On friendship and marriage

This year is the 14th year my husband and I have been married. It may not be that long for those who have been married for at least two decades, but I am grateful we have come this far and are as committed to each other as we were on our wedding day.

As I reflect on my marriage, I feel so grateful that my husband still has the patience to stay married to me. I joked about it with my Facebook friends, but in all honesty, I really am grateful. I am not a very easy person to live with — I can be really mean to my husband, but we do find more reasons to laugh about with each other than reasons for meanness.

I don’t think there’s really any special secret to a lasting marriage — friendship and commitment are all that’s needed.

Passion vs Commitment

Today I read a passage about following rules to show one’s faith or having passion about your faith. The writer didn’t like the idea that rules, after being observed mechanically “can be followed with minimal effort and almost no thought.” Passion is deemed more important.

This made me think about how people often prefer the definition of love as an emotion, particularly passion, rather than as commitment, especially in marriage.

Emotions are unreliable.

You cannot force yourself to be passionate about something. You cannot will passion. But you can will yourself to do something even if you have no passion for it.

Marriage is not for grown ups who think like kids. They are not for people who think of their partners as toys they can get rid of once they lose interest in it and find it boring.

Growing up with a mother who had no qualms talking about her problems with her then young daughters, I knew from a young age that marriage had its ups and downs (especially because my mother was such a drama queen and I say that with no disrespect but with a fondness for her whom I miss every day still, even years after she passed on.) There were days when she and my father were this sweet couple, slow dancing to a Nat King Cole song. And there were days she did not speak to him at all

Had my parents given up on each other after their first or hundredth fight, I wouldn’t have been here in this world. And my mother wouldn’t have been there holding my father’s hand on the night he died.

They were married 35 years and were each other’s best friend. I know there were times they both felt they could no longer stand each other, probably questioned whether they still loved each other whenever they had a fight, but as devout Catholics in a country with no divorce laws, they remained committed to staying together, if not for themselves, then for their daughters. And it was the right decision to stay together as they became even closer after my father was diagnosed with a heart disease. My mother took very good care of my father in the last few years of his life, and mourned him for a long time after he died. Even though she complained about my father so many times whenever they fought, when he died, she just remembered how good my father was to her.

If we only rely on our emotions, none of our relationships will be safe from falling apart. Rules may be rigid, but they can help us from going astray. Passions will fade, but if two people in a relationship are both committed to each other, then they will work to keep that relationship strong.

Being alone in old age

“No one should be alone in their old age. But it is unavoidable.” Santiago in Old Man and the Sea by Ernest Hemingway

I think I have written on this theme before, but I am reminded of this again recently rereading Old Man and the Sea and also by something I saw while walking at the park one evening.

While walking at the park a few evenings ago, when the lights had not been turned on yet although it was already a little dark (the lights are turned on at 6:30 in the evening), I saw this tiny, frail-looking white-haired woman, her back hunched, sitting alone on a bench under a tree.

I don’t know her story, maybe it’s not a sad one, but it made me think how at my age now, I love having a “ME” time — being alone during the day and certain of company later in the day when my husband comes home, having someone to talk with about how our day went.

Many times I have heard parents of young children and teenagers complaining about how they don’t have time for themselves and cannot wait for the time when their children become adults and leave the house. But I have also heard many older parents who talk about missing their adult children and hoping, waiting for them to visit or even just call.

Sometimes we behave as if we will always be what we are at present — strong, healthy, not needing anybody. I think the more often we remind ourselves that one day we will need company, one day we will need help, one day we will miss our children, one day we will fear being alone — the more gracious we will be in living our present lives, and the kinder we will be to people whom we think we have no need for at present.

Sure, aging parents can be a burden sometimes, especially when they become demanding or even mean. But perhaps it is their illness that makes them so; they would probably never think of saying or doing these things when they still had full control of themselves. Perhaps they need compassion and understanding more than anything.

I learned this from my mother whose own mother disliked her when my grandmother was still strong and able. But when my grandmother became sick and unable to walk, my mother came and offered to help and forced us, her daughters to help as well. At first my grandmother still refused to talk to my mother but after a while she probably realized my mother was not going anywhere. They were able to forgive each other before my grandmother died. My mother’s humility in front of my grandmother and her sincerity in helping her in her hour of need made an impression on us, her children. My mother was not perfect, but we loved her and took care of her the best way we could. From her we learned that though your parents made mistakes, they did raise you the best way they knew how, and just as you have compassion on strangers who are suffering, you can be compassionate with the ones who loved you enough to try to give you a better life than the one they lived.

We are all going to grow old and weak, if we don’t leave this world earlier than expected.

The sooner we realize this, the more compassionate we will become.

Blessings. 🙏🏽

T.

On Death and Promises

My husband and I have the weirdest conversations between a married couple simply because I am weird. One of the things we talked about a couple of years ago was what would happen WHEN I die (because I have to die first, and I would never forgive him if he dies before me! To which he agrees. He says he would like to be able to give me a proper funeral. This I truly appreciate.)

I told him that at my funeral, he can look around and see who among my friends he can marry. Well, this was too weird for him. (But perhaps he was just thinking my friends would be too old for him!)

When I told my friends and sisters about this they thought I was crazy.

Maybe. But my point is, I would like my husband to be happy when I leave. My only condition is that whoever that woman who can make him happy is, should accept my son like he is her son, because I want my son to be happy too.

Unlike the characters in the Disney movie, “Coco” who feel the need to be remembered — I don’t feel the need to be remembered. It would be nice to be remembered, but I am not sentimental about it. What matters most to me is number 1: my autistic son is taken care of until such time he can look after himself; and number 2: that the people I love will go on to live happy, healthy lives after I’m gone.

The day before my mother died, I saw the look on her face change when my then 13-year-old nephew who is my mom’s first grandchild, entered the room. Her eyes lit up, and there was a fondness for my nephew that was so visible that I, her youngest child, felt a little jealous even though I was already 44! We all knew she had not wanted to leave yet because she was worried about him. We gave her the assurance that we all would take care of each other.

I have tried to keep that promise.

I hope that when it’s my turn to go, I would get the same promise that my son will be taken care of. And that they will keep it.

🙏🏽

T.

———

Sonnet 71 by William Shakespeare

No longer mourn for me when I am dead

Than you shall hear the surly sullen bell

Give warning to the world that I am fled

From this vile world with vilest worms to dwell:

Nay, if you read this line, remember not

The hand that writ it, for I love you so,

That I in your sweet thoughts would be forgot,

If thinking on me then should make you woe.

