Burnt Bridges and Diverging Paths

Many of my blog topics center on continuous changes I’ve made to become a better person for myself. Something I haven’t written about is the group of people I left behind who contributed a lot to who I am today. The group of people that I cut out from my life with rusted scissors that left sharp edges and scars. In all honesty, I wasn’t a very good friend in high school or the beginning of college – I’m skipping over middle school because we were all a bit too emo for anyone to really understand us at that point in our lives.

The most important thing in the entire world in high school was me. As much as I loved my friends and some of my classmates, life was always about me; and not in a positive-I-love-myself sort of way. Every day was a struggle just trying to convince myself that my friends weren’t talking behind my back or spreading rumors. There was absolutely no reason for me to think this; I was fortunate enough to never be bullied throughout my life, and have always been extroverted and willing to be the first one to start a conversation. However, I was filled with so much self-hatred that I couldn’t imagine anyone genuinely want to spend time with me.

This impacted my friendships: I would always be on edge, and tend to be dramatic about anything that happened ever to ensure that people were paying attention to me throughout the entirety of the conversation. Looking back, I’m not sure why people stuck around, but I figured it must have at least been entertaining.

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Princess Lily, on her throne, world revolving around her

I was recently reading some How to have a better relationship with your significant other and came across the rule: Don’t apologize to each other, say thank you (obviously, there are some times when you do need to apologize). I’m definitely one of those people who say sorry after I do anything ever: Did I cry over spilled milk because it broke the floodgate of three weeks of stress? I’m sorry. Did I unfairly direct my anger and frustration onto someone who doesn’t deserve it? I’m sorry. Instead of saying sorry, the article suggested saying Thank you. For instance, Thank you for being there for me while I broke down and thank you for allowing me to express my stress. Thank you for not yelling back and telling me I’m crazy and instead trying to talk it out with me. Thank you allows you to appreciate their help and support instead of putting the blame on (and making it about) you.

So, to everyone from high school who I left behind or who I ended up drifting away from as we went to rival colleges, thank you for all of your support throughout high school, for eating lunch with me every day, and hanging out with me at school because there’s nowhere better to hang out after school than Troy High’s orchestra room.

In college, I started burning bridges and cutting people out of my life who I considered even mildly problematic. Those who I called my best friends, the ones who were #squad in high school, began changing, and so did I. Freshman year, I was so wrapped up in being someone no one knew and being at a huge, new school and learning about social justice and meeting new people and just being away from high school and my home town that I felt like I was running towards the light at the end of the tunnel, never looking back. I didn’t look back at those who had helped carry me and supported me as I stumbled through the dark tunnel. So to those friends who I simply dropped, stopped talking to, unfriended, unfollowed, and un-remembered – thank you for helping me get to where I am today. I can only hope that I have helped you as well.

I understand that the person I knew you to be is gone now – I can see you’ve traded in your t-shirt and jeans for a black dress and heels; your flowery, bright tops for black and navy blue blazers; and your crop tops for over-sized sweaters. Your ideals and values have evolved with experiences abroad, work, internships, new people, and situations you never planned on.

Yet, I still tell stories about the time we hid in the library to avoid writing our research paper, the time we only passed geometry because we tried slightly harder than all the seniors who had failed math three times, the time we played Pokémon instead of debated who the best US president was, and the time we made promises to meet each other for the rest of our lives at least once a year.

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#Squad from #Prom2k13

When other people tell me about “a friend from high school” or “oh yeah we used to hang out all the time” I wonder what their relationship with that person is now. Are you still best friends? Do you only message each other memes that remind you of each other? Do you talk at all? Was there a huge fight?

I can’t help but think that sometimes people are not left behind – their paths have merely diverged from our own. Both of us moving forward on a journey where our lives may intertwine once more, but also maybe not.

So, to all of my friends who I don’t talk to anymore, who I didn’t treat as well as I should have, or who I burned bridges with – thank you, and I hope that your life path takes you on great adventures.

