The ironies of life can nibble at our souls like a thousand stray kittens. Perhaps I should not even call it irony, it’s more like a sublime interposition that initially starts off as pains but in time transforms into blessings. I’ve seen many painful moments in my life, from leaving my beloved land of birth Ethiopia at the age of seven, seeing my father toil and labor away from home to feed his family, to my mother struggling with depression and as a teenager bearing witness to her attempt to put an end to her distress. It seemed each successive decade, from the time I left Addis Abeba and came to America as a young lad, presented new forms of crucibles and novel ways to enfold me into agony.
I admit I felt a tinge of reticence and had to reflect about whether I should share my pains on this level on such a public forum. This deliberation was actually a temporary discomfort I felt with respect to whether I should share the pains of my mother. I know there is a universal stigma associated with depression and this imputation is magnified triple-fold when it comes to the extraordinary steps that people take to end the hopelessness that depression can induce into the soul. The mark associated with depression is that much the greater in the Ethiopian community where ennui is avoided like biblical plagues. Depression is not talked about, a topic so hush hush it is shrouded in the netela of secrecy. It is for this reason that I paused recounting the way my mother struggled with depression and in the process how depression invaded my soul through the osmotic transference of seeing my mom in the deepest of laments and the times I walked in to see her listless body.
I figured out a while back ago that pains cease to have a stranglehold on our joys when we share our burdens with other people. The power of depression is lessened greatly when we have the courage to share our tribulations. Moreover, our stories can help others who suffer in the shadows of sorrow, for the most insidious aspect of depression is the feeling that you are alone. In reality, the world over there are billions who struggle with their own set of crucibles for pain is a universal language that everyone is fluent in. Thus I started sharing my own struggles with the blues when I first got a smooch on my soul from depression’s kiss back in 2008. I once had a website called Brown Condor and I wrote an article called “Depression Fikre”. My last name means “my love” in Amharic, so Depression Fikre was a testimony of how pains that once bewitched me became a source of my resilience.
Alas, this world has a way of reflecting darkness to those who want to shine their light. That one article became the focal point of endless derision over the years as in my own community used my confession as a cudgel to bash me endlessly with one slander after another. My problem became thus, the more my kindness was met with malice or indifference, the more my light started to turn towards darkness too. I decided to fight fire with fire and to return each malicious remark with rhetorical blowtorches and grenades. But these acts of spite and counterattacks only buried me into the cauldron of anger and eventually right back into anguish. There is no profiting in fighting those who want to blow at your candle; this world is full of folks who love to troll and tread on others as a means of hiding their own pains. I knew this one axiom a long time ago but I kept disregarding it as I insisted on fighting malice back with malice–they call you what they are.
Wisdom gained through life’s uppercuts, my present circumstance is one of trying to bleed my soul from this burden I carry on my back. The source of my occasional melancholy is not even in the present moment. When I let the actions of others invert my default kindness, it’s not present animus that invert my happiness as much as it is past agony. All of us are formed and informed by past experiences and most of the times it is pain that molded us into the people we became. We fight outward the pains that bleed us inwardly. Thus the truest courage is to look within first and to heal our broken places; it is because of people’s brokenness that this world is being shattered by antipathy and animosity. Brother versus brother, neighbor against neighbor, we are devolving quickly into a state of perpetual enmity; everyone claiming that they are responding back to hatred while very few own up to the hatred within that is making them seek out hatred in others.
We are quick to judge the deficiencies of this world but mum’s the word when it comes to acknowledging our own foibles. Maybe, just maybe, instead of protesting outward and meeting anger with yet more anger, the answer lies with each one of us taking the courage to say “I too hurt”. I too hurt, I repeat those three words for a reason for at the root of people’s animus is a hurt that prevents joyfulness. People who vilified me in the past because I professed that I once struggled with depression were only doing so because they too were hobbled by the blithe of depression. Oh how I pray to God endlessly to give me the strength and forbearance to return malice with kindness for even now I keep letting the bile others spew at me infect my spleen with chagrin and indignation.