O! if, I say, you look upon this verse,

When I perhaps compounded am with clay,

Do not so much as my poor name rehearse;

But let your love even with my life decay;

   Lest the wise world should look into your moan,

   And mock you with me after I am gone.

Netflix’s “After Life” and the Cycle of Depression and Self-Absorption

Alona Beach, Panglao, Bohol, Philippines

I am glad that I was told about “After Life” as I positively enjoyed every single episode. My friend and I agreed in our thinking that it’s not black comedy. Yes, it addresses the subject of death and suicide and Alzheimer’s but it does so with delicacy and compassion and with an adequate amount of humor that only heightens the pain of reality. I prefer to categorize it as dramedy.

(If you haven’t watched it, then you may not want to continue reading.)

Though he’s not my favorite character, I admire Tony’s brother-in-law for his quiet strength. Frail-looking and too kind for most people, he is able to live his life with all the problems without complaining to or bothering others about it. He represents the many mature people who selflessly help others without being asked in return how they, themselves, are faring in this life.

And then there’s depressed, self-absorbed Tony. Though we can understand and even empathize with him in his pain over losing his wife and best friend, and we admire his devotion to his late wife, we may also want to shake him into waking up to reality which is that he actually has a good life — much better than most people, and the only reason he is depressed is he is focusing on what he lost, not what he still has which is so much more than what majority of humanity have.

I understand that we all experience grief when we lose someone we love, but we are not supposed to be entombed in that grief among the living. Unless one has damage in the brain, I believe we are all capable of recovering from this emotional pain, suffering, or depression.

(I love how the scenes are shot mostly in the day time or in well-lit rooms. It reinforces the overall optimism that this show presents.)

Tony has people around him who truly care about him. Even the new employee, Sandy, likes him instantly and asks him to be happy. His brother-in-law tolerates him, forgives him for his nastiness, and helps him in every way he can even though he has his own problems.

Tony has a job which may not be the best, but he likes his co-workers who are all good people.

The old widow he meets at the cemetery has more wisdom than the therapist he pays to help him. And he did not have to pay her for getting him out of his self-absorption.

What truly saved Tony in the end is his desire for the pain to stop. Julian was right in saying that Tony had not given up on life yet. Tony just needed to find the right way to get the pain to stop, and thankfully he had the patience and the right people around him to help him. Personally, I think it is most important that one believes and knows that the pain will eventually come to an end. That cliche, “Time heals all wounds,” has always been true.

When you stop focusing all your energy on your pain, and see how others are hurting worse than you are, and if you knowingly try to open your eyes to others’ needs and make an effort to make somebody happy, you’ll be surprised at how, little by little, the pain will subside. And in its place will be peace, and probably even joy that somehow in your own little way, you have made this world a better place by simply being you.

Look around you.

May you find joy in life. 🙏🏽💕

T.

Because there’s no such thing as forever…

I saw a picture of a huge graffiti on a wall in my city that read: WALANG FOREVER (There’s no forever) and shared it with my family, joking that whoever wrote it must have been really hurting. But my ever-serious 16-year-old nephew replied: “There really is no forever.” To which I said: “But that’s not what Kenny Loggins said!”

When I checked on Google, there is actually a good number of people asking why “forever” is promised by people in love when everyone knows this is a mere impossibility. I did not bother reading the answers because I think we all know what the answer to that is.

And I am not going to dwell on the reason people say it, but rather on the benefit of there being no forever.

I learned this years ago when I was young and naive and stupidly in love with the most unromantic man I have ever met. We were walking in a quiet, wooded area, dead leaves crackling under our shoes as we walked. I looked up when I heard the sound of the leaves as a gentle breeze blew. It was such a beautiful moment, walking with the man who meant the world to me then. So I told him. And he said casually, “You know why this is so beautiful now? It’s because you know it’s not going to last.” At that time, it made me feel so sad, but now whenever I think of it, I am grateful that at that moment, I learned to appreciate things that have a short life span.

Now when my husband leaves for work in the morning and says goodbye to me, no matter how busy I am, I stop whatever I’m doing and give him my full attention.

As I travel every month, I say a proper goodbye to my family and friends because who knows, we may never see each other again (that plane could … you know?)

This is not to dismiss the anguish of those who are suffering, but I sometimes think those who are told they only have this or that much time to live have the benefit of preparing not only themselves but also their loved ones of the former’s impending departure.

A few months before my mother’s demise, I was telling bestfriend no.2 what a terrible time it was watching my mother suffer. And as usual, he was his brutally honest self and said to me, “This time in your mother’s suffering is God’s gift to you, her children. You will become so tired from not having enough sleep and in pain watching her suffer, you will eventually be ready to let her go.” He was speaking from experience, of course. He gave up his own dreams to take care of his father for two years until his father’s death from pancreatic cancer.

And he was right. Although it was a stressful, exhausting time, we — my mother, my sisters and I — were given enough time to prepare ourselves for what was going to happen, so the last few days were filled with kind words, sweet smiles, lots of tears, of course, but they were tears of love.

The beauty of there being no forever is that we then see beauty in everything, and we appreciate everything, and are thankful for everything.

We become better people when we remember there’s no such thing as forever. Or at least we should.

May we always try to become better people. 💕

T.

On Pure Love

This post on love made me think, again, on whether or not there is such a thing as “pure” love.

My students, I would say 99% of them, say that a child has to be grateful to their parents for not abandoning them when they were babies, and that parental love is the only example of selfless love in the world. That sounds nice and all, but I just cannot accept this kind of thinking (though I don’t really argue with them on what they have been taught by their teachers and parents.)

First of all, if a couple decided to give birth to a baby, that baby is their responsibility — morally and legally. Having that baby was their choice. They just cannot change their minds after the baby is born that it’s not the kind of baby they wanted. It’s not like a badly-cooked Kung Pao Chicken that they can refuse to eat or not pay for after having ordered it. Should a child be grateful for not being abandoned? It would be thoughtful of him to be so, but I do not see it as necessary. After all, he did not ask his parents for the “favor” of being brought into this world.

Second, parents decide to have children FOR A REASON. And there are a variety of reasons from the most romantic to the most practical:

1. they want to prove their love for each other

2. they want to contribute something to this world

3. they want to continue the family line

4. they want someone they can care for and love

5. they want someone to take care of their wealth when they die

6. they want to have someone look after them in their old age

7. they want someone to bury them when they die.

There may be many more reasons, but all of them stem from a couple’s or a parent’s inherent desire to fulfil something that they themselves want.

So how can that love be truly “pure”?

As a parent, I love my son. He is my world, the reason why I try to stay healthy and not die yet. But I cannot say that I love him selflessly because that would be a lie. I love him not only because I am responsible for bringing him into this world but also because he makes me happy.

