While I’ve never had to make a defense for having a tongue ring, watching this elicited a familiar twinge of pain when “Blue” expresses her hurt as she recalls her mother yelling at her in Vietnamese, “Are you crazy? Are you my child?” And I remember what it felt like to demand my independence when I was her age; “I am 19 now, right? I’m an adult!” I also thought that it was appropriate that the roommate (off-camera and coincidentally white) divulged that Blue had always been “silently defiant” and that struck a chord with me as well. Just listening to her go back and forth trying to defend who she is and what she’s done and yet wrestling with those feelings of inadequacy and the knowledge that she is disappointing her mother. In one stretch, Blue runs the whole gamut of emotions, “I feel bad…It’s OK, Hi mom, I have a tongue ring…Sorry — Deal with it. I feel bad now. OK Mom, don’t kill me. Don’t yell at me…”
I remember having had that same inane conversation with myself in my teenage years, but fortunately (or unfortunately), there had been no videocamera there to film those bizarre monologues. Countless nights, I vented, gritted, clenched and writhed in dissent, but for the most part, I don’t think my parents knew the half of it. I was silently defiant because I don’t think they would have understood, at least not really. Many times I felt like a foreigner in my own house and I remember in the heat of the moment, my parents and I would stare at one another in bewilderment, complete and utter bewilderment, at a loss for how the other could live in such a dark world.
If you had asked me what I wanted, it seemed so easy and reasonable. I want to go to my friend’s house or I want to be able to study this major or I want to be able to see this girl. I didn’t do anything wrong, I’m better than a lot of kids, why can’t I do what I want? What does it take to purchase an ounce of freedom in this house, I would think, a pound of flesh? Who puts up with these archaic demands?
My parents on the other hand, were quick to tell me how so-and-so’s children obeyed with no problems at all. And how he had managed the family business, gotten straight A’s, and still had time to teach Sunday School or some other such cherubic nonsense. They had never heard of him staying at his friend’s house or studying that major or seeing that girl. Why couldn’t I be like him? Would it kill me to be like him?
Yes, it felt like it would. All I wanted to do, and learn to do, was to be myself. My kingdom for a tongue ring — I would have thought if I were Blue. And I longed to feel independent and incomparable in any sense of those words. But I could never feel free enough to be myself and not feel guilty about it. I could never win and feel good about it, but to lose again was simply to say I was still a child. And perhaps in many ways, I know how Blue feels because for a long while, I found myself asking everyone else besides my parents if I was an adult.
I think many of the second generation feel like we’re just overgrown children in the eyes of our parents. I wonder if that pressure makes us do strange things and want strange things (things much stranger than a tongue ring, but that’s for starters) — there’s a verse in the book of Jonah, where there’s this unusual phrase that perhaps might fit our circumstances. “Those who cling to worthless idols forfeit the grace that could be theirs.”
For the sake of the idol of being independent and being my own person, is it possible that I could have forfeited grace, grace that was coming to me, that was in my grasp? When I look at my generation, I wonder…what did we give up to have this?
I pray that we would give up our kingdoms for His. My kingdom for a feather’s weight of your grace O God.