat. Some of my best friends had already left. I departed with mixed emotions. Part of me wanted to stay longer; another part reminded me that there was work to be done. The kind of work that lay ahead was nebulous. I knew only that a great deal of love had been placed into my heart for those with emotional and mental problems. I wanted to help them but had no idea how.
Josephine made every effort to have the hospital records reflect a very nondescript, non-threatening diagnosis for me. Whether or not she was successful, I never found out. I believe between the therapist and my wife, they agreed that a diagnosis of “depressive reaction” would not put a stigma on me. On two separate occasions I tried to get a copy of the records but without success. I tried on numerous occasions to have the examining physician, psychologist, and therapist tell me or write down for me their diagnoses. It seems everyone is allowed to know except the patient. By looking over a shoulder here and there, I discovered the final diagnosis, for the benefit of the insurance company, was “schizophrenic with psychotic reactions.”
We don’t burn human beings at the stake today, but we surely find other ways of making their lives miserable. A diagnosis like schizophrenia does not give a person the red carpet treatment when applying for work, for insurance, or renewal of a driver’s license. Still, sweeping the official records under the carpet, although common practice, is contrary to the Christian ethics imparted to me. We have a long way to go before we stop stepping on those who are already down. I am so grateful Jesus recognized that the downtrodden need representation from on High. Whenever I have an opportunity, I try to alert doctors and lawyers not to allow themselves to be used as a big stick that beats down defenseless victims. Even representatives of the church often take a position that contributes to a great deal of misery in this world.
But anyway, dear Phyllis, let’s get back to my release from the hospital. Financially the experience was not upsetting to us. We had two insurance policies, and what my policy didn’t pay, my wife’s covered. I also became eligible for collecting all my accumulated sick leave and other fringe benefits.
Many of our closest friends had not been told that I had been admitted to and released from Edgemont Hospital. Our closest friends lived only a few blocks away. They knew nothing. Josephine tried as hard as she could to draw a curtain between that part of my life and our friends. But eventually everyone found out. I believe she tried to protect all of us from unnecessary grief. It was not to be so. Many or most don’t know what to do with or say to someone diagnosed as mentally ill.
No one really knew what to do with me or for me when I arrived home. I did not know what our boys had been told. I did not know what to tell them. I did not share my mystical experiences in detail with anyone. No one knew what was going on in my mind. I could only feel that my wife and the therapist were trying to glue the broken pieces of the “Old Peter” back together. At the same time, I made it a point to discredit my past achievements as completely as possible. I was trying to destroy the image of the Peter my wife had fallen in love with and married. The “New Peter” was basically Peter as he was as a child, a person motivated primarily by feelings or attempts to be another St. Francis of Assisi.
I assumed no responsibility besides picking up the children from school. They were both attending Village Christian School in Sun Valley. Peter was in the fifth grade; Johnny, the first. I sat on a lawn chair, listened to country music, stared at the pool, and read. I told myself that I must slow down my mind, which was
continuously racing, thinking, analyzing. I had become like a high-speed computer that doesn’t know how to turn itself off. Like a mouse in a maze, I was caught in the intricate system I had designed. Intellectually, my work had been highly rewarding, but it had made a thinking machine out of me. There was no need for me to feel—just to think. “The Thinker” a statue by Rodin, became the focal point of my attention as it uniquely depicted my frame of mind. My friends had become analytical experiences rather than sources of either emotional or intellectual fulfillment. Now I rebelled, totally rebelled, against the concept of thinking all the time. I just wanted to be led by my feelings. I took a sledgehammer and destroyed “The Thinker,” a gift from my wife.
Listening to country music was a soothing experience. The beat of the music was very relaxing and reassuring. The pace seldom changed. Little by little, I noticed that the lyrics were often very cute, very earthy. They described ordinary people, ordinary situations. Sometimes there was sadness, sometimes joy, expressed in the songs. Even God was given a place in some of the songs. I liked that. The music began to soothe my troubled spirit. Later on I learned how Saul had asked David to sing and play the harp for him.
And it came to pass, when the evil spirit was upon Saul, that David took a harp, and played with his hand; so Saul was refreshed and was well, and the evil spirit departed from him. (I Samuel 16:23)
I knew nothing about evil spirits, but I did learn that music helped my troubled soul. Slowly I began to unwind.