I think we, humans, are simply incapable of pure love, no matter how we try to make ourselves believe that we are. I wonder if one day, science will be able to make that happen for us. Perhaps by that time being “human” already means something else.

Week 10 Prompt: Juxtapositions (A Look at “First Reformed”)

First Reformed.png

Image source

There are a number of reasons to like this movie: for me, the first three would be Ethan Hawke, ETHAN Hawke and ETHAN HAWKE!!! And for my friend who recommended this movie, it’s Amanda Seyfried.

But if you are a huge fan of plot-driven films, this may not be your cup of tea. My friend thought this movie ran for 3 hours when it’s only less than 2 hours long.

The pacing is a little slow, even camera movements are predominantly slow. As I don’t have expertise in film, I can only say that as a viewer, I find the slowness a reflection of how Reverend Toller (Ethan Hawke) seems to be living his life — one day at a time, hardly any movement or willingness to move on.

Light and Darkness/Shadow

There are several shots of the very white and neat exterior of the First Reformed Church in broad daylight, and probably the same number of shots of the dark bedroom of Reverend Toller. Sometimes there’s only one candle lighting the whole room. To me this  reinforces idea of the duality in his personality in how he presents himself to the outside world (one who has strong faith, knows how to deal with all kinds of people) and how he really feels and thinks about himself. He leads the service on Sundays, even though on his own, he says he is incapable of praying. (To me, though, his writing in his journal is an act of prayer.)

Hope and Despair

When Reverend Toller speaks with Michael, he speaks against despair. Ironically in the end, he fails to rescue Michael from that despair which turns out to be infectious as he, himself, tries to end his own life.

Mary, on the other hand, is the epitome of hope in her own quiet way — despite grieving the loss of her husband, she looks forward to having the baby that Michael had wanted her to abort.

Interior and Exterior

Reverend Toller on the outside, exemplifies calm and composure, just like the ultra neat and white exterior of the church, but inside he is full of turmoil and uncertainty. His soul probably needs as much cleansing as his broken toilet that needs unclogging. And that metaphor becomes literal when he tries to use the drain cleaner to kill himself.

This duality is quite common. How many people do you know whose actions have surprised you as they are “out of character”? With Reverend Toller, however, there is dramatic irony— the audience are amply prepared for his decision to end his life, but the people around him are not.

Perhaps the one idea from this film that I liked best is restraint. Reverend Toller’s attraction to Mary is developed quite subtly. At first he seems to be simply a very dedicated pastor helping out a parishioner. But one scene that made me certain he is falling for her is that of the two of them cycling and, as he writes in his journal, “I had not been on a bicycle, I think, in 20 years. I was afraid I would fall.” And he went to muse on the curative power of exercise. There is a look of pure joy on his face as they bike on the trail.

first reformed

Spiritual, though not as religious as Esther, Mary brings out the spiritual in Reverend Toller. With her, he can pray with words and with his soul. Yet, he has to restrain himself in his attraction to her. This he is able to do for a while, but after Mary appears before him as he is about to drink the drain cleaner, that restraint finally gives way to full expression in an embrace and a long kiss. This last scene is my favorite part — the feeling of finally letting out what you have been holding in for a long time is more than liberating. It’s exhilarating.

first reformed2

For me, this movie is simply another reason to love Ethan Hawke.

A Prayer for Elijah and Every Child with Special Needs

Dear God,

Thank you for blessing me with this wonderful creature that is my son, Elijah, whom I named after your great prophet, in the hope that he, too, would grow to be as faithful and as eloquent in spreading your word. Though, as yet, he has not been blessed with the gift of words, Elijah, just by being who and what he is, still succeeded in converting the ones closest to him from being self-absorbed and impatient individuals to ones with an almost impossible amount of selflessness and forbearance. Thank you for making him an instrument in bringing out the good in people around him.

I pray for Elijah and children like him who are special in their own special ways, that You grant them the ability to one day, live independently, and not wholly rely on other people for their daily needs.

I pray that one day, they will be able to express themselves without being frustrated at the inability of the people around them to understand whatever it is they want to express.

I pray that one day, they will be able to share what it is they sense that makes them smile that sweetest of smiles, what makes them laugh that most infectious laughter that seems to come out of nowhere.

But should this not be part of the plan, I pray that in Your mercy, you send them people who will love them for who and what they are, long after their parents are unable to look after them.

I pray that You bless them with loving individuals who will guide them in navigating the complexities of life in this sometimes cruel world.

I pray that despite all the troubles they may encounter in this life, they will always have that joy that only they, in their specialness, can find in their own world.

And may they always have it in their unblemished hearts and minds that life is beautiful and that it is worth living.

Finally, I thank You, dear God, for the people who have helped, continue to help and will help Elijah and every special child like him, live meaningful and happy lives.

May you bless them a hundred, a thousand fold for their kindness and dedication.

May they be grateful as I am for the opportunity of having such a special human being in our lives.

And may they praise You, like I do, for Your boundless generosity and mercy.

Amen.

Daily Prompt: Constant

He laments the quick and merciless

Passing of time and the white strands of hair

That are starting to show on his temples.

He looks at old photographs and then looks at himself

In the mirror and sighs …. “Time is unkind.

“We were so young then…,” he says.

“And stupid,” she adds.

 

She looks at herself in the mirror and sighs…

This is inevitable,” she says to herself.

“The only thing that is constant is change.

Nature, too, ages.

The sun may rise and set again day after day,

And the waves rush back and forth,

Second after second…

Yet they, too, go through change.

 

“But some things can remain constant

In our lifetime.

We can keep them constant.

And that should be enough.”

Daily Prompt: Constant

“Too much love will kill you” 

The title of this post is in quotation marks because it’s a reference to Queen’s song of the same title.  I was reminded of this song after I finished reading Balzac’s Father Goriot, which is such a tragic novel about a man who had spoiled his beautiful daughters, sacrificed himself for them but whom he didn’t get to even see before he died.

M. Goriot’s mistake was loving his daughters too much that he forgot to teach them what they needed to learn to be able to live independently. Perhaps his spoiling them was his way of making himself feel needed by his children for the rest of his life. And that he surely got from them — they needed and got his money until he was left with nothing except for the rags he was wearing.

One of his daughter’s, Anastasie, also made the same mistake in loving a man (not her husband) who made her happy but who was only using her to support his gambling. She gave up everything — husband, children, father, her reputation for this lover who only loved her for her money.

