Thales never rises from his wheelchair except to eat, occasionally bathe, excrete or sleep. To rise for any other reason, Thales explains, is too exhausting and overwhelming. He explains how his legs go numb with any exertion beyond the minimal, thereby endangering his health and safety with too much physical stress.
Thales isn’t an old man. Thales has no noticeable deformities. Until a few years ago, Thales was fully capable of walking and engaging with his environment like any normal man does.
Since the onset of his illness, Thales has quit his profession. Now he sits at home, being tended to by his mother who pities her son for the onset of this mysterious, debilitating illness.
I went to visit Thales to see how he was progressing. I sat with him in his room and asked what was happening with him.
Thales explained how his doctors were going to be performing tests to try to determine the cause of his perplexing illness. Thales said some of the tests would be physiological, while others would be psychological.
He explained to me he wasn’t going to give the physical tests much of an effort. He said he didn’t plan or intend to outright fail, but that he wouldn’t be trying very hard to pass.
I was puzzled, so he explained, “If it’s proven I can get up and walk around with ease, or, if my nerves respond normally to the doctor’s taps and pinches, then it suggests my problem is more of the mind than of the body.”
“Of course,” I replied.
“And that means this illness is not one of inability. Rather, it is more an illness of indecision.”
“Yes,” Thales said. “An unwillingness to decide how to progress with my life. It suggests I am lazy. Too lazy to even decided what to do with my life other than sit here paralyzed.”
“In a way it would be an illness decision,” I said. “A decision to live as if you have an illness, without having any true physical limitations.”
“Yes,” he said. “With either case suggesting these last few years I’ve been living as a charlatan. A faker.”
“So you’d rather be crippled than to have lived as a charlatan?”
“Yes,” he said.
“But it seems to me, if you are attempting to fail the physical test, then you are committed to living as a charlatan – the type of character you seem to despise yourself for being.”
“I am not trying to fail the exam,” he said. “I am just not attempting to pass.”
“Then I would add, this tomfoolery with words is the epitome of being a charlatan. A weasel. And not only a weasel to the people you explain yourself to, but even worse and perhaps most importantly, a weasel to yourself.”
“You disgrace me by calling me a weasel,” Thales said. “And you shall be proven wrong and you will have disgraced yourself when the tests finally prove it is a matter of my legs and not my mind that keep me a prisoner of this chair.”
“Don’t you understand?” I asked. “If your illness is proven to be psychological, there is the possibility to improve. If it is a matter of a physiological deterioration, let’s say of the nerves, then there is no chance of recovery. You will be imprisoned in this chair forever. But, if it is an illness of the mind, not even the brain, then you can change your thinking, which, in turn, may cure you of this debilitating illness.”
“I’d rather not be cured,” Thales admitted.
“You don’t want a normal life?”
“Of course I do.”
“But not at any expense? Even the expense of altering the way you think?”
“A change of thought could change everything else,” Thales said. “Absolutely everything. There is a cascading effect to the way a person thinks.”
“And wouldn’t that be a good thing?”
“It’s a frightening thing,” Thales revealed.
“Frightening? How? You may be able to resume a normal life again.”
“I may fail,” he said. “I may fail in trying to reconstruct a normal life, just as I failed in my profession. As you know, even before this illness, I struggled. I was even dismissed from my job for incompetence, so my confidence in achieving very much is very low.”
“You could start anew. It is something to be excited for.”
“I may fail. I may fail in something as ordinary as constructing a simple, productive life for myself. Imagine my disgrace if I fail at something so simple.”
“If you never learn by testing yourself, you will never become stronger or wiser or more confident. Stagnation is the only result from sitting in this chair day after day, never rising, never challenging yourself. Just sitting here day after day being pampered by your pitiable mother who’s been bamboozled, through her genuine love for you, by your nonsense. You should already be ashamed.”
“Ashamed?” Thales asked. “Who shames me? You?”
“Yes,” I said. “And everyone who knows you.”
“Nobody bothers to think of me. Nobody but you even comes to visit. So why should I care about their shaming? So long as I remain here, in this chair and with Mother, their shaming means nothing to me. It doesn’t even exist inside this house.”
“Not only is this house devoid of shame, so too is your mind and heart.”
Thales shifted in his chair.
“Please, keep quiet about all this now,” he said. “For my heart and mind are at peace. And I wish it to remain this way.”
There was a knock at Thales’ door.
His decrepit mother entered, delicately carrying a bowl of steaming, fragrant liquid.
“It’s hot,” she told her son. “It’ll take away the chill. You know how hard it is to get around when you’re chilled.”
“Place it by the window, Mother,” Thales said.
She sat the bowl on the table by the window. The old woman turned to me.
“Would you like some?” she asked. “It’s good for all sorts of ailments.”
“No thank you,” I said. “I feel fine.”
She turned back to her son.
“Eat it before it gets too cool,” she told Thales. “It works best when it’s hot.”
“I will,” he said.
His mother left the room.
I asked Thales what it was.
“Some sort of magic potion, she thinks. With all sorts of simmered herbs that are supposed to heal.”
Thales wheeled over the the window. He stood to open it. He poured the hot concoction out the window, then sat back in his chair.
“Is she trying to poison you?” I asked. “Could it be that her potion is the reason for your illness?”
“No,” Thales said. “I’ve touched it only once. But it makes her feel better to think I’ve taken it. It gives her hope, but it tastes horrid.”
“She is a kind old lady,” I said. “Kind and worried.”
“She pities me,” Thales said. “And her pity is all I have.”
“She is old and her days are numbered. What will you have when she, along with her pity, are gone?”
“I don’t know,” Thales said.
“Perhaps today is a good day to consider.”
Thales took a deep, exhausted breath.
“I am growing tired now,” Thales said. “I am feeling overwhelmed and weary. I’m sorry for being rude, but I must ask you to leave. I have grown so unaccustomed to company, this visit has put me in a dreadful state.”
I apologized. I stood to leave.
“And on the way out,” Thales added. “Could you tell my mother of my sudden weariness? Only she understands how to sooth me when these bouts of exhaustion arise.”
I agreed. I exited the room and told his mother. She attentively scampered back inside to ease the weariness of her beloved son.