Recently, I had the blessing to listen to a family friend that just came out of prison after spending 20 years (almost half of her life) there. She came to me because she figured that, as a psychologist, I could help her cope with how overwhelming it’s been to be “free”. It was the one thing she had dreamt about for 7,300 days of her life. In her mind, freedom was leaving her restricted four corners to enter a world with endless possibilities and liberty. Freedom was going home and that’s everything she could think of for twenty years.

Here she is now. Home? It sure doesn’t feel like what she imagined for half of her life.  My friend is free, yet she feels overwhelmed, depressed, and disoriented. I mean, just take technology for instance. How many advances has she missed in the last two decades? Smart phones? So smart, they make us feel humiliatingly dumb at times. She’s lost.  Literally lost. All the added streets, homes, and expressways make her town of origin a chaotic labyrinth. So much has changed. Mom isn’t even part of this earthly life anymore, and she sure was a big piece of the puzzle she called home.

In addition to what is expected in such a transition and adjustment period, my friend is having a hard time with the way we, “free people”, conduct our daily lives. We are always so busy, in such a hurry, and with no time for anything.  She, on the other hand, has all the time in the world while she goes through the process that will allow her to apply for a job or even leave the county limits. In her words, people here are always “rushing to do nothing”. WOW! Simple words signifying a profound truth… at least for me.

Have you ever found yourself rushing to get somewhere, running to your car, driving unsafely, speeding… to then get to a red light and lose all that you had advanced? And… Surprise! Remember that car you cut off? It’s right behind you waiting in that same light.  Yep, that’s him flipping you off. That is just a glimpse of “rushing to do nothing.”

I oftentimes find myself telling people, “you know I’m always like a crazy person.” What I mean is that I am too busy with life and have limited time with the demands of my precious underage slave masters. Being a mom of little kids that fully depend on you may be time consuming and overwhelming, so I would always blame my craziness on this phase I’m in. However, as my friend described other “crazy people” whose children are all grown up, I realized that living the way I do is a decision I’ve made, regardless of my life circumstances. I’m “crazy” now and I will be crazy then, because crazy is all I’ll know…  I’ll rush and hurry, just to find myself detained by a red light.

Here’s the thing with living a “crazy” or hectic life. Besides the obvious impact on your health and anxiety level from living on edge, my friend made me realize other more important consequences. You see, I’m sure there’s a part of her that secretly wishes to go back to prison. She was not free to go out and about as she pleased, but she sure was not a slave to time, routine, schedule, bills, credit, and material things. She was free to tuck in the friends she had made in prison. She had plenty of time to sit down and talk to them, listen, and hug them when hope and faith were low. She lent them a hand, gave a word of advice, or just accompanied them in good days and in bad. She demonstrated empathy and came up with brilliant ideas to combat the 150-degree excruciating heat they endured. She hung out with the mentally ill, she didn’t pass judgment on criminals, and she learned to see good in the evil. She made her bed daily, cleaned her little corner, and took care of her few belongings. She was poor, yet rich because she never lacked the essentials. She prayed on her knees every morning so that God would give her the strength and wisdom to help her peers. She was God’s instrument in a place were most people question His existence. She was light. Her life was filled with purpose. She was free in a confinement.

As I listened to my friend describe the life she had created in her four corners, I almost envied her for going to prison.  And that is how the one that came for psychological advice ended up making the therapist her disciple. My friend made me realize that freedom may exist, even when one’s liberty has been robbed (through imprisonment, communism, disease, a relationship…). Conversely, one may choose to be captive in a free world.  That’s how I’ve lived: imprisoned by an endless to-do list of trivial tasks that steal time from what matters. I am the queen of amazing ideas and great intentions that are never concretized because there’s no time. Now I wonder: all for what? What will happen if I don’t do items 1-20 of my to-do list? If I don’t fold clothes, we have to get them from the laundry basket, rather than the drawer; if I don’t buy steak, we have to eat chicken or canned tuna; if I don’t go shopping, we have to wear what we have. Not the end of the world, huh? Now what happens if I don’t get around items 21-25? If I don’t visit my friend at the hospital, take my grandparents out for lunch, help out my friend with her newborn baby, or spend quality time with my little ones? NOTHING. Nothing happens, and that’s what’s sad. The absence of immediate negative consequences further perpetuate our inaction and poor time management. In the mean time, lives are kept untouched by us and we become alienated from others’ pain and needs. Why? Because our priorities are off and we are too busy to get around to the last items of our to-do list.

We are called to do SOMETHING, not NO-THING. And that something has nothing to do with laundry and work. We were created to love our neighbor, to serve, to forgive, to pray, and to be merciful. Those are the things that will make us rich and worthy of a life way longer than this one. Those are the to do’s that should never be left unmarked. Those are the items that should be prioritized.  That is where freedom lies. That is where my friend’s home is. She had what mattered in prison and I know she will soon find it here as well.

If you live “like a crazy person” and are always “rushing to do nothing”, take a second to reflect on what really matters. If you were imprisoned today, what would be your legacy to those left behind? Another one can fold clothes and take your job position, but can someone else give the love that only you are capable of transmitting? Ask yourself what will happen if… Don’t blame it on the kids or the job. It’s a choice. You are the only one responsible for making it while you still can.

–John Burroughs


Betsy Guerra, PhD, is a trilingual (Spanish, English, Portuguese) Licensed Psychotherapist with over 16 years of clinical experience. She has been in private practice since 2007, serving individuals of different cultural backgrounds and a wide range of psychological concerns. Her focus is mostly psychodynamic (helping clients connect with their unconscious and identify the behaviors that are linked to it), but she also implements cognitive-behavioral techniques, hypnotherapy, and spirituality, based on the client's demands. In addition to her clinical work, Dr. Guerra serves as a motivational speaker and head of a non-profit organization that helps families in distress.