How Are You? (The Many Faces of Sad)

I am a therapist, and I counsel people fairly regularly. I see sad in my office all the time, but the sad that I saw when I slowed to take a breath broke my heart. It was the sad of the everyday, the sad that may or may not cross the threshold of a counselor’s office, the sad that often goes unnoticed and unacknowledged because the expected response is “I’m fine”.

Of course, there was the sad on the face of a little girl whose mom said “no” to the toy she wanted at Target. And then there was the sad on the face of the mother who was too tired to keep saying “no” to the constant screams. There was the sad in my heart as the daughter’s eyes lit up with the purchase of the beloved because, although she didn’t know it yet, the little girl would probably be sad again tomorrow. A lot of little kids had that sad… so did a lot of moms.There was the sad on the old man’s face because, to him, it seemed the whole world had forgotten him. Do you know that he cried when I smiled and said “hello”? “No youngin’s done talked to me like that in years.” He didn’t need much, just a smile and a little affirmation that someone cared. A lot of us could do that, but I am sad because not many will.

I watched a woman wander through the baby clothes section. She had tears in her eyes. I knew she was a mother but could not, or at least would not, openly reveal that truth because her sadness was “her fault”. She had no right to be sad because she had made her choice… maybe even more than once.

I also saw sad in the slumped shoulders of the preteen girl who stared at a perfectly airbrushed picture of the model body she knew she’d never have, but would starve in an attempt to get as close to it as possible. She was sad because the desired perfection had nothing to do with a body at all. She just didn’t know that.

At the park, I saw the sadness of a little boy whose daddy yelled when he didn’t catch the ball. I watched the tears trickle down his face and heard his quiet sniffs as he ran after the ball. I could hear him whisper, “I’m sorry, Daddy; I’ll get it next time” as he threw the ball back. A doubtful “OK” was the response.

It was blazing hot, but she was wearing long sleeves as she settled on the piano bench. Her sleeves shifted as she raised her hands to place them on the keyboard, and I could see sad in the pattern of scars along each arm. I felt the hot prickle of sad tingling behind my own eyes.

There is the sad in the eyes of the numerous youth who have lost friends to drugs, alcohol, murder, suicide, and so-called games.

There is sad in the millions of young people who have been let down, betrayed, and violated by those who are supposed to care, to love, to protect.

I can see sad behind the sunglasses hiding a black eye, and I hear sad in the little girl’s voice as she tells me that she “fell down the stairs” while mom tried to catch her.

Many of us feel it in our own hearts as we listen to others say, “I wonder if I will be alone forever”, “It still hurts so much”, and “Am I good enough?”

They say the eyes are the window to the soul, but when was the last time you looked? Or took the time to listen past convenience? Do you know sad when you see it? Have you seen its relentless advance, this ravaging disease that takes its toll on the melancholy warrior with hollow soul-eyes and emaciated spirit-bones? It is not a disease that only happens “far away” to the “unclean” or “really bad”. It happens in the office, the local shopping centers, the park, our homes and our churches. It is a disease that doesn’t just strike at the core of our humanity. It is our humanity, and yet it merits our compassion. It calls for our tears. It calls for our sad.

Whenever I tell people that I am a therapist, I usually hear, “I could never do that. I don’t have enough compassion.” It hurts to see hurt, and I am sad with the many faces of sad. But what hurts the most is that many of those who are sad may never know it, and even though I can hurt with some, there are others will never have the privilege of shared sad.

However, despite the fact that I am called to share sad, it is my duty and my delight to reveal the Truth that venturing beyond “I’m fine” to authenticity through explicit sad has the deeply-rooted potential to be a prelude for Joy.

Oh and by the way: How are you?

©Becky Jorgenson November 2009