The Twenty-third Psalm interested me. “Lord,” I thought, “the merits of the Twenty-third Psalm escape me, but how can everybody else be wrong?” I forced myself to memorize the Psalm. Memorization was an exercise in discipline and very difficult for me. I must have practiced for a week or more, trying at the same time to determine how the words might apply to me. “He leadeth me beside the still waters.” Maybe if I kept looking at the calm water in our pool, my mind would slow down. I looked at the water. “He maketh me to lie down in green pastures.” I did that too. All of these things were a portion of the answer for which I was searching. I discovered that colors, sounds, and words are highly significant to our emotional wellbeing. In these areas is a world of unexplored possibilities for helping the emotionally and mentally handicapped man, woman, or child.
I did a great deal of reading. The Prophet by Kahlil Gibran was one of my favorite books. I read it many times, and later on, when I was an aid at Olive View Hospital, I gave several copies away. I tried to read every book that Gibran ever wrote or that was written about him. When I discovered that he was a vegetarian, I was convinced that my brother must be the reincarnation of Gibran. The flimsiest evidence caused me to believe that certain individuals I knew were the reincarnation of some famous personage of the past. My brother is a vegetarian; so that was sufficient evidence for me to make the connection. I even checked my brother’s birthday against the year Gibran had died. Strange how our minds work at times.
One book in particular, Saint Francis by Nikos Kazantzakis, played havoc with my imagination. I recently purchased a used copy. I plan to read the book again to see how it will affect me six years later. Almost every member of my immediate family became a vital character in that book. I identified with St. Francis; my parents were the reincarnation of his parents; my brother, Brother Leo; and my wife, Sister Clara. I did not dare share these vain imaginations with anyone. They were secret, exalted treasures in my heart. “One day the world will know who I really am,” I thought. “They will find out for themselves; I won’t have to tell anyone. God is keeping a blanket over my true identity for a good reason. He is first training me.”
Here is the logic I used to establish that my brother was the reincarnation of Brother Leo. According to the story, Brother Leo was extremely fond of pork. St. Francis sometimes chided him for taking much delight in eating, especially meat. My brother at a very early age witnessed the slaughtering of a pig. The sight revolted him so much that with the added encouragement of my father, he vowed never to eat meat. Furthermore, we children were brought up with the belief that reincarnation was an established fact. We were also taught that we must pay for all our transgressions, either now, or in some future life on earth. This precept is called the law of karma. I concluded that my brother was paying for his propensity toward pork when he was Brother Leo by being a vegetarian in this life. Our minds are fiendishly clever in proving to us that foregone conclusions are true. We fall into a trap from which it is next to impossible to extricate ourselves. And I did not dare to ask anyone for help.
I recall vividly that when I was quite young, possibly eight or nine, my mother read a book to me about the life of St. Francis. At that time, as I remember, I identified with the Saint. I wanted to be like him; however, there is a big difference between wanting to be like him and actually thinking I was he. If you have never read anything about St. Francis, dear Phyllis, the novel I mentioned is very easy and pleasant to read. There has also been a very beautiful film made about his life, Brother Sun and Sister Moon. If you are further interested, a collection of short stories, The Little Flowers of St. Francis,” will fill your free hours in a delightful way. St Francis and his friars were quite at home in the supernatural world of visions and miracles. Today some of these friars would probably wind up at Edgemont Hospital. Who is to say where the world of the mystic ends and the world of the lunatic begins? I certainly would not want to be the judge.
I continued to take the same medication that I was given in the hospital. I had no need for sleeping pills, for I slept well. I saw my therapist once a week. He began to annoy me; he just smiled and wanted me to talk. I vowed each time that I would get him to talk about himself the next week, but only two or three times did he give me that satisfaction. He thought I was making fantastic progress. I have no idea how he defined progress. Once I got really angry at him for being so noncommittal. He thought that expressing my anger was a major breakthrough. My facial neuralgia would generally flare up when I had to see him. As I look back, I believe that most therapists and “shrinks” are working in a vacuum. Unless they have established a meaningful relationship with God and are truly guided by the Holy Spirit, it is the old story of the “blind leading the blind.” I would not mind being analyzed for the rest of my life. Maybe a little bit of what is in me would rub off on the therapists in the process. I think that many doctors may be patients in disguise, looking for answers and hoping to discover some of them through their patients. There is a certain element of fun in being a patient because the doctor usually does not have much of a guard up in his patient’s presence. Generally, he does not realize that while he is trying to help someone, that person is also influencing him.
