My oldest son Chris has a lot of feelings. He is emotionally honest. If he is sad, he cries. If he is happy, he laughs. If he is angry, he stomps his feet, squints his eyes and then makes this weird huffing noise. He keeps it simple. This ability to freely (and appropriately) express emotion is — after his cheekbones — the thing I admire most about him. There is no pretense with Chris.
Still I worry that this emotional freedom will get him into trouble. I worry he will give his heart away too easily only to have it returned broken in a million pieces. I worry that others will see him as an easy mark and take advantage of his kind heart. I worry people will mistake that same heart he wears on his sleeve for weakness and underestimate his strength and his ability to survive.
Of course it could be that unlike the rest of us, he has simply not yet learned to pretend. To shade the truth. Someone asks us how we are doing and, even on the worst day of our life, we reply, I’m fine. We routinely assure our friends that we are happy, leaving off the qualifier: enough. We smile through our anger and we laugh through our tears. We swallow our rage and then scream it into pillows. Ulcers form and resentments grow.
Unable — or unwilling — to feel our true feelings we seek comfort in the superficial. Life is so much simpler when you don’t have to deal with what’s really bothering you. So instead of being upset because our lives maybe didn’t turn out the way we had hoped or because we hate our jobs or because we’re forty pounds overweight and lonely, we find release in superficial emotional masturbation. We scream about gender inequality and racism and dead celebrities as if these things have anything to do with our lives, let alone what it is we are actually feeling.
It’s much easier to feel someone else’s anger and sadness than it is your own.
I am proud of Chris’s emotional honesty. I love his laughter, his tears, even that weird huffing noise. I hope he never learns to pretend. I hope if he needs to scream, he screams — not into a pillow — but out loud for all the world to hear. I hope he understands that happiness begins and ends with him and if he isn’t happy, he needs to change it. I hope he never succumbs to the superficiality of emotional groupthink. I hope he has the courage and wisdom to always be the person he is now.