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A friend from high school got me this poster but it got lost somewhere along the way
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When You Have a Quarter-Life Crisis

Recently, I lost myself.

As a kid, I was sure that when I turned ten, it would be revealed I was a mermaid. Then I was sure at age sixteen, I would become a siren. I thought that I would get my license and a car when I was sixteen, as well. When I went to college, I thought that I would dye my hair and get tattoos. I thought I would go out a lot and take lots of pictures with friends at house parties playing music that was too loud. Spring breaks would be filled with cruises and trips to the beach. My far future of being a ‘real adult’ was basically me travelling around the world and (maybe) eventually settling down and getting my own apartment. With a cat. Or two.

Turns out, the closest I got to any of those goals is when I grow my hair out and it kind of looks like mermaid hair when I get out of the shower.

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This is probably the second closest I’ve come to being a mermaid

I’m twenty years old and I didn’t become a siren. I still don’t have a car, or a driver’s license for that matter. I dyed my hair when I was eighteen and loved it, but ended up letting it grow back out and cutting off the blonde. Tattoos are way more expensive than I had originally anticipated, and I found out that I hate going out to parties. My spring breaks have mostly consisted of going back to my suburban home and spending time with my family, and my ‘far future’ is not so far away – I graduate college in a year. I don’t see a lot of travelling after graduation because it turns out that travelling is a lot of money, as well. Cats are still a strong possibility once I settle down.

I’m also twenty and went through Basic Combat Training at age eighteen. I joined the National Guard and have been with a Military Intelligence unit for over two years. I’ve been back to my home country, China, and climbed the Great Wall. I’ve held a forty day old tiger, and made friends with people from around the globe. I met my other half and found a group of friends who have been more supportive and loving than words will ever be able to describe.

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Graduation (after 10 weeks at Fort Leonard Wood for Basic Combat Training)

Sometimes, we have goals that aren’t our goals. We have goals that are our parents’, our friends’, our peers’, or our society’s. We convince ourselves that we are people who we truly are not. Most of my fantasies came from books, movies, and people with those kinds of social media pages – you know who I’m talking about. They consistently post about how they graduated with honors and a triple major in two years, or have been backpacking across the entire continent of Eurasia in three weeks. They make life seem easy and constantly adventurous, but it’s not for everyone. And that’s okay.

I never thought that I would travel halfway across the world to find my best friend, or join the military, yet here I am; and I’m content with my decisions. I’ve learned a lot, and it’s taken me in a direction that I never saw. Because that seems to be a trend: the unexpected.

I think it’s easy to say that the best things often come from the most unexpected places, but it’s different to live it. It’s different when your entire life vision does a 180 and becomes a life that, had you told Little Lily is the one she would be living in ten years, would have laughed and proceeded to pretend to be a cat.

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Did you think I was joking about becoming a cat?

So, maybe you aren’t where you thought you’d be, or you’re unhappy with what’s happening. But that’s okay. I’ve found that the most important part is to keep moving forward, there is not enough time to sulk about what didn’t happen or should have happened. Keep your head up, and you’ll see that some opportunities come in the most unexpected ways.

Best Wishes,

Lily

If you don’t like social media, I probably don’t like you

Why are you so salty
This is how I feel about people who are cynical about social media

In my Contemporary Development of American Politics, our teacher asked us “How many of you don’t like Facebook?” and most of the class raised their hands. I get it, Facebook was a cool thing in ninth grade following our middle school emo/scene/goth MySpace phase. Now Facebook is full of those damn Minions, someecards, and check-ins of where your friends went without you last night.

At some point, I brought up how after #BlackLivesMatter became huge in August of 2014, I got to see all of my high school friends who were actually racists! It was great! Also, with the presidential campaigns going on, I get to see all of the “I friended you in high school because we had Bio together freshman year” people show off how much they know about politics.

