“I appreciate your seeing me again so quickly,” Marv says.
“Of course,” I reply. Marv and I terminated about three years ago, but he called earlier this week saying he’d fallen into another depression and needed to see me.
“Have you been following the news?” he asks.
“What specifically are you referring to?” I reply.
“Hungary,” he says, passing his hand over his eyes. “Putting them in a train and taking them to a ‘processing center.’ I can’t understand. How is it possible? How can it be happening again?”
I know exactly what he’s referring to and, truth be told, I felt very much like Marv when I first heard the story. Syrian refugees in Budapest with tickets to Germany boarded a train believing they were going to their destination. Instead they were taken against their will to a rural area in Hungary. It was a story that immediately brought to mind images of the Jews during World War II crammed into trains, taken to “labor camps,” taken to their deaths. What happened to “never again?” Still, these refugees’ story had a happy ending. They weren’t gassed. They were allowed to leave Hungary and were joyously welcomed into Germany. But I don’t have Marv’s history. I didn’t lose most of my relatives to the Nazi atrocity.
“Yes, Marv, it’s horrible. I understand the images it must bring forth for you.”
He begins to cry. “I’m glad you get it. My wife doesn’t. She thinks it shouldn’t affect me.”
“And how do you feel about that?”
“Alone. Depressed. She says it all turned out fine, so why am I depressed. Yes, these people were saved. Some of the Jews were saved too. But millions were killed. And now thousands of refugees are dying on boats, in trucks, for God sakes. Besides, that’s not the point. It’s that most human beings are brutes. We never learn. We just go around brutalizing each other. What’s the point? What’s the point of anything? I give up.”
That’s what Marv does. He gives up. He surrenders. He surrenders to the world, to his wife and, in the past, to his tyrannical father. Giving up is not something I sit with easily. I want to shake Marv into action, into assertion. “Do you ever feel like brutalizing anyone, Marv?”
“Never? Not the Hungarian government or your wife or your father?”
“Never. My father was the brutal one, taking his rage out on me and my brothers. I know he lost his whole family in the war – parents, aunts, uncles, everyone – but that shouldn’t excuse him. It should have made him appreciate us more.”
“Let me ask you this, Marv, did you ever feel like hitting him back?”
“I don’t think so. Eddie, my oldest brother, he’d talk about wanting to kill my father. I figured he was only talking, but it still scared me.”
“So what did you feel when your father was beating you?”
“Scared and powerless and like the little vulnerable boy you were.”
“Yeah. Sounds about right.”
“I wonder though, Marv, if you also felt enraged underneath. Felt a rage that you certainly couldn’t express and couldn’t even let yourself know about.”
“I don’t know. It’s all in the past. Doesn’t matter much anyway.”
Now I’m aware of feeling angry, angry at Marv’s immediate surrender. I suspect my anger stems both from my own intolerance of passivity, as well as Marv’s projection of his angry feelings into me. I say:
“You know, Marv, it’s interesting that as soon as I started talking about your rage, you withdrew, gave yourself over to defeat rather than engaging with me in trying to find your anger, which I bet would help you feel less depressed.”
“How would that help the refugees?”
“Your depression won’t help the refugees either.” Oops, I think. I just acted out my frustration.
He sighs, even more dejected. “You’re right. It won’t.”
“Marv, I wish you could fight with me. I wish you could tell me that my last remark was uncalled for. I’m not your father. You can fight with me. You can put me in my place. And I don’t know what you could do for the refugees. But if you decided it was important enough to you, you could do something. It wouldn’t solve the crisis. It wouldn’t save the world. But it might help. And it might help you to feel more powerful. You don’t have to be either the brutalizing father or the scared, little boy. There’s a huge middle ground in between.”
Marv stares as me. “You got mad at me.”
“Yes, I got mad at you. But my anger won’t destroy you or me or our relationship. And your anger isn’t deadly either. In fact, I’m sure it’s far less destructive than your depression.”