Fragile, Precious Miracles

Now: In the mail, a letter from Ben’s Community College. Out of old habit, I feel a tightening in my chest: Oh, no. What now? It takes a long time to erase long-reinforced reactions to bad news.

This? Good news – a form letter of the best kind. Ben has made the Dean’s list for the third semester in a row!
“Dear Ben…You have now earned a place on the permanent roster of students with distinguished performance….we are proud of you and recognize that students like you contribute in special ways to the College.”  An A in “Teaching Art to Children”, a B in “Theatre Performance” from a professor who’s a tough grader.

OK, the B in theatre was difficult to attain, for this reason: the professor did not know Ben had schizophrenia.  Good news/bad news/ difficult dilemma for me as Mom/conservator.  Although Ben’s effort had been unfailingly positive-  all assignments in on time, all lines memorized, performance and teamwork reliable – this teacher likes to grade by comparing the students to professional acting standards.  Was focus consistent? Did the actor stay in the moment, listen well to other actors, etc?  He had met with Ben to tell him that his acting skills needed work – could have connected more with the other actors, etc.  He was going to give him a C+ or B-, although he was pleased with Ben’s effort.

The dilemma – do I butt in?  After all, if Ben’s disability is so well managed that it is no longer obvious to everyone (as it had been a few years ago when Ben was sent to the hospital after an episode of psychosis in the cafeteria), is it fair to expect complete focus and connection from someone whose illness affects those very qualities? Would it be fair to grade a physical education student on his running time if he was recovering from knee surgery, or if he had MS?

I end up calling the professor, just to “share the information”, even though legally he cannot discuss the grade with me.  He tells me he “knew something was off” with Ben but had no idea it was schizophrenia.  Maybe that’s why all the kids hugged Ben good bye when the play was over but no one volunteered to give him a ride to the cast party.  “Something is off.” This breaks my heart for Ben’s sake, as if he were a 5-year-old not invited to the birthday party.

Still…he makes friends at school, and loves it. He is choosing courses that he can handle, and he actually cares about getting assignments in on time, and about doing well.  He is so proud to be on the Dean’s list, even as a part-time student. Eight years ago he was telling me that school was just a government plot against everyone and he was too smart to fall for that crap.  Five years ago he was choosing a course load that he could never have handled – honors philosophy, etc – and failed time and time again.  Now he is earning A’s and B’s.

Ben is especially proud of the B in theatre.  I think the info in my phone call helped the professor see things a bit differently, though I can’t be sure about that.  I just know that, this time, I had to say something. Ben will never know I made the call.  He so totally earned that B.

Memoir, Ben Behind His Voices: One Family’s Journey from Chaos to Hope, represented by Claire Gerus agency. For info contact

0 thoughts on “Fragile, Precious Miracles

  1. This post made me cry. I know that 'uh-oh, what now' feeling, that tightening in your chest… for me the tightening was in my upper abdomen, just below my heart. And the good news makes me want to fly! I get it.

  2. I am just starting on this journey with my fiance's son. Your blog fills me alternatively with dread and with hope. I know the journey will be long and fraught with pitfalls and here I thought it had been trying up till now.

    Thanks for writing – can't wait to read your book.

  3. thanks to you both for commenting so beautifully, and truthfully. Yes, it is quite the journey – one we would never have chosen, but love keeps us on it. My fiance was greatly helped by taking NAMI's Family-to-Family course, and I have found so much support, wisdom, knowledge, and hope in teaching it. Info at It's too hard to do this in the dark, and too hard if you feel alone. thanks again!

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