Thomas the Tank Engine & Me; or, Why You Do What You Do

Recently I had an “angsty conversation about idealism” with a friend (her words, not mine). One of the topics I raised was “why we do what we do”. It seems like a simple enough place to go. It just always seemed so prudent to know my motivations. But I forgot how scary and difficult that examination is.

This past year (and arguably these past four years) has been about continuous forward motion. There’s always, always the next meeting, the next deadline, the next project. In making my own documentary I am the little engine that must. (I’m pretty convinced this is how my life will be forever, and even more, I love reminding myself that I signed up for this gig.)

So once in a while, I can probably be forgiven for forgetting to take stock and assess the big wh- question. Still, the last time I was asked why I was making this doc, I was caught off-guard. I think that barely a year ago it was easy to say, “There’s an urgent need in the community to de-stigmatize therapy”, or even, “we need to begin a dialogue about these issues”. And these reasons have not changed. But when asked why I am making this doc, I felt a little speechless, especially when told I knew the reason. Instead of figuring out what this reason might be, I stammered and got a bit defensive.

I think the reason it’s such a nerve-wracking assessment is because in the question “why”, there is always the niggling possibility it is the wrong reason or a weak reason, or my worst fear, a selfish reason.

Yet amidst the ir/rational doubt, one of the things that reassures me that this is what I’m supposed to be doing are the stories I’m collecting, whether in the doc or the website. I am constantly blown away by people’s generosity to share their extremely personal experiences.

Here are some excerpts from different stories that I’ve had the privilege to receive for the website:

  • “She then uttered the words that would distance me from my dad indefinitely. ‘We can never tell your dad,’ she said.”
  • “I am their son, he wrote, and he understood I kept this a secret for so long for their sakes. So I wouldn’t hurt them.”
  • “I began to cry when I said it…I realized that I had not cried for over a decade.”
  • “While these questions seem innocent enough, they were usually followed by ‘Are your parents ashamed of you? Why do you hate being Korean?'”
  • “I fight depression each and everyday. I sometimes want to talk to my family about it but I’m seen as the joker of the family…I’ve been the one everyone looks to to break the tension and keep everybody’s mood up when everything is going to hell.”
  • “It suddenly clicked in my head that I had gone 20 years without knowing exactly how my parents got out of Vietnam and into America.”
  • “I myself have counseled friends to forgive those who have hurt them because it’s the only way to release the anger and resentment inside of them. I honestly had just never considered it for myself.”

So why do I do what I do? I can say for certain that these stories are part of it. Each submission tells me there are stories that people want to tell and that someone needs to be there to listen and then pass them on. It’s not really a thorough or concrete answer to the question, but it helps fuel the momentum forward. In other words, for now it’s a satisfying one.

Do you know why you do what you do? Feel free to leave a comment.

What’s your story? Tell me about it.

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