In a lecture by the neuroscientist, Vilayanur Ramachandran, he talks about a hypothetical situation where he, in his capacity as a neuroscientist, shows a woman the brain scan of a man who is supposed to be in love with her and which parts of the brain are activated. The woman says, “My God! Is that all? It’s all a bunch of chemicals?” Ramanchadran advises the young man to say, “My dear, this proves it’s all real. I really am in love with you. I’m not faking it….” 

Now that we know that “love” is all a bunch of chemicals, we ought to be more careful about how it controls us.

If we are aware of how our bodies are reacting to the presence of another person, and we think it is “love,” we ought to ask ourselves if this “love” is right or wrong for us and the person we “love.” If it’s only “good” for our bodies, I don’t think it’s wise to simply give in. (My friend would say, “Jeez, just don’t think!” But I say, YOU HAVE TO THINK!) 

Be it romantic love or fraternal love or paternal love, our actions should be guided by reason not just by what our bodies tell us. I know sometimes it’s easier said than done, but at least we can try.

Don’t let love kill you.😇
T. 💕

Daily Prompt: Commit

A patch of blue sky on a cloudy day in Jimei

To commit not only means “to do; perform; perpetrate.” It also means “to give in trust or charge” and “to pledge, to bind, to obligate oneself.” 

It was only after I got married that I  formed a different idea of commitment. Before marriage, I was committed to making myself happy. I was always my first priority — if I was unhappy, or worse, angry, I showed it and never mind if somebody else became unhappy or angrier than I as a consequence. Marriage made me realize that commitment means not only pledging or binding yourself to your partner but also doing what is best for both of you. And sometimes what is best for both husband and wife is humility, which is quite a tall order of a virtue. 

I know I am not an easy person to live with, but my husband is committed to being with me for the rest of our lives, and so am I with him. I have a personality that I’m sure no other man would be able to tolerate, but my husband does. And for that I’m grateful. Both of us have changed so much in over a decade of being married, and despite the many trials we’ve been through we’ve managed to remain each other’s best friend. I guess we both have accepted who and what we are — good and bad, and just remain focused on our first priority, which is not our individual selves, but our son.  To me, that’s commitment. 

Have a lovely weekend! 💕

T. 
Daily Prompt: Commit 

For Women (who like to laugh) Only

forwomenonly

May 20th is a commercial festival for lovers in China. You may ask what that is. Like Singles’ Day (11/11) which is an unofficial festival to celebrate being single (1=single),  May 20th (or 5/20) is considered lovers’ day because the Mandarin for 5-2-0 (wu er ling) sounds close to “wo ai ni” which is Mandarin for “I love you.” I know. It’s just a reason to go shopping which seems to be  young Chinese people’s favorite pastime.

I’ve heard several young Chinese talking about this day, and somehow I was reminded of a conversation I had with a twenty-something friend where she lamented her boyfriend-less situation and how difficult it was to find Mr. Right. I wasn’t very sympathetic with her because it isn’t actually that difficult for a young woman like her who is tall, attractive, well-traveled and smart. In fact, lots of young men from her university like her, but as she says, “They’re not handsome nor smart enough.”

That’s the real problem: she’s waiting to meet someone who is handsome AND smart! In this area, she isn’t so smart.

I think there are only four kinds of men according to how realistic women view them for their looks and smartness:

  1. The BBC-DOCUMENTARY type. This is the kind of man you can listen to for hours. He can talk about a variety of subjects, and you just feel you are growing in intelligence just by listening. Never mind what he looks like! You don’t have to sit facing each other over a cup of coffee; you can just walk next to him and talk and listen and walk and talk and listen. That can be romantic too. 

  2. The TOO-HOT-TO-LISTEN-TO type. This man is your multivitamins for the eyes. Just looking at his handsome face makes you smile. Never mind if he’s telling a tragic story about the death of his dog, you don’t hear it because your mind is somewhere else with him where he’s not talking. It doesn’t matter if that mouth is  spewing out pseudo-intellectual or even idiotic statements. It’s not meant for words anyway! (Incidentally, my young friend prefers this to the first type!)

  3. The GHOST type. This type of man you have probably been with for too long that you can’t stand looking at his face or listening to his voice, but for some reason you’re stuck with him.  Nothing he says makes sense to you. Nothing he wears makes you want to look at him.  So you just let him talk, but you don’t hear him; he walks about the room, but you don’t see him. (Honestly, I don’t know why some people insist on being together when being so only makes both parties unhappy!) 

  4. The OCCASIONALLY-HANDSOME-AND-SMART type. The occasion being when you’re in a good mood and you find him so adorable and so smart. Beauty, after all, is in the eye of the beholder. What is handsome to one woman when she’s happy, may become ugly when she’s unhappy. This kind of man’s handsomeness and intelligence all depends on your mood. He can be the handsomest and the smartest when you’re in a good mood, but he can also be a candidate for the third type when you’re in a bad mood.

This is a superficial observation, and I’m writing this just for fun (partly to comfort my young friend). But what I really want to say is, sometimes we cannot choose who we are attracted to, and sometimes too, the very thing that once attracted us to one person may be the very thing that we would one day find most annoying about that person. Hence, these emotions we have towards people are truly unreliable. It is always wiser to listen to reason than to our emotions when we choose someone with whom we have to share the rest of our lives.

Have a lovely week(end)! It’s already weekend for me! Yay!

T.

Weekly Photo Challenge: Wish 

This week’s theme for the Weekly Photo Challenge is “Wish,” which is quite apt for my situation at this moment when I’m at the airport, again, to go home and see my son and be with my sisters as we remember our mom’s passing a year ago this month. I was informed a couple of hours ago that my connecting flight has been cancelled due to maintenance work on one of the air traffic radars. 

This is just a 5-day trip, and I have to be back at work on Wednesday, but now I might have to spend a day in Manila and waste time not being with my son. 

I’ve used this photograph before, but he is all I can think of right now. 

My wish is to see my son tomorrow. 

Weekly Photo Challenge: Wish 

Old Age and Dependency in Neruda’s Don’t Go Far Off

dont-go-far-off
Mindanao, Philippines 

Don’t go far off by Pablo Neruda

Don’t go far off, not even for a day, because —
because — I don’t know how to say it: a day is long
and I will be waiting for you, as in an empty station
when the trains are parked off somewhere else, asleep.

I like the hesitation expressed in the repetition of “because,” as it seems the speaker seems unsure whether the reason he is going to give for asking the other person not to go too far even for a day, would be reasonable enough for the latter. And to me, he succeeded in sounding convincing with his use of the imagery of the empty train station – empty of not only people, but of the trains as well as they are “parked off somewhere else, asleep.” This last line of the first stanza emphasizes his feeling of emptiness – everyone and everything else has gone and they are asleep (not dead, just having a rest), which I think signals what the speaker himself is going through (revealed in the last line of the last stanza.)

