In September 1984, I met an angel.
Regina was different from me, yet we became friends. Regina was a young, single, Brazilian woman who had worked in Brazil as a model, an actress and an English teacher. She was proud of her Brazilian Catholic heritage, yet she wasn't pushy about it. She had come to the University of Kansas from Rio de Janeiro to study television and movie production.
And she could smell a judgmental attitude several miles away.
I was a married professional student with two children , nearing the onset of middle age, just beginning my third stint in graduate school. I had put myself through five degrees and twelve years of college, seven of which my wife, JaNella, had endured with me. Yet, I still didn't know where I was going.
I had received Jesus Christ as my savior, after the Protestant understanding of salvation, in 1971. During a time of great upheaval in my life, a friend had told me that God loved me and that Jesus would solve all of my problems and give me peace. However, after I received Jesus, my problems remained. I felt peace for about one week. And in the ensuing years I nearly forgot about love.
By 1984 I had long been a member of churches of the strictest sort, ones that condemned watching movies, ones that were pushy in evangelism, ones that were judgmental towards anyone who didn't behave according to their rules. My faith knew how to speak only a few words of King James English.
At the same time, I had a serious problem - bipolar disorder. Although this disorder had already led to several disgraceful public incidents, no psychiatrist had yet correctly diagnosed it.
Throughout the fall of 1984, Regina and I became closer. JaNella also met Regina and fell in love with her. Regina taught me many things about myself and about Brazilian culture. She shared with me one of her favorite musical forms - the samba - which I found unexpectedly relaxing. We also had a memorable snowball fight, and since Regina never saw snow in Brazil she really enjoyed it.
We discussed politics, we discussed religion and we discussed life. In the beginning, I tried pushing my own religion (Regina was very patient), but by the next spring, I started listening to her simple philosophy - her insistence on love.
She gently reproved my judgmental attitudes. She could see them even when I didn't recognize them, and when I looked a little deeper, she was always right.
And, amazingly, as she learned about me, including the disgraceful incidents and psychiatrists in my past, she accepted me. This was totally unexpected. Although the formal theology in my head taught me forgiveness, deep in my heart I believed my sins were so bad that even God couldn't accept me.
So when Regina embraced me in spite of my faults, the experience was overwhelming.
But then I had a brief recurrence of the manic pole of the as-yet-undiagnosed bipolar disorder. This included more disgraceful, sexually immoral behavior, a front page newspaper story, and an arrest.
While many of our friends abandoned us at that time, Regina sought us out and offered her help. By this time, my manic phase had precipitated into a profound and suicidal depression, so her offer of help was vital. Her friendship sustained my life. Regina also took long walks with my wife, and encouraged and counseled her. Regina graduated from KU in May 1985, but remained in Lawrence until mid-July for our benefit.
I went to court, then entered the state hospital, serving my sentence. Regina made sure that JaNella was okay, then returned to Brazil.
Her departure was not the end of the story, however. We corresponded for the next five years. She also interned with a firm in Philadelphia during the first part of 1986, and was able to visit us once. She conversed mostly with my wife on that visit. However, I also had a conversation with her. I wanted to repay her in some way for what she had done. Her response? That repaying her would never be possible, and that I should show love to others instead.
After Regina returned to Brazil once again, our correspondence delved into deep areas of faith. My approach to life, though changing, was still confused. Regina's was the first voice I heard clearly declaring that God was not as I had imagined him - a stern giant in the sky, holding a club, just waiting to bash me if I stepped out of line. I had understood that my salvation primarily gave me a fresh start, with past sins forgiven, but that from there on I was responsible to fulfill all of God's demands without much help from him. I constantly expected to be punished for my failures.
In the midst of my confusion, though, Regina's message remained clear. God is love. The universe is founded on love, not retribution. I should overcome the sense of judgment hanging over my head, and live in love. God, who is love, would not leave me without the power to do so. My faith slowly learned to speak Portuguese.
Then, in 1990 or early in 1991, when I understood these things sufficiently that I could build upon them myself, the letters from Regina ceased. In May of 1991, a fire also burned our record of her address. We still do not know where she is. It is as if she disappeared. Now, while my rational mind tells me that Regina was only a mortal human being, I also look back and see a miraculous spiritual force. Regina came when she was needed. She broke barriers to help us let in love. She did much to save both my marriage and my life. She stayed just long enough to help us embrace love, and then disappeared without a trace.
So, while my rational mind keeps saying human, my heart suspects an angel.
When Jesus told the parable about the "Good Samaritan," he was answering a question. The question he was answering was "who is my neighbor?" The answer the parable gave was "my neighbor is anyone who has mercy on me," even if that person is someone very different from me or someone my people hate. Regina is my neighbor.
Also, see my current public Linked-In profile.. Home.
© 1995, 1999 by Ian Bruce Johnson.
This story was written in 1995. While my doctors have changed my diagnosis since 1995from bipolar disorder to Asperger's Disorderand now no longer believe I was bipolar, Regina's past major role in our lives has not changed. It is still described well by the story I wrote more than 20 years ago.