November 29, 2014

My younger son is applying to colleges and the deadlines are looming. The choices about where to visit, what questions to ask, and when to hit “send” are overwhelming. To help him with this arduous process, I offered to proofread his application essay.

The prompt was about identifying an event in his life that triggered his transition from childhood to adulthood. He chose to write about his older brother’s incarceration.

He was not eager to share it with me, assuming that the subject matter would be too difficult for me to handle.  He knows me well. I considered it for a moment. Would I finally be able to get a glimpse inside the iron fortress of my younger son’s mind? The emotional wall he has built over the last few years has grown tall and wide, but in this moment he offered me the lone key to the only door. I chose to step inside.

I took the essay and began to read. In doing so, I learned a few valuable lessons.

First, I realized that I am stronger than I thought. Not only was I able to read this moving account of his fallen hero and how he consequently discovered himself, I was able to compartmentalize my own emotions in order to help draw out his insightful viewpoint about that difficult time. I listened for his unique voice through the din of my own muddied memories, and I helped him shape his thoughts into a well-crafted piece about his personal journey of becoming a man.

Secondly, I remembered that we do not live in a vacuum. The choices we make do not only affect us, they affect those we care about, those we hold dear. And, because of those first choices, more choices must be made.  It is a ripple effect. Four years ago, my older son made the choice to ignore his bipolar disorder diagnosis. Eventually, he paid the price: he is now a convicted felon. My younger son, who is guilty only of being born into a household affected by mental illness, has faced difficult choices too. He could have easily played the victim. He could have allowed his brother’s illness and incarceration to destroy him too. Instead, though, he has made the choice to embrace the challenges in life as opportunities to become a better person every day. His brother’s choices have affected him, but he has chosen to use them for good.

Lastly, I discovered that my younger son is going to be okay. I see now that he is healing. While internalizing his feelings was his natural coping mechanism, in his own way, he has dealt with them too. He has sorted through his disappointment, his anger, and his despair and he has resolved to thrive despite them.

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