By Raymond Page
When you open this magazine, you’re likely to have certain expectations. Topics such as political theory, rhetorical analysis, policy debate, contentious and argumentative commentary, the ousting of normative behavior, societal grievances, variant perspectives in relation to ongoing political turmoil and more, regularly fill our pages. You’ve come to expect that from us. But this is different. Here I will share my testimony of truth. Let this article serve as a memoir of sorts, highlighting my experiences and personal perspective, life lessons, spiritual growth and most importantly my unwavering pursuit of triumph in the face of adversity. The will of the human spirit is the strongest of forces. We must never lose sight of that.
As a child, nobody expected much of me. My father left when I was two and my mother looked for love inside of a bottle. Seeking to silence her immutable torment and desperation, she would numb her pain through the use of alcohol and drugs. She simply drank her problems away, and what’s more- she hadn’t the slightest clue of how to raise a man. However, I like to believe that she did the best she could and most importantly, despite her parental shortcomings, her soul is pure, and for that alone, she is forgiven.
For me, school was tough. I was placed in special education as a result of my behavioral problems. I remember feeling marginalized, forced into a curriculum catered toward children with educational deficits and developmental disabilities. I wasn’t academically deficient, but they had to place me somewhere and so they took the path of least resistance. I was angry and confused and for those feelings, I was compartmentalized and seemingly forgotten. My educational journey imparted upon me enormous feelings of insufficiency, worthlessness and self-doubt. I felt incapable and undeserving. My inadequacies ravaged my soul and concealed deep within my subconscious any hope of redemption. If you tell a child he’s stupid long enough, don’t be surprised when he eventually believes you. To put it simply, I fell into a gap: deep, dark, and inescapable.
Psychologists maintain that a child will develop a sense of right and wrong, love and hate, emotional growth and critical lifelong coping skills by the age of five. Suffice it to say, I missed the boat on that one. My reaction to fear was to run. My response to disappointment was a mirror of my expectations and lack of self-worth. I expected to fail and so I would. This is what we call a self-fulfilling prophecy.
Full of rage and self-loathing, I laughed at the prospect of a higher power. I was quick to ridicule and invalidate the faith of others. For every reason I was told to believe in Christ, I had a fistful of arguments to dispel and systematically disassemble those daring enough to engage me in verbal disputation. Where was God for 9/11? Where was God for the mass genocide of the Jews, the bombing of the Boston City Marathon, the thousands of innocent newborn children ravaged by Sudden Instant Death Syndrome and most importantly the crucifixion of His only begotten son, Jesus? Where was He when my father beat my mother or when I cried in bed scared and alone with not a sibling or family member to turn to?
Now the standard answer to these questions by default yields a series of typical go-to phrases such as, “God only gives us what we can handle,” or “Answers come in God’s time,” and my personal favorite, “Don’t question the will of God.” Now by this rationale, adversaries attempt to emerge victorious without the use of tangible evidence, definitive proof, reputable data or the like. The argument is but a table with no legs to stand upon.
Fast forward to adolescence. For me, the apple didn’t seem to fall far from the tree. I drank like booze was going out of style. I took drugs. I lied, I cheated and I stole. I was deceptive, manipulative and entirely self-serving. Convinced of my own superiority, the rules did not apply to me. But, notice the paradox: I was convinced I was superior, yet hidden within the depths of my soul; I harbored feelings of incompetency, fraudulence and self-deprecation.
Later in life, I was arrested several times, both as a child and in early adulthood. My transgressions ranged from petty theft, to assault (a high school fight), then a 2006 DWI and eventually, in 2008, I was detained for possession of a controlled substance in the seventh degree, which was a Class A Misdemeanor. As a result, I was placed on probation and soon after, I willingly admitted myself into rehab. But I had no guilt. I was incapable of recognizing personal shortcomings, devoid of remorse or accountability and completely unwilling to view my life in an introspective or critical fashion. I blamed my childhood, my mother, my lack of stability and more. How could I be expected to win this poker game of life after having been dealt such a shitty hand?
