May 17, 2020 COVID-19 Faith Reflection—Truly Crazy
A Beautiful Mind
won the 2002 Academy Award for Best Picture. The movie is about a brilliant but schizophrenic professor at Princeton University, John Forbes Nash, Jr. Another professor at Princeton, Patrick Deneen, commented that the movie is also about John Nash’s wife, Alicia, struggling to do what was best for her husband even if her actions were in their own way crazy.
In the movie, before Nash and Alicia meet, Nash is a graduate student at Princeton. He and three friends drinking at the university pub see a ravishing blonde surrounded by four attractive brunettes walk into the pub. Nash and his friends naturally start drooling. They all intend to go after the bombshell blonde. One friend declares, “Let the best man win!”
But John Nash, in a moment of insight, realizes that it didn’t have to be a zero-sum game where one wins and everyone else loses. Nash proposes that the friends avoid the blonde, since they will get in each others’ way and alienate both the blonde and the brunettes. Instead, by concentrating on the brunettes and ignoring the blonde, he and his friends will mutually benefit. Everyone wins (except the blonde).
By seeing that enlightened self-interest gets the girls, they can adjust their strategy from competition to cooperation. Instead of “what’s best for me”, resulting in a win-lose outcome, “what’s best for us” creates a win-win. This rational choice theory becomes known as the Nash Bargaining Solution.
Later in the film, another seduction begins. This time, the beautiful Alicia puts the moves on John Nash. In watching the film you can’t help but wonder what she sees in him. Alicia not only puts up with Nash’s male chauvinism and total lack of social graces, she simply adores him. Her initial devotion doesn’t make sense. She is bright enough and attractive enough to find a saner, nicer man to marry.
Her devotion gets put to the test when Nash’s schizophrenia worsens. In his paranoia, he thinks he is a secret codebreaker for the CIA pursued by enemy agents. He invents people that he talks to but no one else sees. Thinking one of his imaginary friends is watching the baby in the bathtub, Nash nearly lets their baby drown. (The book by Sylvia Nasar chronicles far more troubling moments.)
His psychiatrist recommends putting Nash in an institution permanently, as he might be a threat to himself and others. Alicia, after all, cannot be expected to care for such a troubled man. Trying to decide what to do, Alicia asks her husband if he would ever hurt her. He honestly replies, “I don’t know.”
She decides to stay with him, in harm’s way, suffering with him his mental illness, watching powerless as he goes through ten weeks of painful daily insulin shock therapy. She stays with him even though his medication makes him impotent. She was not enabling his destructive behavior, what is called today “co-dependency”; she was not playing the martyr. She acted according to one principle—what’s best for him.
Through his wife’s care, John Nash learns to live with his schizophrenia. He eventually even gets recognized with the highest possible award, the Nobel Prize, for his rational choice theory. According to his formula, enlightened “what’s best for us” self-interest pays off better than the self-centered “what’s best for me” approach.
But in the movie, Alicia does not follow his enlightened formula. She pursues John Nash not for the sake of what’s best for herself, or even what’s best for them as a couple, but what’s best for him, period.
For Nash, you start with your own interests and then think of mutually advantageous strategy. For Alicia, she thought only of her husband and giving herself away in love.
If she had followed her husband’s rational choice theory, she would have left him, and he would have been lost in an institution. Ironically, her irrational devotion to him allowed him to recapture his sanity. Her irrational love redeemed him. When the movie ends, you wonder who had the more beautiful mind.
We’re not brilliant like John Nash. We’re not a movie star like Russell Crowe. The most we can say about ourselves is that, at our best, we move from thinking “what’s best for me” to “what’s best for us.” In a rare moment, we can even forget ourselves and seek only, “what’s best for you.” Somewhat like Jesus Christ did.
“For Christ also suffered for sins once, the righteous for the sake of the unrighteous, that he might lead you to God” (1 Peter 3:17). Through giving himself for us on the cross, through his mad irrational passion for us, we have been redeemed.
Good news! Public morning Mass resumes this Monday, May 18 at the regular time of 8:30 a.m. The main doors of the church open at 8:00 AM and the church remains open after Mass until 12:00 NOON for personal prayer. We will continue livestreaming morning Mass. Public Sunday Mass resumes on May 31. More details at
. Welcome back!
Buried in the news reports on the pandemic, the people of the Navajo Nation are being infected with the coronavirus at some of the highest rates in the country. Our bishops have this to say. “The virus is exacerbating health disparities and long-standing social inequalities facing Native and Indigenous communities. Adequate funding for the Indian Health Service has long been a challenge, and there are reports of shortages of medical personnel and hospital beds. We are hopeful that the U.S. Senate’s recent unanimous confirmation of a director for the Indian Health Service affirms the recognition for the need of a strong advocate for the health needs of tribal communities. It is also good that additional resources were allocated in recent legislation, and it is essential that this funding reach its intended recipients as soon as possible. We implore lawmakers and government officials to protect the life and dignity of Native and Indigenous peoples by working with tribal leaders to ensure strong support and ample resources to protect their communities, including resources to adequately respond to large Native populations living in urban areas and resources devoted to addressing underlying medical conditions that increase the threat of COVID-19 for Native populations.”
Nativity Longwood .
on Sunday, May 17 at 10:00AM