It was Sunday morning. As usual, Reuben was reading his newspaper. Specifically, Reuben was reading a story about a man who thought he was God
, and who had boarded a bus and shot and killed several people-- out of love
, believing that he was sending them to Heaven
. "I wonder," Reuben spoke aloud, "if you're insane
, how do you know you're insane? Can you know it, at all? Or do you sit there believing yourself to be sane, with no escape from that delusion."
Judy, sitting in her comfortable chair in the corner, doing her own reading, raised an eyebrow. "If you're insane," she replied, "I guess it doesn't really matter whether you know it or not. At least, not to you it wouldn't."
"I think I'd want to know."
"No, Reuben, I think you wouldn't, because then all you'd know is that you were insane. But it wouldn't change the fact that you believed whatever delusion you believed. You can't fight your own beliefs."
Just then Doctor Halberstrand entered the room. "Reuben, who are you talking to?"
Reuben was a bit confused. "I'm talking to my wife, Judy."
Doctor Halberstrand shook his head. "No, Reuben, we've spoken about this before. Judy is gone."
"No, she's not gone she's sitting right here, I can see her, clear as day."
Now Judy spoke. "Reuben," she began cautiously, "is it him again? The Doctor?"
Reuben nodded. Judy shook her head. "There is no Doctor Halberstrand, Reuben. He's just a figment of your imagination. He's not real. You've got to let him go."
"Well he's telling me you're
not real. I-- I don't know what to believe."
"Well," Judy shrugged, "at least you know you're insane, because you're seeing both of us, and we can't both be real. Don't worry about it, honey. You're going to believe what you're going to believe. I don't mind, as long as you know I'm
Reuben pursed his lips for a moment, and then shrugged and returned to his newspaper. Judy stood up, brushed her skirt, and walked out. Doctor Halberstrand folded his hands, and regarded Reuben for a minute more. "She's not real Reuben. You're going to have to accept that, sooner or later -- you and I are real. She is only in your mind." Reuben ignored him. After a few moments more, the Doctor walked out as well.
Outside, in the hallway, Judy asked Doctor Halberstrand, "do you think it's working, Doctor?"
"I think so, yes," Doctor Halberstrand replied. "I think Reuben is accepting the fact that some of the things he sees are delusions. Naturally, you and I are not, but he believes that one or the other of us must be, and that will open his mind to the fact that some of the other people he sees really are delusions."
Judy nodded. "I'm sorry that I was so resistant to this idea at first. You know, I just don't like the idea of my husband thinking that I'm-- that I might just be in his imagination."
"You're doing very well, Judy. You've been a great help, and you've made great strides in these trying circumstances. It is important that you empathize with what your husband is experiencing, with his belief that there are people whom he interacts with each day who aren't really there. Who are gone, though he doesn't realize it."
Doctor Halberstrand turned and walked back into Reuben's room. The Doctor sat in the comfortable chair on the corner and took out his notepad. He scribbled the date atop the page, and wrote, "Judy continues to believe that her husband, Reuben, is still with her, and that she is interacting with him on a daily basis. But through our therapy, she is now seeking to help Reuben understand that sometimes the people who have left us continue on in our minds, in our mistaken perceptions of reality. I feel it is inevitable that she will soon realize that it is Reuben who is not here, that Reuben continues on only in her own imagination."
The Doctor would have written more, but Judy came back into the room. Now she was dressed as a nurse, carrying a tray with a paper cup of water, and two much tinier paper cups of pills. One cup had blue pills, the other red.
"Doctor," he corrected. Naturally, she ought to have known, he was very particular about his title.
"Oh yes, I'm sorry. Doctor Halberstrand, it is time for us to take our pills."
"Ah, indeed." In order to make the patients comfortable with taking their medications, the institution had established a protocol where the patient and their caretaker would both take pills, at the same time -- the patient's being medicinal, and the caretaker's being simply a harmless placebo
. Doctor Halberstrand took the blue pills first, then handed the water to Judy, so that she could take the red pills. Both smiled and nodded at the job done. Judy went to return the tray to the nurse's station, where, Doctor Halberstrand knew, she would report that Doctor Halberstrand had taken his pills. It helped Judy, Doctor Halberstrand mused, to believe that it was she who was treating him.
Very soon, the Doctor thought, she would make the breakthrough that was needed. He had dedicated himself to her treatment for years now, patiently pretending that it was he who was the patient, living in the institution and sleeping in this room, each day bringing Judy slightly closer to her moment of realization. A worthwhile sacrifice, he felt.
sat upon his anointed throne
, in Heaven
. Before Him, He could see Reuben, Judy, and Doctor Halberstrand, as if He were looking at them through a microscope
. Though He was all-powerful and all-knowing, and had known every detail of their lives before any of them came into being, it still amused Him to no end to watch the unfolding lives of these three. This odd collection of people, so different, and yet.... so human
From nowhere, a door opened into God's presence. Judy stepped through the door, carrying a tray with a paper cup of water, and two much tinier paper cups of pills. "Your Divine Grace," she began. He was very particular about His title. God nodded, expectantly, as she approached.
Reuben continued reading his newspaper. It was the same newspaper he had read every day for years now, which gave him great comfort. He was reading, as he always did on Sunday morning, that story about the man who thought he was God, a doctor named Reuben Halberstrand, who had boarded a bus and shot and killed his wife, Judy, and two other people-- out of love
, believing that he was sending them to Heaven
. Reuben hoped, as he always did, that this poor, delusional man, this scarred and wounded person, was getting the help he needed. Must be terrible, he thought, to do something like that and not even know you've done something wrong. And then, as usual, Reuben turned the page to read the sports news.