Ethics and morality were words without meaning, empty vessels devoid of substance and value. I’ve always been a go against the grain type of guy. The act of conformity drove me insane. I prided myself on being a rational thinker, capable of critical analysis and objectivity. A conjecture lacking definitive proof and tangible evidence was nothing more than rubbish, flourishing under the guise of fraudulent, non-evidential intellect.
But then out of nowhere a radical transformation took place. Gripped in its clutches, I was forced to take a look in the mirror. The time for self-deception had run its course. Now, whether this was by sheer happenstance, an attempt to reach a level of self-actualization or divine intervention, my metamorphosis was undeniable. I began to recognize that pride was a destructive force in my life and ego, its direct descendant.
For the first time, I opened my heart to change and began a process of acceptance and admission of fault. I stopped passing the buck and naming scapegoats for the squalor that was my life, and through it all, I developed a sense of purification. This experience was cathartic. I purged myself of excuses and took the proverbial bull by the horns. I completed my probation, pursued my education and began to say that I was sorry to those with whom I had wronged. But it wasn’t just words. I actually meant it, and let me tell you, that felt great. Humility is a virtue and should never be feared.
I’ve always believed that religion was akin to sports. For example, a man is a lifelong fan of the Jets. He has a child, who in turn is raised to love the Jets as well. His admiration is a learned behavior. He was taught to believe as he did. The players and numbers on the jersey were without meaning and inconsequential. Through no particular rhyme or reason, a team is followed with admiration and unwavering conviction. The same goes with Christ. A person becomes indoctrinated in their most fundamental of beliefs, sucked into a world of undeniable reverence and faith. But what’s most interesting is that my animosity would soon reveal an underlying feeling of resentment and jealousy. Deep within the confines of my subconscious, I wanted what those people had, but I didn’t have a father to teach me about sports, nor a family to take me to church, and so my resentment grew.
When I finally decided to go to college, it was on a whim. I saw my mother struggle to maintain what so many others had seemed to take for granted, such as keeping the lights on and the refrigerator full. I knew I wanted better for myself. But I was no scholar. That was what I was taught to believe, yet despite my reticence, I gave college a try. My first A was somewhat of a revelation to me. Chalking it up to sheer luck, I decided to keep at it. Soon after I was admitted to the Honors College for my academic performance. I was inducted into the honor societies’ of Phi Theta Kappa, Sigma Kappa Delta, Psi Beta, Who’s Who Among Students in American Universities & Colleges, a recipient of the SUNY Chancellor’s Award, Distinguished Student Achievement Award, Editor-in-Chief of my college newspaper, paid college writing tutor, Campus Representative for the Academic Integrity Committee, appointed to serve on both the College Publication Committee and subcommittee and even runner up for the Student of the Year Award, which I lost by a hair.
But through all of the good that has come of my life, I’ve yet to secure undeniable faith, although as of late, it is actively sought. I regularly pray and ask God to strengthen my resolve and rid my soul of doubt, although I cannot help but notice the irony. It is He who has made me the analytical being I’ve become and in my life, this critical thinking has proven to be a positive attribute, yet in death it is said to be of great detriment to my soul, if of course you subscribe to the beliefs of devout Christianity. Go figure.
But when it comes down to it, I am developing a deeper understanding of faith. Faith is belief without proof. Faith is an irrational roadblock to a rational thinker. But faith is also a gift for which we must ask to be blessed with. I continue to pray and not just when things are bad. I regularly thank God for His abundant blessings, so easily overlooked and for the transformation in my life, despite my best efforts to deflect accountability or to play the blame game.
I strive to avoid familiar mistakes, with the knowledge that I am certain to make new ones, for he is fallible. The hauntings of perfection are elusive and unobtainable. I am a man of sin and regret, remorse and guilt; but I am also a man of hope. I have struggled and fought with the entirety of my heart, forging a better me with each passing day. In the wake of each failure is a lesson to be learned. I have made a concerted effort to remain cognizant of that truth. Setting the bar high, I remind myself to stay grounded, cautious of the blinders ambition manufactures. I love without fear, give without expectation and try with great effort to forgive those who have trespassed against me; and for this newfound faith, I am eternally grateful and actively repent for transgressions of the past with sincerity and candor.