And this is where crucibles can in time become blessings. Years of fighting back against the trollish behavior of others led me to wasting my pearls and gift to write and reach people to instead reside in the tent of narrow mindedness. The endless times I fired back rhetorical bombs would in time be the locus of my greatest tribulation. There are endless reasons that lie behind how I arrived into the embrace of insolvency and indigence, some I understand and others that befuddle me continuously, but chief among them was my conniption of always getting the last word and proving points. Someone once told me that God at first slaps your hand and if we don’t listen, eventually God allows our foolishness to envelop us into a fire.
The fire came for me and over the past two years I struggled with homelessness, hopelessness, and uncertainty. It took mind bending tribulations and separating from the very sources of my love and happiness for me to no longer fight against other broken people. If I do use my words as a sword it will be reserved to those who cause true injustice instead of aiming my ire and my fire at fellow broken souls. What I have learned over the years is this, people who are broken–and who among us is not–either lash out or lash in. There is enough flames licking at the feet of this globe, this moment calls for people who choose to be the light, a light of love within us. As I ask you to do this I am also praying that I do the same going forward, please please when you encounter hostility or antagonism, pause and give in return compassion. Broken souls, my soul included, either lash out or lash in; we keep lashing each others hearts and spirits to the point of grievous lacerations.
As for me, no longer am I depression Fikre, my love is now blessings. Through countless hurts and pains I have found my purpose and that is the blessings that I could have only found through tribulations. Besides, I found my butterfly at the end of the road, love once lost has been returned back seven fold as a distant kindred spirit I refer to as birabiro offered me love unknown that close friends and my own kin folk would not offer. Our words are all powerful, we can speak and write happiness into our lives or we can choose to find distress. I choose happiness; the pains of the past I now count it all as joy for it was precisely my throes that enabled me to connect to the woes of other people.
When I was residing in the comforts of corporate excesses, there was always a part of me that wanted to speak up and stand for the least among us. God’s providence thus plucked me away from lattes and exclusive societies and instead mired me right in the circle of broken people. Yet as painful as my journey has been over the past two years, in hindsight I would not change a thing. Sixteen years spent chasing dreams and promotions, partaking in the very military-financial complex I used to rant against, now I find myself at a mission cooking meals from endless broken souls as I walk with the very people I once aspires to speak for. I realize one thing about the essence of Yeshua (Jesus); though we disregard His teachings and keep turning Him into an idol, his greatest power was not the fact that he was a god on earth but that he was human residing among us. Yeshua healed people more with his feet than his hands, what I mean is that he healed people by walking with them instead of preaching from a distance. Whether you believe in God or not is inconsequential, I am not here to proselytize for there are countless people doing that. Irrespective of your faith though, the only seed I plant is be love and preach less love. And the first step to love is to love yourself first; if you know yourself enough you can connect with everyone else in this world for the themes of our lives are the same even if the stories are divergent.
The sublime strikes again, I spent 10 years trying to promote my Ethiopian heritage as I helped “my people” endlessly to the point of exhaustion. But my intentions often ran into the brick wall of indifference and those who mistook my kindness as weakness. God’s grace, an exodus took me away from the Ethiopian community yet in the midst of strangers and strangers who look dissimilar to me, the minute I play Ethiopian music or find a way to make Ethiopian food using donated ingredients, people’s eyes light up and they immediately adore Ethiopian culture. Imagine that, instead of preaching for people to be different, I should have been the difference all along. Instead of preaching love, I should have been love all along. Let that be the moral of the story, let us stop professing love and instead be love. The blessing that blesses back is when you give love to others and it is love that will be the water that puts out the fire of hatred consuming the world.