I was feeling cynical because I had just listened to my classmates bash Facebook, something that I am actually really into. That’s ridiculous, right? Who likes seeing what their distant, homophobic relatives post online? Luckily, all of my relatives are wonderful and intelligent, so I don’t really have that problem. However, Facebook offered me something that I would have been unable to find anywhere else: a community of Chinese adoptees.

I met another Chinese adoptee over the summer (and wow was that a story in and of itself); her name is Charlotte. We friended each other on Facebook, and she invited me to a wonderful page: China’s Children International (CCI). This page was just for the CCI adoptees (there is another one that is for families with children adopted for China). So I post some introduction about where I’m from, when I was adopted, and where I am now. Other adoptees from around the globe proceed to comment and welcome me into the group. It was amazing.

After my first blog post about the Two-Child Policy, I started talking to some other adoptees from the CCI group. Sometimes we talked about what it’s like to be adopted, and sometimes we talked about how the weather was wherever we were at the moment.

A couple of weeks ago, a wonderful woman named Kate from the CCI group messaged me and asked if I was going to write a poem about the Two-Child Policy, or about adoption in general because she wanted to sign it. I was confused for a second, so she clarified that she knew American Sign Language (ASL) and that she was interested in videoing herself signing something I wrote.

I was thrilled, I thought that was the coolest thing ever! I asked how she learned, and she said that she was adopted in 2001 and she’s deaf. We talked for a bit, and I asked if she would be willing to teach me some ASL; she agreed and decided on a time that we could use Facebook’s video chat.

The internet is incredible.

I spent 45 minutes learning ASL, and talking with another adult adoptee from China, who was adopted 6 years after me, and currently lived over 900 miles away from me.

Social media creates communities that are impossible to find anywhere else. So, to anyone who thinks people spend “too much time on their phones” have never been to China and tried to stay in contact with international friends, have never met people online who share similar interests but live in Romania, have no family that lives across the globe that need to be contacted during natural disasters, and have never been torn away from their birth country and found an online community filled with others who share the same loss.

Social media is an spectacular tool that allows for a more globalized, fast-paced world. And I will forever be grateful that I was born into the internet era.

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From South Korea (left) and the US (right), met in China, and reunited in Canada

Calling My Name

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Seventh Grade Lily at a Fashion Show Themed Birthday Party

When I was in the seventh grade I was complete anime trash. I mean, okay, I still am, but it was a lot worse back then! As I considered myself a budding author I would look up “Japanese names” on internet translation sites and it was all very embarrassing. I wanted my original characters to have names like beautiful springtime flower or angel of light because ‘Emily’ or ‘Marissa’ were way too mainstream for my 12 year-old novelist self.

I was recently talking with my friend, who is Japanese, and I asked if he could translate the name that my orphanage gave me. I wanted to know if there was meaning lost when translating between Chinese and Japanese. He said he could, so I gave him my name. He made a comment like “your name is badass” and I immediately got defensive. I was used to telling people my name, having them type it into google translate, and lightly make fun of the English translation.

陈铁露 (Chén Tiě Lù): “陈 (Chén)” being my surname, “铁 (Tiě)” meaning iron, and “露 (Lù)” meaning dew. Basically, my name is Iron Dew. It’s also my American middle name, so when I used to swap school IDs with friends there would always be Lily Tie Lu Rau written in bold Arial text across the card.

Of course people would ask “Tie Lu?” pronouncing “tie” as in “tie your shoe” (its actual pronunciation being closer to Tia). I would correct them and easily brush it off by saying “Yeah, Tia Lu. It’s the name my orphanage gave me.” That usually shut them up.

But not always. Sometimes they would ask for more: “What does it mean?” And I’d sigh and tell them “Iron Dew.” Depending on the situation I used to try to elaborate more, but at this point in my life I’m just done dealing with it…

Because it’s not just iron dew, it’s so much more. Because that’s the way Chinese names work. My mother used to tell me what the orphanage director told her about my name at the time of my adoption:

“Lily, Tie means iron, as in you have the strength of iron. Dew represents beauty and softness. So your name is your two personality traits. Your strength that always shines through, contrasting with your beautiful personality.”

