Monday, March 11, 2013

Two Things Can Be True At the Same Time

I was a philosophy major and I recall that one day in class, the professor stated the obvious: two things can both be true at the same time. Further, two apparently contradictory things can both be true at the same time.

For some reason, that simple thought has stuck with me. I suppose I find it a useful meditation, a reminder that we only ever apprehend partial truths, and for that reason, it helps to be open to the fact that what we can hold in our mind may appear to point in conflicting directions.

Well, fast forward and now I am the parent of a 19-year-old who is living away from home, attending college. And, wow, more than one thing is simultaneously true!

On the one hand, he is attending classes, spending time with family friends of ours who live nearby, making new friends and experimenting with independence. He is gaining a fuller sense of himself and the world. In so many regards, he appears to be just about where one expects a college freshman to be. He is doing what he set out to do, and I am proud of him for that.

At the same time, he has a formidable substance abuse problem. He's been experimenting with new, illegal ways to get money for drugs. And just recently, we formulated an emergency mental health plan and shared it with a good friend in his vicinity as his behavior was sending warning signs to those who are closest to him. So all is not "well."

How is he doing? I'm often asked, and t's hard to answer that question. To most people, I just say he's doing well and I'm very proud of him. And that is absolutely the case. In my heart, I know that he is working so hard to have even this fragile opportunity in life, despite overwhelming odds. In my heart, I never expected his young adulthood to be easy. Kids with an early and middle childhood like his have an astonishing rate of homelessness, addiction, suicide, prostitution, and incarceration. It was hard enough getting him to high school graduation that we would have been naive to regard his early forays into independence without trepidation.

To be frank, I would rather he committed to a year-long substance abuse treatment program than that he finish his freshman year of college. The consequences of his substance abuse continue to mount, and while he stays just this side of serious legal trouble and prison, it would be naive not to recognize the inherent danger in his self-limiting and occasionally self-destructive choices. He knows I would like him to reengage with treatment. But it's his decision.

He is neither good nor bad, and this period of his life is neither a success nor a failure. He is both independent and unusually (for his age) dependent. His life is both full of promise and marked by despair. I am neither a good parent nor a poor one. And the future is neither bright nor bleak. Or perhaps it is both, depending how you look at it. In any case, more than one thing is true at the same time.

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