It took me 40 years to shed the pains of my past yet I still have a ways to go in my journey of healing. I pray that God gives me the ability and the wisdom to forgive those who hurt me and likewise I pray that I be forgiven for the endless times I have hurt others. I pray further that I use the time I have left on this earth and the gift that I have been entrusted with not to serve my ego but to serve others who are are bracketed by hopelessness and despondence. The greatest givers are those who have the least; the poor might have few possessions but they also have fewer possessions possessing them. Years spent accumulating credentials, degrees and the acceptance of corporate peers yet it is now, during a season of dearth, that I found the happiness that comes along with cheerful giving. Let’s worry less about an outgoing or incoming president and instead reside in a modicum of coexistence that transcends politics and the barriers that divide us.
There are so many lessons I learned throughout this journey, but if I could impart one above all it would be this one nugget. In life we find what we are looking for. Take for example the experiences I went through with some in the Ethiopian community. I could sit up here and paint myself as a victim for the endless times some in my community did eskista dance on my attempts to be benevolent and give help to others. If that is the take away I want to synthesis, I could then decide to avoid my fellow Ethiopians and live an embittered life in the process. Or I could realize that I was the one creating the universe of wounds as I kept seeking out those who never deserved my kindness to begin with as I disregarded endless Ethiopians who wanted to be close to me. Givers have a way of attracting takers, that does not mean givers should stop being givers, it just means that givers should either give without expecting or give to those who are deserving. The truth is that Ethiopians are some of the most humble and giving people among us, but all people have bad apples who sour the lot. As always the struggle is within, the minute we realize the power that we have in us, the power people or our past have over us diminishes exponentially.
But instead of looking inward, the world over keeps taking pictures of haute cuisine, expensive shoes, and lavish living yet these deceptions and empty pursuits keep imprisoning people into the arms of unhappiness. The more we chase happiness through means of materialism, we keep regressing into misery. If only more people knew, though the least among us suffer from indigence, they are wealthy in spirit for they are less driven by greed and more giving in nature. Why do you think the bible says the last shall be first, it’s because the last appreciate the beauty around them as they wait in line while the ones in the front are focused on getting in. It is easy to disregard abundance when we keep chasing abundance, the only time we appreciate the random blessings of life is when we have little to our name. These are lessons I learned through pains and walking paths alone. I can’t undo the past, the times I walked in and saw my mom’s attempts to nullify her existence, the time my father coughed up blood and took his last conscience breath in front of me on December 22nd, the endless times the heart I gave was mauled by others, I count those as joys in spite of the tears for these pains made me who I am.
Past pain no more, I now choose to focus on future blessings. Pain is a source of misfortune when we hide it but pain is a testimony of resilience when we share it–I share my testimony to those who are willing to listen. To those who are reading this and know the tinge of sadness and have been nibbled by the thousand kittens of depression, just know that you are not alone for there too I once went and there too I might one day go. Hold tight for in time dim sorrow gives way to bright abundance. Those who want to help others who are feeling down, maybe do less preaching and be more like Yeshua and just walk with the people that you want to help. I did not have this wisdom when I was a teenager and really throughout my life, I spent countless time trying to “help” my mom and likewise a once love. But the help we give others is to not help at all but just to be present and listen. This is also how we help ourselves, be present and be still in the presence of love. In time it will be evident that all hardships are blessings waiting to be discovered and counted all as joy. #CountJoys
“Count it all joy when ye fall into divers temptations; knowing this, that the trying of your faith worketh patience. But let patience have her perfect work, that ye may be perfect and entire, wanting nothing.” James 1:2-4
Once Burden Now Counted As Joy
Burdens Turn to Joy When We Return To Our Once Innocence
Originally from Ethiopia with roots to Atse Tewodros II, Lij Teodrose is a former community organizer whose writing was incorporated into Barack Obama's South Carolina primary victory speech in 2008. He pivoted away from politics and decided to stand for collective justice after experiencing the reality of the forgotten masses. His writing defies conventional wisdom and challenges readers to look outside the constraints of labels and ideologies that serve to splinter the people. Lij Teodrose uses his pen to give a voice to the voiceless and to speak truth to power.