I just kind of sighed and went along with it. In high school, my Chinese teacher from Taiwan translated my name into generally the same English meaning. Looking back, I think she just wanted to simplify my Chinese name for my 14 year-old intense person. When I studied in China this past summer, my three Chinese teachers had a slightly different view of my name. First of all, they were confused as to how an American got such a “real” Chinese name. Second, they loved it. They all described it in their own way (in Chinese, of course), but there was a general baseline –

“Tie Lu is not meant to be read as two separate parts of a name, but as one. On one hand it does represent the dichotomy of heavy iron used to build railroads and the fleeting beauty of dew drops that cling to grass as the sun rises. On the other, when read as one name, it represents eternal beauty and unconventional strength. Beauty that lasts as long as iron; iron strength that is hidden behind beauty.”

I loved this explanation. It just stuck with me. It seemed more like a name to me, instead of a set of separate characters. The issue is that when I tell friends what my name really means, it’s just confusing. Iron Dew doesn’t sound so cool in English.

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Little Lily’s attempt at calligraphy as a child

And so that’s where my seventh grader leaves off and my adult rant officially begins. I’m tired of non-Asian people not understanding Asian names! No, you can’t just name your story characters beautiful wind from the forest of happiness because that’s not how Asian names work. Chinese names are everyday characters that are put together to create something more. They are not direct translations that are beautiful in English. In all honesty, a lot of Chinese names that I’ve heard just sound awkward when directly translated into English.

It took me a long time, but I love my Chinese name. I love the way it sounds, and I love the meaning behind it. I love that there are variations of it depending on who is deciphering it. I love that it represents personality traits that I got from a mother I do not know.

My seventh grade self is guilty of wanting to create original characters with “pretty” Japanese names – and honestly I still suffer secondhand-embarrassment when I go back and re-read stories that I wrote when I was 12. It took eight years, and a study abroad trip to China, but I’ve come to appreciate the beauty and power and nuance of my Chinese name.

I’ve come to own my Iron Dew self.

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#LoveYourself

Beyond Words: Studying Abroad in a Place That Should Be Called HOME

I was so excited to go back to where I was born. Maybe nervous was a better word, as I was adopted and brought over to the United States when I was 7 months old. Studying in China was going to be a new experience, filled with feelings of being welcomed into the Chinese culture that I had longed to be a part of for the past 19 years!

However, when I arrived in China for my 10 week summer semester, I felt far from welcomed or accepted in the way I expected. I watched Caucasian American and African American students get doted on by our ‘Chinese partners’, who were students we were paired up with at our Chinese university. In public, the locals asked me to take the photos of them with my fellow American students, and wanted to ask REAL American students about life in America!
I felt completely out of the loop, until I realized that this actually was acceptance. I was treated as though I was truly Chinese: no one gave me a second glance, storekeepers wouldn’t look up when I walked in, and people would come up to the street and ask me for directions as if I lived there. That was the first relief; but then I encountered a bigger issue: communication.
I was at the highest Mandarin level of all of the American students because I had been fortunate enough to go to a high school that offered a strong Chinese language program. However, one hour of class, Monday through Friday, can only teach you so much…
Being Asian, many storekeepers and security guards would speak Chinese to me, and then expect me to translate to my American counterparts. At first, it was terrifying. I would be mortified every time I would have to reply in Chinese with “I don’t know” or “I’m sorry, I’m adopted – I’m American.” But I quickly realized that this is why I opted for study abroad in the first place; I wanted to learn the language that was ripped away from me as an infant. In class, I talked a lot because that’s what MSU-James Madison-Social Justice kids do.
It was when other international students invited me out to eat that I would begin to lose confidence.
The first day I entered Chinese language class I met fifteen international students from all over the world (from Spain to Mongolia). I managed to do fine in class, and was thrilled when the international students invited me out to eat with them afterwards. I soon understood that Chinese was the common language used for social interaction on campus. I could recite dialogues out of the textbooks like a pro, but when it came to talking about “What’s life like in America?”, “Does everyone eat fried Snickers?”, or “Tell us about yourself!” I got tongue-tied and stuttered. It was easy for the teachers to understand us – they were used to a variety of international accents. International students were not used to each other’s accents.
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My wonderful and amazing class for the first semester I was in Harbin