Don’t leave me, even for an hour, because
then the little drops of anguish will all run together,
the smoke that roams looking for a home will drift
into me, choking my lost heart.

His demand not to be left alone becomes urgent as he argues even an hour would be too long. He knows himself and knows that slowly but surely anguish will come in full force. I think “smoke” here refers to fear that can overwhelm a person and make one’s heart rate grow faster thus “choking my lost heart.”

Oh, may your silhouette never dissolve on the beach;
may your eyelids never flutter into the empty distance.
Don’t leave me for a second, my dearest,

Whereas in the first and second stanzas, he gives reasons for not wanting the other to leave him (he will be waiting, feeling empty; he will be full of anguish and be heartbroken), in the third stanza, he reveals further that he is not only thinking of physical distance, but emotional as well – “may your eyelids never flutter into the empty distance.” These words show the total dependence of the speaker to the other person. He never wants to lose sight of this person (“Oh, may your silhouette never dissolve on the beach;”), nor to have this person not being in the present with him. From not being able to be without this person for a day, then for an hour, then for a second, the speaker obviously relies heavily on the other person for his existence.

because in that moment you’ll have gone so far
I’ll wander mazily over all the earth, asking,
Will you come back? Will you leave me here, dying?

Normally, I would be very cynical about people being too dependent on other people, emotionally. But I totally understand that certain people like the elderly and young children, and people with certain developmental disorders cannot help being so. And this is how I see the speaker of this poem. He is not a young and healthy man in the best years of his life. Rather he is old, and nearing his end and fears dying alone. This is not a man speaking to his lover, but a mere human being asking the one he trusts not to leave him, physically and emotionally.

This is not a love poem.

A couple of times, I have heard old men, who when they were young, were once brave soldiers and then, stern fathers; but, as they became old and frail, they became fearful of being left alone, begging their children not to leave them. This, I find extremely sad.

This is perhaps the saddest Neruda poem I have ever read.

 

Here’s the Spanish version (probably the original)

“No lejos de mí un solo día”
Pablo Neruda

No estés lejos de mí un solo día, porque cómo,
porque, no sé decirlo, es largo el día,
y te estaré esperando como en las estaciones
cuando en alguna parte se durmieron los trenes.

No te vayas por una hora porque entonces
en esa hora se juntan las gotas del desvelo
y tal vez todo el humo que anda buscando casa
venga a matar aún mi corazón perdido.

Ay que no se quebrante tu silueta en la arena,
ay que no vuelen tus párpados en la ausencia:
no te vayas por un minuto, bienamada,

porque en ese minuto te habrás ido tan lejos
que yo cruzaré toda la tierra preguntando
si volverás o si me dejarás muriendo.

 

 

Words left unsaid, deeds left undone

bitter tears

 “The bitterest tears shed over graves are for words left unsaid and deeds left undone.” — Harriet Beecher Stowe 

How often have you heard people say: I wish I had done this. I wish I had said that, after someone had left them? I have heard those too many times. I have even said them a few times when I was younger.

Most of the time we just take for granted the people around us, especially those close to us. We care about them, yet daily life makes us forget their need for affirmation. Or perhaps we are embarrassed to express our appreciation or even love for them. Unlike little children who would give a loving parent a kiss or a hug just because they feel like doing so, adults would think twice about showing affection for whatever reason.

When we, unexpectedly, lose someone, we tend to regret so many things. We cry because there are words we had wanted to say to them but did not get the chance to say (because, who knew he would die today?) Perhaps we had promised to visit but never got around to doing so. These regrets and the guilt can last a long time. I know. After 14 years, I still have not forgiven myself for not spending more time with my father before he passed on.

With my mother, my sisters and I were able to say what we wanted to say to her before she left us: we said sorry for the times we made her cry;  we told her we loved her; we promised to look out for each other. And she, herself, was able to confess, ask forgiveness, and thank people,  and let her daughters know what she wished for us to be and to do.

When my mother passed on, tears were shed. But they weren’t bitter tears. They were tears of sadness as we said goodbye to her, knowing we won’t see her again; they were also tears of love as we prayed for her eternal rest.

We may not know the time we will lose someone we care about, but we can try to avoid shedding bitter tears when they go, by saying those words and doing those deeds meant for them. 

Neruda’s “If You Forget Me”: A Lesson in Loving

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Centennial Park, Iligan, Philippines

Whether Pablo Neruda wrote this poem for his country, Chile, or for his wife, Matilde Urrutia does not make much difference to me. I like the kind of love portrayed in this poem. I like the tone of the speaker as he warns his lover …

“If you forget me

I want you to know
one thing. ” 

It is not the sound of a desperate, pathetic lover who begs or promises to continue  to wait even though the other has moved on.

It shows a speaker who thinks and is not controlled by silly emotions, a speaker/lover who demands reciprocity in a relationship.For truly, if one can be, and is reasonable, one will demand reciprocity in a relationship.

(Even God demands, commands love and faithfulness!)

“If suddenly
you forget me
do not look for me,
for I shall already have forgotten you.”

Who wants to be forgotten by the one person you cannot forget? Of course, trying to forget someone is easier said than done. The more you try to forget, the more you will be reminded. This is perhaps the speaker’s way of saying, “Don’t think  I will be pining for you. I will forget you before you can completely forget me!”

“If you think it long and mad,
the wind of banners
that passes through my life,
and you decide
to leave me at the shore
of the heart where I have roots,
remember
that on that day,
at that hour,
I shall lift my arms
and my roots will set off
to seek another land. 

“…and my roots will set off/ to seek another land.” This is how it should be. One should be brave in seeking and starting a new life and not waste time and energy on someone who has forgotten.

Yet….

Though the poem begins with a kind of warning, a threat as to what the speaker can do should his lover forget him, it ends with a promise, an enticement as to what he can give if his lover remains true to him,

“…ah my love, ah my own,
in me all that fire is repeated,
in me nothing is extinguished or forgotten,
my love feeds on your love, beloved,
and as long as you live it will be in your arms
without leaving mine.” 

Reciprocity.

  • Click here for the English version of the poem
  • Click here for  the Spanish version (Si Tu Mi Olvidas)
  • Click here to listen to Madonna read the English version of the poem.

Stop. Look. Listen. Feel. Be grateful. Move on. 

