“Unconquerable.” That’s what I tried to tell myself after waking up from a ten-day coma. The thirteen-letters of my favorite adjective stuck in my mouth as they pulled out my feeding tube. During my senior year of high school, an aggressive form of pneumonia filled my lungs with infected fluid. The disease forced the hospital to put me in a medically induced coma. After waking up, the muscles in my body had atrophied to the point where even walking was impossible. It felt like someone had turned the gravity of the room up a notch, as every remedial task was exhausting. Sitting in the hospital bed, I thought to myself, “Unconquerable? How could I be unconquerable? I can barely even feed myself!”
Just a few months before my diagnosis, I was introduced to the works of Ayn Rand. At the time, my high school’s curriculum was filled with literature that praised the values of collectivism. Postmodern relativism was all but the default philosophical position of the faculty. “If you are white, you are an oppressor. If you are a man, you are an oppressor,” an English teacher lectured to us. After a tutor noticed my apathy with the school curriculum, she left a red and white copy of The Fountainhead on my desk. Holding the novel in my hands, I thought it would be just another piece of collectivist literature, filled with hopeless characters that ridiculed objectivity and discarded truth. When I finally sat down and brought myself to read the first page, I realized just how mistaken I was. I finished the 800-page book in a week.
The characters in Ayn Rand’s novels are different from the self-loathing characters that infested my high school books. It is such a rare sight to see someone like Howard Roark, a man who never compromises his moral principles or yields to the weight of the collective. As I sat in the hospital bed, I promised myself that: “I will succeed. I will recover, and when I do, I will live my life with the same unrelenting determination of one of Rand’s Heroes.” If Atlas could bear the whole weight of the world on his shoulders, then I could force myself to get up and walk again. When the trauma from my painful memory of the disease came, I willed myself not to give up. When anxiety and depression crippled me, I forced myself to stand tall. When nightmares lied to me and told me that I was weak, the fire of my soul burned them all away.
Thanks to Ayn Rand, I discovered an objective purpose in life. Even though I suffered with mental illness for years after the coma, I always kept pushing forward into each new day. Regaining the muscle lost during the coma, I became a college athlete who is stronger than ever before. I took classes in philosophy, and I excelled in ethics. Every new lesson intensified my passion for learning. I studied political science and philosophy, and even started writing articles for my school newspaper. With reason as my guide, I began to rebuild my life around a central goal; to preserve individual liberty in our country. Now, just three months after graduation, I serve the Commonwealth of Virginia by working for the Lieutenant Governor. Every day I come to work motivated by the fundamental goal to protect freedom and the political values of Objectivism.
If I could go back in time and give my younger self advice, I would say this: let the fire of your soul light your path forward. With virtue as your flint and truth as your steel, set your heart ablaze. Understand that you are capable of limitless potential. Some negative people say that truth does not exist, and life has no purpose. They say that life is just a cruel game of pushing a boulder up a mountain, only to watch it fall again. Even if that were true, then push that boulder so hard that it crumbles to dust in your hand and walk away as a free man! Man has pushed through mountains and tamed the elements to give himself freedom. Man has soared to new heights never thought achievable. If I pushed through living in that coma, I can push through any obstacle. Man’s spirit, like my own, is unconquerable.