The other students had no idea what I was saying, and I was trying my hardest to get my points across in a language I was barely competent in. On the flip side, other international students would speak Chinese with a Korean or Spanish accent; it would take me about thirty seconds to figure out what they had just said in Chinese, and then another thirty to translate it into English.

As my study abroad trip went on, I slowly realized an extremely important culture point: English is actually known worldwide. At my school, teachers taught us it was “普通语” (Pǔtōng yǔ), or the “standard language [of the world]”. I’m a huge proponent of “understand your privilege!” but not once did I ever think that language could be a privilege.

One day, a 6’3” Korean kid named Hemu who intimidated me mightily, walked up and said “Hello, how are you?” in English. Speaking English was banned in the classroom, and I was so startled that I forgot to be nervous and replied, “I’m alright, and why are YOU speaking English?”

One of his friends explained that Hemu was going to move to Canada soon and he wanted to practice his English. Hemu asked me to dinner and said he’d pay; how could I turn down free food and a conversation in a comfortable language?

It turns out that using Chinese to teach English is actually quite difficult. The dinner was great, but consisted mostly of us using Pleco (a widely known Chinese-English dictionary app) and his Korean-Chinese-English dictionary app to learn new words and explain articles of speech (which don’t exist in Chinese). Hemu turned out to be one of the most enthusiastic people I have ever met, as well as caring and funny. As we walked back to my dorm, he asked if I could translate his Korean name into English and I told him sure. I looked down at my screen for a second before smiling: “Harmony. Your name means ‘Harmony’.” I explained that it was considered a feminine name, but I still thought it was a great name for him. Harmony is in Canada now, and we’re still in touch. Sometimes he asks me to help him with his English homework.
Students weren’t the only people I had to speak to in the language I was actually studying. At the cafeteria, all of the workers spoke only Chinese. On the first morning of classes there were only two food stations open at the cafeteria. One looked like you had to tell the man what ingredients you wanted in the breakfast burrito, the other had fresh egg pies sitting out. That meant that we would be able to get served by gesturing, so day one started out great by pointing at what my friends and I thought looked decent. A middle-aged couple was working the station, and they smiled and tried to speak to us; we replied with nods and smiles, and with not a clue to what they were saying.
I went back for breakfast every day after that. Sometimes I went with others, but mostly by myself. I’m an early bird, and the rest of the American students weren’t willing to get up any time before 7:50 AM for our 8:00 AM classes. I was in Harbin for eight weeks, and for seven of those weeks, my only communication with 阿姨 (auntie) and 叔叔 (uncle) were “Two, please” and “Thank you.”
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Breakfast
Three days before I left, I wrote them a note.
It was so much easier (and less scary) to write in Chinese and check for mistakes than to speak and be caught off guard when they tried to ask me questions. I wrote a thank you letter, saying that I know I didn’t say much, but I appreciated them a lot and considered them my first friends at my Chinese university. I gave it to them the next morning before leaving for class. When I checked my phone during break, I found that Uncle from the breakfast place had added me on WeChat (a combination of texting and Facebook that is widely used in China). He texted me to come get dinner later, so I did.
Miscommunication struck me down again!
I bought dinner because I thought he said to come visit for dinner, but I later realized that the text had said we’ll make you dinner. And they did. They put the special breakfast mix that was usually in the egg pies (scrambled eggs, leeks, and bok choy) into dumplings, and gave them to me for free. I decided that if they could take the time to make me a special dinner, I could take the time to ask them about their lives, despite the fact I was pretty sure they couldn’t understand me. However, we talked for awhile and I found out how they worked from 6:00 AM to 8:00 PM every single day, and all about their two children who were now adults. I found out how much they loved to cook and how much they loved watching college students grow up and graduate. I found out that they weren’t so different from the adults in my life.
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“Auntie”
Before I left, I mentioned that the other American students and I would only be in Harbin for a little while longer before we left for Shanghai, and eventually the USA. For the next two days, Auntie and Uncle gave me breakfast for free, and on the day I left they gave me fresh dumplings and two hard boiled eggs to take with me to the airport. I’m still in contact with them; they ask me about America and when I’m going to come back to China…
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Shanghai Art Museum
The language barrier is huge on study abroad trips. It’s scary to speak to a native speaker. Trying to pay for things at the grocery store in China gave me a new perspective on what it must be like for non-native English speakers when they try to navigate America.
Being surrounded by a language that you are not confident in is absolutely terrifying, but if you push yourself through the language barrier, you’ll find that we’re all human. People understand emotion, they understand smiles – and embarrassed laughs. Communication and empathy bypass language and culture and personal histories, because we’re all just trying to fit into a community that is bigger than ourselves.
And it goes far beyond words.
qts

