“The most remarkable recent epidemiologic finding relates to migrants: Some fall ill with schizophrenia not only at higher rates than the compatriots they leave behind, but at higher rates than the natives of the countries to which they have come.”
– excerpt from the journal “Beyond the Brain” by Tanya Marie Luhrmann (For the entire journal use this link)
From an immigrant’s standpoint, the fact that the finding above is considered “the most remarkable recent epidemiologic finding” is quite remarkable. It’s old news to me. It almost makes me think whether I am way ahead of time or something. It goes on to talk about a study result done on African-Caribbean migrants living in London. The observer saw racism, sense of being unwanted, and out of place. She also saw a social world wounded with hostility and anger, in which people were isolated and often intensely lonely. I can testify and validate these sentiments. Those are the issues I have to deal with every day of my life. But this for me is a cosmic issue rather than something I deal with personally. On a broader scale, it’s something that has existed throughout the entire human history in many forms. It’s a result state of where we come from and where we are right now. We can’t change that. But we can change where we end up. That’s how I see it.
Quite frankly, I have grown to regard my status as an immigrant is a blessing from heaven. I get to be left alone frequently. Immigrant life is not for those who detests isolation, and solitude. You have to be good at entertaining yourself. You have to be used to people not opening up to you, to the thick walls they build up around you. You have to get used to being hated, even, for no other reason than the fact that you are… who you are. You have to learn to love yourself despite that hatred coming from outside. But the most important thing you have to learn is this: You have to learn to deal with the hatred coming from within.
One thing immigrant life will teach you is that the worst enemy has been existing within yourself all along. That’s one of the final lessons you will learn from this type of life. Which makes the painful process of life as an immigrant a very worthy experience. I have never lived a monastic life, but I think there are some tight relations between the two.
“Looking at the Carthusians from the outside, one might be tempted to imagine them proud. But when one knows a little more about them and their life, one understands that only a very humble man could stand Carthusian solitude without going crazy. For the solitude of the Charterhouse will always have a devastating effect on pride that seeks to be alone with itself. Such pride will crumble into schizophrenia in the uninterrupted silence of the cell. It is in any case true that the great temptation of all solitaries is something much worse than pride- it is the madness that lies beyond pride, and the solitary must know how to keep his balance and his sense of humor. Only humility can give him that peace. Strong with the strength of Christ’s humility, which is at the same time Christ’s truth, the monk can face his solitude without supporting himself by unconsciously magical or illuministic habits of mind. In other words, he can bear the purification of solitude which slowly and inexorably separates faith from illusion. He can sustain the dreadful searching of soul that strips him of his vanities and self-deceptions, and he can peacefully accept the fact that when his false ideas of himself are gone he has practically nothing else left. Bun then he is ready for the encounter with reality: the Truth and the Holiness of God, which he must learn to confront in the depths of his own nothingness.”
– The Silent Life, Thomas Merton
I know this context revolves around the Carthusian life, but this is the best advice for immigrants that I’ve ever heard. It’s the unconsciously magical or illuministic habits of mind that drives the immigrant life into a disaster. The pitfall of the “American dream” embodies just that. I have seen and heard some tragic results of this global epidemic movement. One of my relatives in Florida committed suicide in 2006, by throwing herself from the second floor of a church. She suffered from severe depression, and drug addiction. She was in her early 40’s. The cause was partly genetic, and partly social. She was a victim of her parents’ frantic search for American dreams, but I know deep down she must have had to face her own demon inside herself. And I wonder if that demon was too big for her to battle against on her own. Pride can ruin a person to damnation. I know that from my own sufferings. For some people, it seems there is a madness tucked away beyond the pride. When the wall comes crashing down, the aftermath may bring some tragic results. I have found the remedy in Jesus’s heart. I guess my distant-aunt was trying to find it from the church window.
There was a time years back when I was trying to find the remedy on the church steps. I was an unbeliever then, but my mental agony was so extreme that I had finally opened up to the church doctrine that I did not believe in. It was around 4 in the afternoon. I don’t know what I was expecting. Of course, the church was closed. I think I just needed to get myself out of the empty house, to run away from myself. I was too dangerous to myself, and I needed someone to stop me from harming me. I didn’t have any friends, family, and my husband-who has become my ex, now-was gone on another business trip. After trying to open the door that was firmly locked, I collapsed on the freezing concrete steps leading me down to the parking lot. On the cold metal railings on both sides of the steps, were the Cross(like the one in the picture on left). I gripped the cross like it’s my lifeline, and cried until it got dark.
So I partly understand what my relative must have felt at that moment when she escaped the psychiatric hospital and made her way to a church near by. She was not a believer at that time. But for her, the church was open. She managed to get to the second floor. Why wasn’t that enough? A nice church in Florida, where people dream of retiring to one day, nice beach, warm weather all year round, home of Disney World, and SeaWorld, so consciously magical? When the simple metal cross on the railing decaying, while the ugly aqua blue paint was drying in the the unforgiving winter weather was enough for me? Was my depression not as severe as hers? Or was it that my pride and ego had nothing to boast compared to hers? Did I simply have more will to live than she did? Of course, at the time of her suicide, she had survived 40 years of her life as an immigrant. I, just barely managing to survive the same fate, going on my fourth year.
But those are the questions I will be asking for the rest of my life. Maybe I will have clearer answer by the time I have survived 40 years of this- which means I still have 30 more years to go. But the idea of 30 more years of this no longer depresses me. Once it was mighty enough to trigger my bipolar depression. As a result, I am still recovering from it, and I shall for the rest of my life. Recovery is a way of life, a lifestyle, and as no single patient experiences an illness the same way, I have my own unique experience with this thorn of mine. I am now readying myself for the encounter with reality of the Truth and the Holiness of God in the depths of my own nothingness, as Merton has said in his text.
And the good thing is that I don’t have to go into a remote desert to become a recluse, a hermit, a Carthusian. I don’t have to go anywhere away from the attention of the world. The world is not interested in me. The world doesn’t want me here. The world ignores me. When I go outside wearing a big cross neckless, with my full black hair screaming out all my asian elements so loudly, the world around me is at its best in isolating me from it.
It’s like I am an embodiment of a monastery walking around in the world. And I am home in my own monastery. I am hidden in God, dwelling with the Truth, and protected by the celestial armies.
This is my life, in the beautiful isolation.