our youngest child, chih, leaves today for the east coast. he teaches ninth grade algebra for teach for america, in fall river, massachusetts. as i ponder his departure, i’m filled with emotions – mostly the emotions associated with growth and change, and i cry with joy. i look at him, now over six feet tall, and i am astounded at the young man before me. it was not so long ago that i held this boy on my hip answering his many questions.
i’ll never forget my daughter, riki, asking me after her long day at school, ‘how do you do it?’ – ‘how do you stay at home and answer all his questions.’ and indeed, this little guy had a ton of questions. at first they were a barrage of simple ‘whys’ – ‘why does the dog bark and the cow moo?’, ‘why do you drive slow, and dad drives fast?’ but as he grew, the questions became more complex, ‘why is the moon at night and the sun at day?’, ‘why do dogs only get to live short lives, and people get to live longer?’ ‘why are we here on earth?…how did we get here?’ ‘who is god?’…
this little guy never missed a thing. he was constantly listening, observing and asking. he was in constant ‘awe’ of his surroundings, forever teachable. and so he also heard his father tell him, ‘big boys don’t cry…be a man and walk it off’ – something his father, and his father, and his father had told him. when chih was a teenager, i’ll never forget, listening to him tell our family therapist ‘i’m like my dad, i don’t have emotions,’ as tears were streaming down his face. i would listen to him cry in the shower, hitting the walls with his fists, and then emerge silent, afraid to share what was hurting him inside.
our society scorns the thought of sharing our innermost fears and emotions. our boys especially are taught that crying is not acceptable. and often our most sensitive people are those men, who find themselves depressed, afraid to ask for help. my husband was in his 40’s when he found himself frozen in fear of the emotions that he was feeling, and afraid to admit he had them. at age 50, for the first time ever he cried, in the safety of a room of family and therapists, who were there to support him in his efforts to confront his past, and who knew that it was okay to have these emotions, and that it was healthy to express them.
did i ask for depression to become a part of our happy family? of course not. have we learned from this journey? by all means, yes. i’m grateful that our children now are aware that depression can hit anyone, that it can be passed on from generation to generation, that is it nothing to be ashamed of, that it is an illness that can be treated, that when people struggle with it, it is real, and that they are not alone. and so we have ‘dad’ to thank for the lessons we have learned. for in his battle with depression, our whole family has learned to be more aware, more compassionate and understanding of all people, including ourselves. our boys know that it’s okay to cry, that it’s actually good for the heart.
depression is an illness that may not be apparent on the outside. the mask that is presented to the outside is often the opposite of what is in the inside.
as i listen through my heart, i can hear the pain in his heart. and in hearing the pain, i pause and listen even more deeply. i discard any judgement, and any desire to fix. i know that sometimes he just wants to be heard, and sometimes it’s in silence that i touch. it’s in that space of listening that he’s most understood, and he knows he’s not alone, that he’s accepted and oh so loved.
so as chih departs, i am grateful that as a family we’ve experienced pain, because it is in the sharing of our deepest fears, our deepest emotions, that we’ve furthered our bond. when we found ourselves dancing and singing at ren’s wedding, enjoying the little and big things in life, we were that much more connected. ‘i know i’m whole, i know the joy, and i know what it means to suffer. i know compassion now’, as chih expressed in gratitude.