White Rice (with Soy Sauce)

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I was a high school junior who was going to our rival school’s prom. I guess rival school wasn’t the best term; it was my close family friend’s private school’s junior/senior prom. My date was one of her good friends who we had hung out with, along with my friend’s boyfriend. My family friend’s name was Bianca, her boyfriend was a first generation Korean senior named Jason, and my date was an international Chinese-Canadian student named James. The four of us went with another couple who were both international students from South Korea: Kira and Nick.

The six of us of ready at Bianca’s house and then went to a Korean owned sushi restaurant for our “prom dinner.” Of course, they served us small bowls of rice as appetizers. I will never forget the five sets of eyes that stared me down as I asked for the soy sauce. I was adopted from China when I was 8 months old and grew up in the Midwest with a wonderful, white family who puts soy sauce on their white rice. However, soy sauce was not made for dumping on rice

Bianca, who was also adopted, looked mortified that I was asking; Kira and Nick just looked genuinely confused, and asked why I wanted soy sauce. Jason and James both thought it was amusing, but definitely strange. Jason eventually handed me the soy sauce and I poured it on my rice. Kira and Nick looked scandalized.

I remember wanting to melt into my seat and disappear as I was eating my (delicious) rice. How was I supposed to know that soy sauce on rice was a “white person thing” (as Bianca so elegantly put it)? The rest of the night went on without a hitch. The private school had good food, and the prom was outside in an extremely aesthetically pleasing courtyard. We went back to Bianca’s house after and watched movies until we all fell asleep on her basement floor.

For the next couple of months, I was self-conscious whenever I ate rice. Even if it was leftover rice that I was microwaving to eat for lunch the next day. I would sometimes stop with the soy sauce bottle in my hand and have a mild identity crisis. In the middle of my recently-painted-teal kitchen in a suburbia neighborhood, I would put my soy sauce bottle down and tell myself to be “more Asian” and act how I “was supposed to.” Looking back, I don’t even know why I thought I needed to prove to myself in my 1950s-esque kitchen that I was “really Asian,” but it was a big deal to me.

Now, four years later, I pour soy sauce all over my rice. It’s delicious. I was back in China this past summer for a study abroad trip to finish up my Chinese major. I never put soy sauce on the rice there because of cultural understanding. However, now that I’m back at Michigan State University, and finally living in my own apartment, I use my Kikkoman Soy Sauce all the time. I’ve learned that it’s okay to be “white,” after all, that’s how I grew up. I did not grow up in China on a rice farm, where soy sauce was used to cook with and not as a condiment. I grew up in Michigan where Chinese takeout gives soy sauce packages with all meals.