My wife was the greatest help and also the greatest hindrance to my emotional stability. What bothered me most was the querying look she would give me as she came home from work. She said that one look would suffice for her to know if I was progressing or regressing. Can you imagine, dear Phyllis, being scrutinized so closely? Let’s say, for example, that you have a problem with weight or smoking or alcohol. The minute your spouse comes home, he or she checks around to see if you have indulged in some unpardonable manner. Wouldn’t that put you on edge? I have always had a difficult time disguising my feelings, especially since my “Road to Damascus” experience. Finding out that someone is either ashamed or frightened of your behavior only aggravates the way you feel. I have learned that if you can’t heal a cripple, don’t point out his infirmity to him or to others. To do so is very unkind and generally drives him further and further into a state of seclusion where no one can reach him.
There were also redeeming features in the relationship with my wife. For one thing, she saved me from being gobbled up by the metaphysics “queen” and her little flock of admirers. I was ready to surrender my intellect to the tutelage of her metaphysical mind. In her little exotic world, I would have had a princely status of sorts. In fact, she graciously revealed to me the new name I was to have in my eternal heavenly estate. It was almost as if she had the capacity to cast a spell over me. She considered nothing I said or did to be abnormal. Her acceptance was very reassuring in my confused and frightened state. Somehow she had won my confidence. She could do no wrong.
One time I did a crazy thing. I was still enchanted by the magic of the wood blossom, and I thought it belonged on the altar of the church of my “metaphysical friend.” I had a florist make a floral decoration using the wood blossom as a centerpiece. This little episode was an extravagance that cost me fifty dollars. Later on I asked that the wood blossom be on display in the meeting hall of her church. During an after-service reception, one person engaged me in conversation about the wood blossom. He said that it reminded him of a cabbage head, and then he related that cabbage has curative values for cancer. I do not want to “boohoo” his statement as a possibility, but at the time I heard it, I was electrified by the idea. I was ready to go off on a thousand tangents. My “tutor” and her followers gave me unlimited opportunities to go on flights of fancy.
My wife hated that woman because she was able to twist me around her little finger, so to speak. As often as I dared, so as not to arouse the complete displeasure of Josephine, I attended the church services. I even managed to get her to attend an early Easter sunrise service with me. That was a fatal mistake—fatal to my relationship with that church, but at the same time, vital to the renewal of my mind.
Before I tell you about that fateful Easter morning, I will digress for a moment to recall what happened the prior week. Standing amongst the citrus trees in our garden, I was suddenly transported in time to the crucifixion of Christ. I did not have a vision. It was as if I experienced the event only in my soul. At that moment I was the apostle Peter, denying Christ, and I wept bitterly. Every fiber of my being shook. Oh, how I cried! The experience was powerful. I was ashamed to my very foundation. I vowed from that day on, come hell or high water, I would never deny my Lord again. I remember thanking God for allowing me to build my commitment on a foundation of genuine sorrow. From that moment on, I walked around believing that I was the reincarnation of the apostle Peter.
Throughout the whole Easter morning church service, I cried. I don’t know why. I was trying desperately to hide the tears from my wife. but quite unsuccessfully so. At the end of the service, my “pastor” greeted each person at the door except Josephine. She called me “Gregory.” When my wife heard this, she became blind with rage. Having restrained any verbal outbursts until we were in the car, she then lashed out, questioning me with “Do you believe that trash? Have you completely lost your mind?” When I did not give an immediate reply, she froze up and assumed the posture of a statue. That day our marriage hung in the balance. I cried most of the day. I told my wife many things about my mystical experiences. She was furious. She hated to see a grown man cry. She disliked having anyone play on her sympathy. I couldn’t defend myself in the presence of her alert mind. All I could do was cry.
