Arguing About Freedom.
A lot of the stress comes nowadays from within, from within ourselves, but today this stress is sometimes totally theoreticized. Our world has names or other words for everything: concepts that people use to identify or to be identified by others with them; first identified and consequently diagnosed. That, it is said, should help us to better understand ourselves and so to support our constant need for change. The mental health field is a reality that simply cannot be disregarded. When professionals show us the statistics, they are overwhelming, especially when we see the children and youth, or the young population as they are called today, are the highest risk, and with each and every day they are more and more affected.
So this is part of our world today, and we have to try to understand it and to relate to it. However, being in this context, I cannot help but wonder: What does it mean to be mentally healthy? I do not have to emphasize the fact that many people who come to the mission, to stay permanently or just for a short amount of time, were identified by others, and sometimes that was not necessarily the ideal, with some kind of mental condition. They were identified with autism, depression, bipolar disorder, Down Syndrome, ADD, ADHD, OCD, PTSD—you name it. And this should tell us what we are and give us an identity. It is not complicated to find out what that means. Anyone could tell you. What is maybe a little more complicated is to see what lies beyond the diagnosis, or if there is actually anything else beyond what the doctors tell us that they can see.
I have a really short story that brings a resolution to my dilemma: a regular day at the mission. After doing, or rather not doing anything productive, I went to the chapel. The chapel is a really good place to be, especially during summer. It is cool inside, while outside it’s hot and humid, not to mention the atmosphere in the kitchen. However, I think at that time it was rather winter, and it was freezing in the chapel. I went inside, and I sat down, and I remember that I was not planning to stay too long. After a few minutes, an “identified” person—and I think any diagnosis can be used here—came inside. She did not stand, she did not sit down, she did not kneel, but she rather lay on the ground. Facing the floor and crying, she started to pray. She was crying and praying. During this time, I was sitting in my corner. She was crying and praying, and I was sitting on my thoughts.
I do not know how long she prayed. I eventually interrupted her when I left the chapel. I had been taught that I have to keep myself busy. In that moment, I realized she did not know that I had been in the chapel. She came after me and she said, “I’m sorry, Nikolai. I did not see you.” Being ashamed, I think I said, “Please pray for me, too.” “Okay, okay,” she responded.
Now when I look back on that moment, I realize that however I interpret the event is less important than the event in itself. I could probably talk about the importance of our body in prayer, or maybe if it is appropriate to lie down in the chapel when you are praying—but she doesn’t really have a problem with that, because she’s not Orthodox, Christian Orthodox. I will simply say that people are able to pray. People being or not yet being “identified” are able to pray, and that is where we find our identity. The truth about our identity is not constructive, but rather simple and beautiful, and it is revealed to us through prayer.
Another thing that I saw that day in the chapel is that certain people have a different kind of freedom in prayer, and that doesn’t resemble the freedom that most of us have. Most of us would probably practice our freedom by arguing if one can or cannot pray like that in a chapel. St. Mary of Egypt prayed like that, some would say. So she did, others would respond, but she was outside in the desert, and besides that, she was a saint.