I’m still coping with what it means to “be white” but “look (and kind of sort of be) Asian,” but at least I’m confident with my white rice and soy sauce.

**All names have been changed

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A Late Thanksgiving Gratitude

Thanksgiving

So today was Thanksgiving, which is already a super problematic holiday; however, my family tries to focus on the fact that we all get a break off of work to be together with the ones we love. My family is pretty great; we’re all liberal democrats who are well-read and well-traveled. A middle-class, Midwest, bad humored group of people…that’s my family.

Of course, we were going around the table (there were only 9 of us) and saying what we are all thankful for; this year, my oldest cousin decided to add the rule “you can’t repeat what anyone before has said.” My uncle then proceeds to start with “I am thankful for all of the wonderful friends and family that I have who support and love me.”

Well, then, guess that one’s taken.

My oldest cousin’s husband was next (he was thankful for death metal) and then my oldest cousin (who was thankful for technology and how much it allows us to globalize our information sources and stay connected), but then it was me and I was scrambling to come up with something to be thankful for. I could have said something cheesy like “I’m thankful for Pokémon” – which isn’t a lie – but I knew that’s not what I needed to say; I needed to say something that was meaningful and was seriously thankful for.

The words were out of my mouth before I had a full comprehension of what I was saying: I was thankful for the unspoken language of humanness.

The language of smiles and laughter, or tears and broken hearts; emotions are universal. Again, my therapist recently enlightened me on the differences between emotions and feelings:

Emotions are physiological responses to situations; they are universal and felt by every single person on this planet. Feelings are the subjective responses to situations; they are very individual and can be felt very differently.”

Emotions and the physiological responses are built into human biology: we cry when we’re sad, we radiate joy when we’re happy, we raise our voices or try to assert dominance when we’re angry – these are natural responses that serve three different functions:

  1. To communicate to others
  2. To communicate to ourselves
  3. To motivate ourselves

Let’s ignore the second two; those will be for another day. The first reason for emotions: to communicate to others – that’s so cool. We literally have responses built so that others around us can better understand how we’re feeling. Crying has been socialized to be perceived as weakness (don’t even get me started), but everyone knows that if someone is crying, they need help; something has happened that has broken this person down. If someone is yelling or lunging towards us, we can assume that they are defending themselves because they feel attacked; it doesn’t matter where you go in the world, these physical responses are the same for all emotions.

Smiling at someone on the street is a kind thing to do, and it is meant as a welcoming hello; when someone is sitting on the apartment complex’s steps crying, something is probably wrong; and if someone says something in class with a raised voice as a response, they probably felt attacked. These are true around the world – as in, these are things that I have seen throughout my life in the US, but are also things that I saw and experienced in China.

I would smile at the older couple serving dinner, and they would slip in an extra dumpling or two. There was one night when a group of us (American students and their Chinese partners) went out, and the noise was too much and the number of people in the club was too high, so I started crying. My roommate took me outside, and one of our Chinese friends came out to ask if I was okay. I said I was fine, but he looked at me and said, “You are crying. I do not know why, but I know that you are not okay.” I was so taken aback that I actually stopped crying. It seems dumb, of course someone crying is upset, but it was as if I suddenly understood how instinctual emotions truly are.

Showing emotion does not make you weak or vulnerable; and I can’t stand people who think that. Showing emotion makes you human, it makes you relatable, and it allows people to help you. Showing emotion is something that so many people think of as helpless or immature; however, the exact opposite is true.

By expressing your true emotions, you are putting yourself out into the world and asking humanity for support, or showing your own support for others. A kind smile to a stranger can make their day, and you know it to be true because someone has smiled at you, and it made your heart a little lighter. Seeing someone crying on the phone makes your heart ache, because you have felt their sorrow, too.

So this Thanksgiving, I give thanks to the human language of emotions and everything that they have to offer: the good and the bad, the ups and the downs; emotions have been there to help me express my need for support, and express my love for others.

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