I was listening to WBEZ, which is the local NPR radio station here in Chicago, as I was making my way home from work. The station was broadcasting a story was concerning a married couple that had interviewed each other about their life together. At first I really wasn’t paying any attention to what was being said because my mind was somewhere else trying to escape the drudgery of being stuck in rush hour traffic. Slowly, but surely, their conversation earned my attention. From what I was able to gather, the husband was a Pakistani student here on a student Visa. The wife was born and raised in some rural town in Washington State. They met while they were in collage. She asked him about his first few years in this country. He mentioned how it was a mostly pleasant experience until 9/11 happened. That after the attacks he couldn’t help but feel a little alienated. He mentioned how scared he was every time he had to report in into the immigration office. And how much the thought of being deported frightened him. The woman mentions how she recalls her husband being very sad, especially when his parents were denied a visa, and were unable to attend their wedding. He mentioned how so many of the conversation Pakistani people tend to have are very somber in nature; because off all the tragedy that their lives seemed to be ruled by. They way he saw it, the Pakistani people are “married to their sadness”. I knew exactly what he meant. That was something that I have felt since I was a young man. I just had never heard anyone put it so elegantly.
My great great grandmother on my father side was a freed slave in Puerto Rico. My Great grandmother outlived her husband and 3 of her sons. Her youngest son being killed after he was stabbed trying to break up a fight. My grandmother had two of her 3 children die before they reached the age of 1. My grandfather was born out of wedlock in Puerto Rico, an island that was conservatively catholic during the 1920’s. My Grandmother, from my mother side, made illegal moonshine to support her 5 children. One of them dies before the age of 6. Both my parents dealt with Alcoholic fathers. My father fell into drugs. My mother grew up in absolutely impoverished conditions. And when she finally was able to climb out of a life of extreme poverty, she was then faced with dealing with years of psychological and physical abuse at the hands of my father. Much like the young man on the radio, my family and I have been married to our sadness for well over a century. That made me question whether or not it is possible to divorce yourself from all that sadness? I know many of my family members have tried to rise above it. They gave it the old college try, only to allow themselves to be dragged back into the depths of despair at the first sign of adversity. We are survivors, but as I have mentioned in the past, I sure as hell wouldn’t say we are any good at thriving. It’s almost as if sadness has become a family earl um that gets handed down from one generation to the next. With each new generation finding new ways of allowing that sadness to define them.
This makes me think about my own relationship with sadness. I like to compare it to a spirit. You can’t see it. You don’t hear it. And yet when you are alone, in the dark, you get this eerie feeling that it is there somewhere in the dark, watching you. Even when I’m feeling relatively content or having a good time, at some point, a sad thought will intrude, pulling me out of the movement. Most of the time the thought is random. It might be an argument that I may had had recently, or about my dissatisfaction at work, other times it will be a sad memory of something that had happened years prior. I’m so accustomed to this, that now a days I don’t really even acknowledge it when it happens. So if I’m with the wifey or hanging out with my friends they rarely see any change in my outer demeanor. Although there are times when a particularly sad thought will come out of the blue and I will find myself staring off into nothing like Gob in Arrested Development, but without “The Sound of Silence” playing in the background. However even then, only my wife will be astute enough to notice that I’m somewhere else. She’ll ask me where I am or what I am thinking. Hearing her voice tends to pull me out of my trance. But I rarely tell her what I’m really thinking about. Not because I have anything to hide, but because I rather not linger a moment longer with my thoughts.
There are days when I feel would like nothing more than to divorce myself from my sadness. To be freed off it. Yet I feel that it is so entrenched within me, that if I were ever to lose it, that I run a risk of losing a part of myself. Yet all that sadness is a part of my family history. It is part of my family crest. My sadness is as much a part of me as the flesh on my bones, and the beating heart in my chest. It is my muse. It has been my one and only constant. I’m not sure if I would have much of an identity without it. I use my sadness to motivate me. I find it to be a powerful tool when thinking creatively. I don’t fare so well when I try to do something creative when I’m happy. I don’t know why that is, but it seems like I only have something to say when I tap into that darkness. And if I am feeling particularly good when I sit down to write, I have to manipulate my thoughts and feelings by playing music that is melancholy in nature. Like Shakespeare wrote “My only love sprung from my only hate.” As you can see, I’ve lived with it so long now that I’ve romanticized it. And in doing so, I’ve managed to make it not so much appealing, but perhaps more tolerable. I don’t know.
I guess what I’m trying to say is that in the end I’m not exactly sure how I feel about my sadness. I know that without it I might be much more upbeat. I wouldn’t feel so cynical all the time. I sure as hell would be more optimistic, and hopeful like Bob Marley, and think that “Everything gonna be alright”. I guess at this point in my life all I can do is try to make something positive out of it, and hope that my marriage to sadness fares better than it did for most of my family.