   

Sunset at Dalipuga, Iligan, Philippines 

One of my favorite poems that I can recite by heart is Robert Frost’s Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening. I kept reciting this poem to my baby when I was still pregnant, and even after my son was born. HBO’s Classical Baby The Poetry Show includes a reading of this poem by Susan Sarandon, and it is now my 5-year old son’s favorite part of the video.

A thought came to mind today as I watched my son give me the sweetest smile when the video clip began. A few months after our son was diagnosed with Autism, my husband wished Eli would not grow so quickly. Today, only for a moment I wished Eli would never grow up, so people can excuse his strange stimming habits, his speech delay and other autistic traits. Every now and then  I worry about whether or not he will be able to live independently, when my husband and I won’t be around to look after him anymore.

Frost’s poem talks about how we, once in a while, encounter something that makes us wish could last at least a lifetime, but we all have other things to do — duties, responsibilities, roles to play in other people’s lives — so we have to move on, continue living our lives.

The speaker in this poem though was truly in the moment. He   noticed his surroundings: the snow-covered woods, the frozen lake; he heard the sound of the harness bells and the wind. He also used his imagination (“My little horse must think it queer…”), and was quite aware not only of the lack of danger (…He will not see me stopping here/ To watch his woods fill up with snow), but also of his responsibilities and of the life he had to live,   (But I have promises to keep/ And miles to go before I sleep/ And miles to go before I sleep.) 

Oftentimes I look at my son and wonder what life will be like for him. Will he ever be able to speak like a neurotypical person? Will he be able to read by himself the books that he loves for me to read to him? Will he be able to write down his own name?  But then I stop myself from doing this, and instead do things with him. Not much use wondering about the future when so much of it depends on the present.

What I liked most about Frost’s poem is the idea that though we can (and we should) live our lives — face our responsibilities, fulfill our duties, find our way in the darkness — we can stop once in a while and just enjoy what we have in our lives: food on our table, clothes to keep us warm (or cool), roof over our heads,  air we breathe, water we drink, family, friendship. And love. And faith that everything will be all right in the end.

Thank you. Salamat. 谢谢。

As you lie there 

 


What goes on in your mind

As you lie there, awake but unable to get up?

What dreams do you have

When pain killers stop the pain

But play tricks with your brain

And make you smile, or frown

Or scared like a little girl

Crying out for her mom,

While asleep?

Do you hear people talking

About you,

How you have changed?

How it breaks their heart to see you so?

Do you hear us when we talk to you?

To tell you that we’re sorry,

That we love you,

And that we’ll be fine,

No need to worry?

The excitement over meeting at night

 

meeting at night

No moonlight photos because I found I have never taken good enough photos of the moon. I seldom go out at night these years. Sigh

Click here to hear a reading of the poem. 

(So why am I talking about love again? Because I’m tired of hearing people tell me I look tired or miserable. In short I’m tired of feeling tired. Logical? No? I don’t care.)

This poem has a sister poem called “Parting at Morning.” But I don’t want to talk about parting. Meetings are exciting. Partings can be beautifully sad or sadly beautiful, both of which are my usual preference, but I’m not in the mood to be sad. So, exciting things for now.

Now let’s imagine this man traveling on a boat, obviously all by himself, on a dark night and crossing quite a distance (“three fields”) to meet with his lover  — a woman (this is Victorian poetry, and we know Browning wrote this for his wife, Elizabeth Barrett, so.) He braves the darkness and the distance to be with her. One can feel the excitement in the imagery in the third and fourth lines of the second stanza. In the darkness — a small light, and a soft familiar voice.

I’ve read some analyses of this poem, but not thoroughly because I do not like to be influenced heavily by what others say about this poem. I prefer to have my own understanding of any poem. We did read this in our poetry class some twenty years ago (ouch!), all I remember is the sound of my professor’s voice reading it. It was always relaxing.

I digress. 

This poem is often interpreted as having a male speaker because the poet is male. But read the poem again and imagine the speaker being a woman. Does that work for you? It certainly does for me.

Reading this poem in the 21st century, one may ask, why can’t the speaker be a woman? Surely, women can “gain the cove with pushing prow”? Women can cross “three fields” to get to the secret meeting place? I bet a lot of women have braved weather and distances to meet with a lover.

But whether the speaker is male or female is not my main point. My main point is actually quite simple: when you’re in love and you have to meet with the object of your affection, meeting in secret, especially at night, can have its excitement that for the moment you wish would never end.

But of course it ends. Duh.

 

 

 

 

On living, loving and leaving

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Sonnet 73 by William Shakespeare

That time of year thou may’st in me behold 
When yellow leaves, or none, or few, do hang
Upon those boughs which shake against the cold, 
Bare ruin’d choirs, where late the sweet birds sang. 
In me thou see’st the twilight of such day, 
As after sunset fadeth in the west, 
Which by-and-by black night doth take away,
Death’s second self, that seals up all in rest. 
In me thou see’st the glowing of such fire 
That on the ashes of his youth doth lie, 
As the death-bed whereon it must expire 
Consum’d with that which it was nourish’d by. 
   This thou perceivest, which makes thy love more strong,
   To love that well which thou must leave ere long.

 

There has been much debate on the meaning of this sonnet, particularly the last couplet:

   This thou perceivest, which makes thy love more strong,
   To love that well which thou must leave ere long.

What is the young man supposed to eventually leave before long: his friend or his own youth?

I will not join in the debate, but I am quoting the sonnet here because I was reminded of it (and John Donne’s Sonnet 10) twice today: first, when I read this poem by John White called Laughing about it ; second, when I read Temple Grandin’s tribute to Oliver Sacks, who also wrote a moving article reflecting on his relationship with his Orthodox family and the Sabbath.

Whether the speaker meant that the young man had to leave his friend or his youth, to me, is not the point, rather that the knowledge that one is leaving something valuable makes one appreciate it or love it even more.

My first real understanding of this line happened one summer day when my best friend and I stood in a forest, listening to the sound of the leaves of the trees as the breeze was passing through, and I said it was beautiful I wish it could last forever; and he said it was beautiful simply because it was not going to last.

(Not long after that my best friend left, and for a while, that memory always made me cry. But with time, I have learned to call on that memory, and it just brings a beautiful feeling.)

If we truly love someone or something –a place, a person, a pet or life itself —  the knowledge of our imminent leaving of it/them will make our love for it/them even stronger.

Perhaps it is the best way to live every minute of our short life here: to always remember that we won’t be here forever, that we are always about to leave. Perhaps then we can love wholeheartedly, not only for a minute or an hour or for a day, but for a lifetime.

