(i know the GPA blows ass, still considering an addendum to comment on that. thoughts?)
Around me was a world of blue: the sky as it can only be appreciated from the inside, nearly 6,000 feet up. In stark contrast, under my feet lay the barren moonscape of Mount Washington's famous Tuckerman's Ravine trail, all sharp gray gravel and granite boulders pockmarked by lightning scars. Every rise in the trail promised a glimpse of the summit's radio towers but delivered only another mound of tantalizing rocks. However, far from being disheartened, I was grateful for the prolongation of my journey. The serenity of solitude and the tangible, physical goal of struggling toward a summit were providing a soothing backdrop to a great moral struggle. I was slowly determining to escape my life in a cult.
As newly converted catholics, my parents had been easy prey for an organization characterized by eager youthful faces and couched in the trappings of Catholicism. So I was sent off with the Legion of Christ at the tender age of twelve to dedicate my life to the priesthood at a seminary in distant New Hampshire. For the first two years I was content, a young boy living in a whirlwind schedule of sports and school with sixty like-minded peers, but as I matured I began to realize that my closely regulated world was not what it seemed.
In my third year, in typical teenage fashion, I began questioning the fundamental rules of the organization. Why were we not allowed unsupervised communication with our peers? Why was there no free time in the schedule? Why was incoming and outgoing mail screened? Their response was to link the way things were done to "god's will" and promise that deviations therefrom would guarantee me a spot in hell. I was thus held in place by a powerful combination of guilt and fear.
But motivated by my increasing unhappiness under this regime, I took note of their inconsistencies. For example, preaching about the importance of conscience was followed immediately with directives about how we should allow ourselves to feel about specific situations. We were told that humility was paramount, but the leader, supposedly a living saint, had established his birthday as a celebration on par with Christmas and Easter. Under the weight of many discrepancies such as these I was finally able to break the stranglehold on my conscious and conclude that I was simply being manipulated, leading to the hardest decision I could face.
Separation meant leaving behind everything I knew in the world. And though I had logically dissolved my belief in their authority, the emotional guilt and fear linger strongly. However, I had inadvertently been given the tools I needed to complete my exit by the very methods meant to help contain me. Through all the physical exertion, hiking, calisthenics, and grounds work they had put us through to keep us too busy and tired for questions, they had ingrained in me an exceptional determination. With growing confidence in my conclusion that I was being manipulated, I finally brought my physical determination to bear on my moral dilemma and after five years, I mustered the courage to escape.
Back on Mount Washington, the radio towers did eventually come into view, followed by the weather station, the cog railway, Vermont, Maine and Canada. But like the tantalizing mounds of rock along the trail, the summit proved different than expected. Much more than a destination, it was an opportunity to gain perspective on the smaller surrounding mountains to be climbed next. I am grateful everyday to have escaped, but I do not regret the experience of battling my way out. Now, with nearly ten years between myself and that struggle, I can appreciate the lessons and skills that it taught me and use it to keep the fresh challenges of life in perspective.
I entered my freshman year of college scared out of my mind. I was potentially the only entering freshman who had not had an unregulated conversation with a peer in five years, who could not name a single movie, fashion, or artist from the same period. I was like a foreigner without a mother country for support. But with the never-despair attitude and self-confidence I had gained I set myself wholeheartedly to the task of integrating myself with American culture and emerged from college with friendships I would not trade for the world. As a patent researcher my mind, trained by ignoring the noise of false manipulative arguments, helped me separate irrelevant details and get to the crux of my projects. I began working in patent law because I enjoy the convergence of analysis, strategy and technology that make up its core. But when I had the opportunity to speak directly with inventors and witnessed the passion they had invested in their work, it was my own experience of the suppression of my rights and freedom that made real to me the importance of protecting theirs.