"Be kind, for everyone you meet carries a heavy burden."
Even before my uncle died to suicide a couple of weeks ago, this oft-quoted aphorism is one I began to think a lot about recently. It's not often that we stop to consider that the cashier at the supermarket may be gruff because she's exhausted from working three jobs to put food on her family's table. Or that the guy who cut us off on the freeway is racing to get home because he just got the dreaded call that his mom was about to die, her chemotherapy treatments having proved ineffective months earlier. It's easier to assume that these individuals, these people with their own struggles, fail to understand the importance of customer service or proper driving etiquette.
With my uncle's death, I began to think about the aphorism from a different perspective. What about the people who, rather than demonstrating some public display of their struggles, carry their own heavy burden without anyone knowing because we seem to live in a world in which people don't really care to know? More than once in recent weeks I heard someone explain that the answer to the question, "How are you?", must never come with an answer other than, "Fine, I'm just fine."
The day after I received the call from my brother letting me know that our uncle had shot himself in his home, I took my son to preschool as was our normal routine. I wore my "Fine, I'm just fine" smile on my face. I responded to the usual "How's it going?" questions with my "Fine, I'm just fine" responses. I walked around in a "Fine, I'm just fine" fog until a new friend asked me, "How are you?" And so I revealed to her what was underneath this false exterior. Whether it was her specific choice of words, the sincerity in her voice, or the fact that she asked, not while simultaneously sending a text message, I don't quite know. What I do know is that I was comforted to have someone out there who knew that I, in fact, was not fine at all.
With a Perspective, I'm Rachel Gibson.
Rachel Gibson is an environmental health advocate living on the Peninsula.