On Choosing Whom to Love

fromm1b

“All my life, as soon as a person got attached to me, I did everything to distance them. The first person whom I loved and I was faithful to escaped me through drugs, through betrayal. Maybe many things came from this, from vanity, from fear of suffering further, and yet I have accepted so much suffering. But I have in turn escaped from everyone since and, in a certain way I wanted everyone to escape from me.”

“I sometimes accuse myself of being incapable of love. Maybe this is true, but I have also been able to select a few people and to take care of them faithfully, with the best of myself, no matter what they do.

– Albert Camus as quoted in Camus, A Romance by Elizabeth Hawes (I bought a hardbound copy of this book years ago, but I saw the book again yesterday as my husband and I were sorting books to throw and to keep!)

Camus was a known womanizer, he talked about loving the many women in his life in the love letters he wrote them, yet in his journals he wrote of distancing himself from them. He sometimes wondered if he was incapable of love, yet admitted to “taking care” of a few people faithfully the best he could no matter what these people did.

I am not writing to justify nor excuse Camus’ womanizing, but rereading this quote from him reminded me of how simple it can be to love somebody, truly love somebody, anybody; but people, especially men like Camus make it so complicated. To me, he WAS capable of love, and indeed he loved those whom he faithfully took care of no matter what they did.

You cannot choose who to like or dislike or be physically/sexually attracted to, it’s a feeling. But you can definitely choose whom you give your time, energy and yourself (body and soul) to – and that’s love.

You cannot choose your biological family (not yet, anyway, perhaps with technology it will be possible), but you can choose to love or not love your family. You may like your family, but you may not love them. (“Yeah, they’re alright. They’re cool. I haven’t heard from my folks for a month!) You may not like your family sometimes, but you may love them because you take care of them, you provide for them, and make sure they are all right.

Now I can totally understand when young people make the mistake of “falling in love” with someone who everyone thinks is the wrong person, because as recent findings reveal, the brain, particularly the pre-frontal cortex responsible for regulation of emotions, does not reach full maturity until mid-20s. Young people may not be able to “think ahead” and “make mature decisions”, and it’s perfectly understandable because neurologically speaking, they are not of that age yet.

But if you are a “typical” (I no longer like using the word “normal” because, really, what does it mean these days?) adult, you should be able to think and choose whether or not to invest in a person or a relationship. If a part of you is doubtful whether you should give more of your time, energy (and money) to be with a person who doesn’t seem to give the same to be with you,  you don’t need to pray to the gods or ask your friends over and over again whether this person loves you or not. Get that pre-frontal cortex working and figure it out yourself. It will be good exercise for your brain. 🙂

Game of Life: Excitement, Fear, Exhilaration, and then Reality Bites 

Li Tian Yuan, Tongan, Xiamen, China

Li Tian Yuan, Tongan, Xiamen, China

 I’ve never been an adventurous person. When I was younger, I only dared to do crazy things out of love for or silly attraction to some guy, like going up alone to a military camp located on a remote hill in a city where a bomb exploded just the day before, just to get the signature of a colonel on my then-boyfriend’s clearance, or going to a city that was in the middle of a war just because an attractive journalist-friend had asked me if I could go with him, and I couldn’t say no. Sigh. So 15-17 years ago.

I’ve only been in a pendulum ride once, and I am very, very sure I will die if I try it again. The only thing I ever felt the whole time I was in that monstrous thing was FEAR. And after a minute or two of that fear, I mustered the energy to just meditate. So I did, and my two guy friends who were with me and having so much fun, were yelling, “Therese, are you OK?” They thought I had died. Ha!

But a couple of weeks ago, when I saw the zip line at the amusement park my former students had invited me to, I just wanted to give it a try. It didn’t look scary because it wasn’t too high nor too long, and below was a calm river with people on pedal boats. It looked non-threatening enough that I excitedly volunteered we go. So we did. I was the first to get up on the platform, but then insisted that a colleague go first. I was having second thoughts.

And then it was my turn. I wanted to back out, but there was a line of young people behind me, the same ones I had rallied to join me. How could I ever back out? I made the sign of the cross at least five times! Then I said to myself in the same way I did as I was being wheeled to the delivery room to have my first (and only) child, “OK, Therese. You’re doing this. You can never back out on this one!”

So I jumped.

And I screamed in fear. Waaaahhhh.

Then I yelled in exhilaration. Wooo-hoo!

I know it was probably less than a minute, but it was a moment I will never forget. I waved at the people on the river, threw my head back and consequently, spun and saw everything around me. After all that fear, I felt the most beautiful, exhilarating feeling. Andthen it was over. My knees were shaking, but I couldn’t shake off that excitement right away.

Even weeks after that experience, the feeling is still quite vivid for me — those few seconds of joy. And one day, as I thought about that moment I remembered a few lines from three of Dostoevsky’s works.

In The Idiot, Prince Myshkin talks about what actually goes on in his head while he’s having a seizure. He sees beauty and feels immense joy that he’s never felt in his waking life that sometimes he actually wishes he can have a seizure again just so he can experience that happiness, that joy.

In White Nights, the sentimental hero of the story after witnessing the happiness of Nastenka, who asks him not to be unhappy because of her happiness, says he will never do anything to ruin her joy, because he knows how precious that moment is. “My God, a moment of bliss. Why, isn’t that enough for a whole lifetime?”

In A Faint Heart, Vasya is overwhelmed with gratitude and happiness that he goes insane. His friend, Arkady, on his way home pauses by the Neva and, ” A strange thought came to poor Vasya’s forlorn friend. He started, and his heart seemed at that instant flooded with a hot rush of blood kindled by a powerful, overwhelming sensation he had never known before. He seemed only now to understand all the trouble, and to know why his poor Vasya had gone out of his mind, unable to bear his happiness.”

Perhaps Arkady himself experienced this few seconds of happiness or he wouldn’t have understood the cause of Vasya’s insanity.

Some happiness-es just happen. Others can be had by choice. If by choice, we then have to be ready for the consequences which can be either harmless, productive or disastrous.

So many people will tell you to “follow your heart, pursue whatever makes you happy, don’t think, just do it.” If everything turns out fine from an uninformed decision, perhaps it’s only due to luck or coincidence. One cannot predict the future but one can try to make an intelligent guess or infer from the current situation as to the consequences of a particular decision.

When something or someone new comes to our lives, they may bring us so much excitement, and we may feel fear as we think of the changes they will bring to our lives. Some have experienced just abandoning everything for the sake of “love,” throwing caution to the wind, and they make it sound so romantic. And it sounds like it is all good, but life is not a fairy tale that ends with “they live happily ever after.” After that brief moment of bliss, comes reality and more often than not, it is ugly.