I told Josephine of my being the reincarnation of the apostle Peter. One day she would believe I was because I would be used by God to perform many miracles. I tried to convince her that our concrete block house and the large boulder in front of the house were silent witnesses of the truth. She thought I had truly gone mad; whereas I was convinced that I had found my true identity. Our marriage was preserved temporarily when I agreed not to go to that church again. I told her that I must find another church though and agreed to select one with a more acceptable doctrine to her.
That night my life was to change drastically again. My nerves were frayed. I was like a defenseless infant, having no idea how vulnerable I was. I fell asleep as usual but became semi-awake about three o’clock. It seemed as if very gentle dew were falling on my body, my spirit, my whole being, as if I were being invaded by a new sense of well-being. The sensation was very gentle and somewhat similar to what I had I had experienced in the pool. “Should I allow this to continue?” I asked myself. I had the feeling that I could wake up and chase this mystical experience away. But since it was quite
pleasant and renewing, I decided to let it take its course. It seemed as if this heavenly dew must have rained down upon me for two or three hours.
The alarm woke me. I was pleasantly weak. My need to argue, cry, rebel, feel sorry for myself had vanished. The first sentence that crossed my lips defied everything I had ever said, “Josephine, I must tell you this. The Bible is true, and I believe in the Holy Trinity.” The words came out in a whisper. It was as though someone else were speaking through me. I was terribly afraid of Josephine’s reaction to such a confession. I don’t remember her reply. Maybe there was none.
Something unusual had happened. For many months I had no idea what it might have been. My body chemistry changed that night as did my interests and affections. The anti-psychotic medication reacted violently within me. It seemed that every time I took a pill, all parts of my being would come under excruciating stress. I discontinued the medication and was accused of being uncooperative, infantile, and stubborn. I submitted to other types of medicine that were similar, but the results were identical. My wife refused to accept the fact that I underwent such violent stress while taking the medication. She became terribly angry. My love for her stopped. I could see her only as a calculating, reasoning, selfish female who had an enormous need to control others.
A desire to read the Bible, almost devour it, came upon me. I took my Bible along wherever I went, including the bathtub. I had never read it in any systematic fashion. I decided to start with Genesis. This sudden and complete preoccupation with the Bible was reported to my therapist with a great deal of alarm. I tried to ignore my wife’s apprehensions. I even tried to read the Bible to my therapist. He was very uncooperative and allowed me to read only the first chapter in the book of John.
As I look back on my peculiar and unpredictable behavior, I am not at all surprised that Josephine was confused and frightened. This man who had been so stable, so predictable, so correct, so reasonable in all his actions, had thrown all rationale to the wind. I was giving my wife one emotional whiplash after another. She was trying to hold on to me, while I was trying to break the fetters of my previous lifestyle. Anyone who tried to have me conform to the “Old Peter” I considered my jailer. My wife became my jailer; she became Cleopatra, dominating and using Mark Anthony for her own selfish ends. She became Nefertiti, the queen of Egypt, beguiling Moses with her beauty. She became Bathsheba, a stumbling block in the life of King David. I met her over and over again in a host of disguises as I worked my way through the Old Testament. She became Martha in the New Testament, and I even found a place for her in the life of St. Francis.
One sentence Josephine spoke caused me to look at reincarnation in a new light. She had taken a day off from work to spend with me. Whenever she sensed that I was unusually shaky, she would try to stay at home. On the particular day in question, we decided to take a leisurely pleasure trip to Oxnard. We always enjoyed following Mulholland Drive to the coast, a scenic route that divides the San Fernando Valley from the Los Angeles basin. Along this stretch of road, I pondered a new way of viewing reincarnation. Apparently, I must have been reminiscing to Josephine about my life as the apostle Peter in order for her to make this remark: “Do you realize that the mental hospitals are full of Napoleons, Mary Magdalenes, Christs, St. Peters, and St. Pauls? It seems as if only famous people come back. There are no ordinary people in mental institutions.”
Those few words were probably the greatest present I received from Josephine. They were like a wedge that caused me to reconsider the validity of reincarnation. I was not able to relinquish the idea at that time, but I did begin that day to accumulate facts to support a new hypothesis about reincarnation. I also entertained the possibility that I might be suffering from severe delusions of grandeur. It was extremely important that I arrive at such conclusions on my own. A premature understanding of my emotional problems could have caused me to become totally and permanently psychotic. I am sure that my wife must have been a tool in God’s hands that day without being aware of it.