"If you have a question, you also have a responsibility — the responsibility to address it”
It wasn’t late, but I was tired. It was a long day at the end of a busy week that was winding down a crazy month. The guy on the phone was yelling at me — parent of a client. I waited in the car until he was done, then walked in, exhausted and upset.
I was greeted by a ball to my face.
“Sorry, Papa,” my son called from behind his pillow fort. “I thought you were a bad guy.”
“It’s okay,” I said. “Seems to be the popular opinion today.”
I started making myself a coffee when one of my phones rang. I groaned and picked it up without looking at the screen.
“Yeah?” I said impatiently.
“Hello, my name is Azriel Nissim. I need help.” The voice was young, but clear and articulate. “I don’t want to say where I’m from because I want to stay illuminous. Is that okay?”
I smiled for the first time that day.
“Hi, Azriel Nissim, I think the word you’re looking for is anonymous,” I said. “How old are you?”
“It doesn’t matter,” he answered, a little defensively.
“It does to me,” I said.
“Well, you might not be mature enough to understand any help I might or might not be able to provide.”
“Some adults are immature too,” he retorted.
I didn’t have a response to that. He was right.
“I guess if you know that already, I’m not going to mess you up any worse,” I joked.
He laughed. Which meant he got the joke. Which was odd, because I pegged him at around 11 or 12 years old. He shouldn’t have gotten that joke.
I sighed, took my coffee across the kitchen, and stepped out the back door.
“How can I help you, tzaddik?” I asked.
“I want to know how to make a depressed person happy,” he said.
I don’t know what exactly about the question hit me so hard. Maybe it was that small voice saying such a serious word. Maybe it wasn’t just him saying the word, but the fact that I knew from the way he said it that he legitimately knew what it meant. He wasn’t inquiring about a sad person, a hurt person, a person having a bad day. He was asking about actual depression.
I’ve thought about him asking that question about a million times since that conversation, and finally realized what was so painful wasn’t his understanding of the difficulty of the disease, but the hope he had of making the person happy that was so heartbreaking.
“I’m afraid I don’t have an answer for you, big guy,” I said quietly.
He sounded resigned. “Everyone says that. But I read your articles and thought maybe you would know.”
I was exhausted. My head hurt. The coffee wasn’t helping. I lay down on the grass. A light drizzle started to fall.
I could’ve ended the conversation there. Give him a little chizuk and be done. The problem was I was certain I wasn’t the first call this kid had made. And clearly no one was taking him seriously.
Some adults are immature too.
“I’m not saying there’s nothing you can do. If you have a question, you also have a responsibility — the responsibility to address it.”
“What do you mean?”
“Sometimes that responsibility is to just be supportive and loving of the question. To be understanding that not every question has a simple answer. And sometimes answers take time. And as time goes on the question changes, which means that the answer changes as well.” I paused. “Does that make sense?”
“You’re saying that there’s no way to make them happy, I can only be… um… supportive and loving… until they get better.”
“Azriel, I don’t like you,” I said.
He laughed. “Excuse me?”
“I don’t like being outdone by a kid,” I explained. “But I’ll admit you said it better than me.”
“But how do I do it?” he wanted to know.
“It’s not easy. But mostly it’s reminding the person how much you care about them and love them. How much they mean to you. It can give even the weakest people strength sometimes. So many people underestimate the power of a kind word and a hug.”
“Also singing,” he said.
“She always smiles when I sing to her,” he said. I could hear the smile in his voice.
The rain was coming down in earnest now. But that wasn’t the only reason my face was wet.
“Azriel, no one has all the answers. We just need to do our best and love people the best we can,” I said. “But I’ll tell you something I’m pretty certain of.”
“You are going to make a pretty awesome adult someday, Azriel Nissim.”
We said our goodbyes. I stayed there, flat on the grass in the rain, for a few minutes longer, just thinking. Everyone needs an Azriel sometimes. Someone real to lean on.
I heaved myself off the ground and walked back into the house. Another ball hit my face.
“Sorry, Papa, I thought you were a bad guy!”
“Are we expecting bad guys today?” I asked, a little too loudly.
He stared at me — the grass stains and the rain and the phones and the coffee. “What happened to you?” he asked.
“I had a hard day,” I said. I slouched down onto the couch next to him and closed my eyes. “Can you do me a favor, Yehonatan?” I said. “Sing me a song.”
Identifying details have been changed to protect the privacy of patients, their families, and all other parties.
Rabbi Yossi Bensoussan serves as mashgiach ruchani at Yeshiva High School of Cleveland. He is a Certified Alcohol and Substance Abuse Counselor (CASAC) who currently maintains a private practice, and does motivational speaking and community education on addiction all over the US and Israel.
(Originally featured in Mishpacha, Issue 817)
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