White Lies

Every few months, I have a long conversation with this Chinese-American who lives a few doors away. This morning, I happened to run into her during the course of my walk. She told me she was juggling a lot. Her son was in the toughest years at school. Her mother was suffering from advanced cancer.

Figuring out doctors, therapies and schedules were only part of the family’s struggles. The big challege was coming to terms with her mother’s pressing need for secrecy. She didn’t want any of their relatives to know about her condition. When relatives called to chat, she evaded and prevaricated, fabricating new stakes of fibs to bolster her phantasmagoric tent of white lies.

My neighbor was embarrassed and exasperated. “Now, whether I like it or not, I have been co-opted into all the lies and cover-ups.” She was caught between her duty to her mother and her own conscience.

“Is it a problem only with folks in the Asian cultures, this need to lie about one’s health?” she asked me. I wondered about it. Where I was from, a broken leg evoked extraordinary sympathy. A disturbed mind? Well, we tied an invisible wrist-band to the patient and tagged it with markers like “past sins”, “stigma” and “silence”.

I told my neighbor about my emotional struggles with regard to family members, some of whom valued secrecy for today over wellness for the long term. We saw no solution in sight. People were all different, we decided. Who were we to say that one way was the right way to live? And who were we to tell someone, even one from whom life was leaking out, how he or she must think?

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