I want to tell you about a guy I met last night at work in the ER.
I was cruising through my 9 hour shift, seeing my patients, teaching my medical students and residents; there was nothing spectacular or TV-worthy. But there was this one patient who fascinated me, not so much for who he is, because I truly despised who he is, but more for the honesty with which he is who he is.
I forgot his name as soon as I walked out of his room - a protective device I learned years ago to allow me to separate someone's tragedy from my reality and keep me from dwelling endlessly about what ifs. He was probably 45 or 5o years old, with a smoke-dry cracked voice and the kind of wrinkles that come only from years of worry and regret. His hands were thick and yellow, callused by the hardness of poverty.
He had been released from the state prison just a few days ago. In Alabama, when you are released, you get a bus ticket to anywhere in the state, your prison possessions, and a date with your parole officer. He came to see me to get medicine to control his hypertension and diabetes. You see, Alabama doesn't care about your problems once you aren't their problem.
I sat down and talked with this guy for 15 or 20 minutes, much longer than I needed but not nearly as long as I wanted. He told me the case he just cleared was 2 years for a parole violation charge that resulted from his possessing stolen property. I asked him for what he had originally been paroled.
Hmmm. "I suppose the last time." I knew I was captured at this point and would be spending way too much time with him. This kind of thing fascinates me.
"Oh... Well, what about the other times?"
"Mostly bank robberies, couple of grand theft autos." Stack of pancakes with two strips of bacon on the side please... He continued, "You see, I could rob the 7-11 or the Food Giant, but why? I mean, If I get caught the time is the same, so why not go where the money is at? I rob banks. If I want a hood ornament off a car, I ain't just gonna take the hood ornament I'm gonna take the car. I'll get the same amount of time if I'm caught, so why waste my time on a hood ornament?"
Perception of the Criminal Mind 101.
We talked for a while longer, mostly him telling me his life story, in and out of prison. He had been a certified paralegal for 20 some odd years, a trade he learned at state expense during a stint for felony fraud for bad checks. He told me he was leaving tomorrow to drive to Mississippi to research an appeals case for a "client" still "falsely" imprisoned at Kilby Correctional (he told me this shortly after he told me he was banned by Alabama from ever having a driver's license because he had stolen so many cars...)
I wished him well, and hoped aloud that he would be able to make the money he needed through the legal work without resorting to more criminal activity.
"That won't happen," he declared. "I'm a robber. I rob. It don't matter if I got a job, it don't matter how much money I got. It's just in me. I gotta do it."
And that made me think more about this concept of change, about whether a person ever really changes at all. Think of a person, if you will, as an automobile with an endless tank of gas on roads with no redlights and no deadends. Now imagine that car continues down the road until it is nudged, either by another vehicle or by nature, onto a different path.
So the car is always the same, but the path changes. Now the occupants of the car come and go, but the basic chemistry and mechanics of the car never change.
We, I, have always felt like I can change. I can go out with a new group of friends and have a couple of beers and they think I should headline Comedy Hour. That must mean I have changed into a funny guy. Or I can run a marathon, and that will change me somehow.
I can do this or that, and it will change me. We hear it all the time on the telly. Oprah changes lives by giving away a new car or house or a makeover. Lives are forever changed by the wicked tornado that tore away their home. For just $29.99, you too can be a millionaire real estate investor and your life will never be the same.
But you know what, it's lies. All lies. You will be the same. I will be the same. We don't change, and we can't change. If I win the Mega Millions Friday night and pocket the $25 million, I'll be a helluva lot wealthier. But I'll still be a bit more passive than I should be, I'll still have the unreasonable need to brush my teeth even after the tiniest of sugar-free snacks, I'll still have a temper that sometimes flares at the most inopportune times, I'll still have trouble reconciling my faith with mainstream religion.
I will not change. I cannot change. I may be able to train my body to react in certain ways to certain stimuli. My paths, my journeys, may lead me through forests unimagined and tornadoes and ironman races and cancers and heart attacks and death and sorrow and loss of a child (God forbid...) and riches and power and who knows what else....
But I, I'll never change. Never...
And in a way, that is liberating. If I, if you, can live knowing that nothing will change you, you can live fearlessly. You can accept the journeys, the twists and turns and loopbacks of this roller coaster ride of life, and know that you will still be the same person when you exit the ride as when you started. It's just a ride.
Enjoy it, laugh at it, live it. Tell others... Find yourself... Know where you will be when the ride ends... Repeat until it's done...
At least, I suppose, I think its safe to say that I'll never be a bank robber.
Thanks for joining me on My Daily Spin.