I have fallen down, and it’s proving harder to get up than it ever has been. In this walk of life, I have taken the greatest misstep, and I have felt utterly defeated for these last few months. I am going to jail tomorrow morning for Theft. I am a criminal, and I feel like one. I feel inadequate as a human being and find it hard to feel “worth” anyone’s time or attention. The guilt has been so paramount and at the forefront of my mind that I have had more nightmares in these last few weeks than the rest of my life combined. I feel like I have spoiled my career, and that this is going to hold me back mentally and socially for the rest of my life. I have lost my pride, but Uncle Iroh has helped lead this sorry fool into a light I thought I’d never see again.
When I’m normally depressed, nothing gets me back into a positive mood like Avatar: The Last Airbender. It’s my favorite fictional world. I cherish it more than my favorite games, movies, and books. Standard depression is easily cured by our favorite past times, but this most recent phase of depression was different, because I wasn’t just sad or sullen over something out of my control. I purposefully commited a crime, and the consequences nearly destroyed me. I am sorry to associate something as bright and adventurous as Avatar with this bleak glimpse of reality, but when you are scouring for an ounce of hope for the future, something as simple as a character like Uncle Iroh can make all the difference.
“You must never give in to despair. Allow yourself to slip down that road and you surrender to your lowest instincts. In the darkest times, hope is something you give yourself. That is the meaning of inner strength.”
Why did I steal to begin with? It started as an anti-society mindset. I always felt like I worked harder than society paid me for. This led into my first attempt in taking something that I felt I deserved, without paying for it. It became easier so it turned into a habit that I maintained on and off throughout my life. It wasn’t until very recently that this extremely dangerous habit finally lashed back at me and I was arrested. My justification doesn’t matter anymore at this point. I broke the law, and after going through the extensive court process, I am paying dearly for what I’ve done.
The last few weeks, after finding out what kind of sentence I could expect, I have been trying to keep my composure together. I over analyze and often think too much about everything in particular. I felt horrible guilt about keeping this habit from my family, friends, and even my room mates. The mistrust I exemplified to them felt like the deepest ache in my heart. This ache turned into the worst amount of depression I had ever felt. I expected to lose every friend I had. I expected my family to tell me they hated me. I had nightmares of the people closest to me torturing me endlessly until I would wake up in a fit, just to doze off and have another equally horrific nightmare.
My friends, however, comforted me. My family supported me. While I did lose a couple close friends who wanted nothing to do with someone who would steep so low with their life, I realized the friends that are truly the closest. This all helped me maintain my sanity, but there was still more pulling me away from any form of relief. What’s going to happen with my life? What girl would fall for a man who has a severe handicap for every job he applies for. Who would give their heart to someone who steals? When will my friends just leave me behind because they are all non-criminals who have a life to live, free from negative influence? All of this made me feel like less than dirt. I didn’t see a reason to keep going, nor anyway to ever feel like a decent human being again.
“I was never angry with you. I was sad, because I was afraid you’d lost your way.”
That’s when I started thinking about one of my favorite fictional characters of all time: Uncle Iroh. This universally-accepting man who offers help and wisdom to anyone who seeks it, has helped me overcome my depression in several ways. The first, and most apparent one is that Uncle Iroh has also been to jail. Except of course, he was wrongfully imprisoned and I’m being rightfully punished, the end result is still a man in a cell. Uncle Iroh used this time to meditate intensively and exercise his body into a completely different level. This is more than just “working out,” this is directing every negative influence about the situation and using it to craft your mind and body into something all the more stronger. In thinking this, I had overcome my first fear of losing myself in a prison drowning in my thoughts of indecency.
But what of my life after I’m released? What if I have to resort to shameful jobs of serving the cheapest of food or sink to a lowly role of cleaning up after people? I felt embarrassed that my life could become so meaningless. It reminded me of Zuko’s situation in Avatar where he sunk from living in royalty to scraping a living in the slums. That’s when Uncle Iroh says that there is a simple honor in poverty, and that one single line gave me so much comfort. There’s nothing to be ashamed of. It’s not wrong to get diverted from your pursuit of success. I can still feel proud no matter how far I fall.
“Pride is not the opposite of shame, but it’s source. True humility is the only antidote to shame.”
This sudden realization of all the hope that’s been lying in wait around me isn’t something that exists only in Avatar. Uncle Iroh isn’t the only person saying the things I need to hear. My friends and family have all been saying things like this in their own way. I was confused why they weren’t pushing me away, but it’s because they believe, to some extent, the same thing Iroh does. What Uncle Iroh did for me was provide the right context, and delivery, to make me realize and understand the thoughts and emotions that everyone else that was helping me was trying to make me feel. This character that isn’t even real has helped me as much as my closest friends and family, and it’s because his evocative wisdom reflects the same philosophies of life that I cherish, and so too do the people I am closest to.
Since it’s impossible for me to thank a character, I am directing all of my gratitude to the creators of Avatar, Michael Dante DiMartino and Bryan Konietzko. I want to thank you from the bottom of my heart for providing a character who portrays such a love for life and how to enjoy it in any situation. I am sorry, as a fan, to be someone who has done wrong against society. I wish I didn’t have to write this under such grim circumstances. But thanks to you, I can now face the biggest obstacle I have ever created for myself, and gather the will and insight to surpass that obstacle and continue to enjoy my life and ease my guilt. It seems hope is an element, just like fire, and can be bended and shaped to give you strength.
Here’s to Uncle Iroh…