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On Helping A Friend

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Yesterday, I was sitting in a coffee shop, writing the fourth chapter of my senior project, when one of my freshmen friends, CL, came up to me. CL is an artist, a Christian, and an ex-pot-smoker, and someone cursed to forever look younger than he actually is. Normally, CL’s face is dispassionate, tired-looking or surprised, but yesterday, it was more drawn than I have ever seen it before.

Now, proper young-adult social etiquette would be to dodge the subject, to avoid making a scene or touching upon an uncomfortable issue. But CL and I have too many commonalities, too much of a brotherly bond, to let that happen. We’re both Asians who are struggling to get by, academically and emotionally, and we’ve both been raised in urban areas. We’re both religious men, despite outward appearances and gestures, and believe strongly in our own personal codes of ethics. So it’s no surprise to me that CL came right out with it.

“Vyasar, I’m depressed,” CL said, with the most exhausted look in the world.
“Man, so am I,” was the only reply I could think of.

CL tells me that he’s been having family issues, and that he doesn’t know what to do about them. Added to that, he’s burdened with an immense feeling of loneliness, from all the work he does in the studio to the amount of time he spends by himself. CL wants to get a girlfriend, but also doesn’t, and is confused and upset with how his body is telling him what to do. On the mental/intelligence side, he finally reveals to me how sick he is of everyone’s fake intellectualism and their meaningless philosophical banter that’s come to surround his life. In short, CL has had it with college and really just wants to go home.

There are so many things I want to tell him, to make him feel better and go back to work with a smile in his thoughts. “I feel the same way,” says my brain. I have felt the same way you have since my first day on campus, and I have never stopped feeling like that. There are still days where I sit in my room for hours, not doing anything except wallowing in the emotion of solitude. I have not escaped the feeling, after four years, that I will not be happy unless I am dating someone. Conversations with friends as old as I am fly off into words without meaning, arguments about perception and authority. But I have always been able to fall back on the philosophy Maharajji has given me. I have used the teachings of my Guru to remember that Krishna is never anywhere else but by my side, and They have helped me find comfort and calm in any place of darkness. I have been hiding these thoughts and feelings for so long, and I want to spout off into founts of wisdom and anecdote, to prove my moral high ground and serve him a platter of feel-good phrases.

But that’s not the way you have a conversation with someone you are genuinely concerned with. Maharajji teaches humility, and although we rarely get a chance to practice it in the real world, it is of absolute importance that we do so when we can. Being a humble person means empathy, not superimposing your own emotions atop theirs. It doesn’t help someone to share that you’re going through the same thing. It would be wrong of me to tell CL how my religion helps me overcome my existentialist struggles because that would imply that it makes me better than he is. If you really want to help a friend deal with all the turmoil in their lives, you’ve got to recognize that your own experiences are limited, and the only person who can make a change is the friend him/herself.

So we chatted, instead, about these people who make themselves seem smarter by talking about Kierkegaard and Marx, and about the people who go out every weekend and don’t remember the things they did when they wake up. We shared our personal struggles with relationships, and whether the feeling of needing one is a social construct or an instinctive animal one. CL was first to point out that we’re so quick to judge other people, when in fact we’re no better than they are, and the two of us shared a laugh over that. Eventually, we got to talking about family issues, in hushed tones and vague details. And when CL got up to go back to work, I could see one less worry line aging his face, and one more smile.

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