If I have the certainty that the consequences of my action would be harmless, not seriously hurt anybody whether I care about them or not, I wouldn’t mind experiencing that few seconds of bliss. Like Camus’ Sisyphus, I wouldn’t mind rolling that huge boulder on top of a hill just to be happy.

But how often are our pursuits of happiness, of excitement and exhilaration harmless? Or, how harmless are our pursuits of happiness, of excitement and exhilaration?

I really enjoyed my first time on a zip line, but even though I know it’s safe and exciting, I think once is good enough for me. (Not adventurous!)

Love of Words, Words of Love

JMU lake 2

One of the many things that I like about Dostoevsky’s style is the distinct voices of each of his characters. (Perhaps credit is also due tothe translator who understands the nuances of the Russian language.) If the character is highly educated, then he or she can speak eloquently in long, complex and profound sentences on a variety of subjects with numerous allusions to literary works. Such as the narrator of White Nights, who speaks so eruditely, that Nastenka, who considers herself a simple uneducated girl has to say to him: “You describe it all so splendidly, but couldn’t you perhaps describe it less splendidly?” The narrator’s language is reflective of a person who is used to internal monologues, and not that of one accustomed to conversing with other people.

Nastenka, on the other hand, simple as she is, expresses herself in the simplest way possible. Her sentences are short, even incomplete sometimes reflecting a very conversational use of language.

****
White Nights, a sentimental story from the diary of a dreamer

It makes a huge difference that Dostoevsky included “a sentimental story from the diary of a dreamer” in the title, because then the reader can excuse the sentimentality of the story, for are we not prone to sentimentality ourselves, albeit only in our heads?

The narrator, a 27-year old dreamer, who hasnever been with a woman, meets an 18-year old heartbroken woman, and they become friends and each other’s confidant. The woman, Nastenka, asks of him only one thing — not to fall in love with her, which of course, is impossible, she being the only woman (beautiful at that) to ever spend time with him, and listen to him.

Nastenka is distressed because the man who promised to come back to Petersburg to marry her has not come to see her yet even though it is past the date they have agreed to meet. The narrator counsels and comforts her, until he falls in love with her and finally one evening tells her. Nastenka does not turn him away, saying she will learn to love him as she already loves him as a friend. They walk, holding hands, happy with life when the man she has been waiting for, appears and she runs to him. And they walk away, leaving our poor, poor hero behind.

Days later, the young man receives a letter from Nastenka that says, “We shall meet, you will come to us, you will be for ever a friend, a brother to me.” And she asks him to forgive her, and to continue loving her because “when one loves a wrong is forgotten.” Then she tells him she is getting married and wishes for him to be there at their wedding.

Our poor hero ends his story with these words(only in his head):

“But to imagine that I should bear you a grudge, Nastenka. That I should cast a dark cloud over your serene, untroubled happiness; that by my bitter reproaches I should cause distress to your heart, should poison it with secret remorse and should force it to throb with anguish at the moment of bliss…. Oh never, never! May your sky be clear, may your sweet smile be bright and untroubled, and may you be blessed for that blissful happiness which you gave to another, lonely and and grateful heart!

“My god, a whole moment of happiness! Is that too little for a whole of man’s life? “

I know very few women and not a single man who could love that way.

Apart from parents, how many people can truly love selflessly? To wish nothing for oneself but to see the happiness of another, even if it means being neglected, abandoned?

*****

“I don’t know how to be silent when my heart is speaking.”

The narrator says these words to Nastenka as he tells her about himself.

These words remind me of the biblical verse, “Out of the fullness of the heart, the mouth speaks.” Rare is a person who can keep his secret love totally secret from everyone but himself.

When one is in love, why is it difficult to keep that to oneself? Even if one does not admit he is, he will not be able to stop mentioning the subject of his affection in every conversation, and he will always find a way to keep in touch with the same person no matter how mundane it is that he says to her.

But indeed some secret feelings are better carried to one’s grave, especially if they will not do any good to anyone.

If the narrator were my friend, I would have advised him to keep his feelings a secret, then he would not have had the unwanted pity that Nastenka must have felt for him. And he himself would not have felt guilty for making Nastenka worry about him, and their friendship would have remained pure and unsullied by knowledge of romantic feelings one had for the other.

To keep a friendship one has to be silent sometimes. Or even silence one’s heart.

Restraint is key.

On Searching for Love, Finding it and Starting a New Life (three books, one review)

Most people I know who love reading novels read at least two books a month. I could not, cannot do that. Excuses: (1) I prefer reading philosophical novels, which require more time (at least for my slow brain) to process, and (2) I have a job, a 4-year old son, and a husband and I do 95% of the housework.

This summer I took a break from reading the Russians (or just Russian, Dostoevsky) and read three “contemporary” (meaning the authors are still very much alive) books – a memoir and two novels. It is quite interesting to me how I chose to read the two novels after the memoir, and only later realized that there seemed to be a link in the order in which I read them.

The first book I read was “Three Brightnessess: The Quintessential Story of Learning Chinese And Falling in Love in China – Over and Over Again” by William Shoemaker. I read it because I know the author, had invited him to my class a couple of times to talk with my students about his short stories which I had let my students read, and promised him I would read his first book.

Three Brightnesses by William Shoemaker

I enjoyed reading Will’s memoir because, having lived in China a long time, I can relate to the things he wrote about – the place, the people, the culture, what one can like or dislike about them. Several times while reading this book I laughed so hard, and I think that’s a good way to judge whether a writer is good or not – if he/she can make you cry or laugh.

Will speaks fluent Mandarin, dated Chinese women, has Chinese friends with whom he can speak Mandarin. And yet, I don’t think he has ever felt at home or that he belongs.

One of the things he said that resonated with me is this: “In China, no one waits. Nothing stays the same for long. You can try to understand the place, but anything you learn, the moment you learn it, becomes an artifact of the past. The thing that doesn’t change is the memory – the version of the place that you knew.”

If you’re thinking of moving to China or are interested in China or the Chinese culture especially as it is now, read Three Brightnesses.

The second book is called Lost in Translation by Nicole Mones. What attracted me to this book is the quotation from Pierre Teilhard de Chardin’s book The Phenomenon of Man, right at the beginning of the book, which goes,

“Since the inner face of the world is manifest deep within our human  consciousness, and there reflects upon itself, it would seem that we have only got to look at ourselves in order to understand the dynamic relationships existing between the within and without of things at a given point in the universe. In fact so to do is one of the most difficult of things.”

The novel is about a thirty-something American woman who is running away from her troubled past (being the beloved daughter of a racist politician), and wanting to start a new life and to find love (in the form of a Chinese man, had to be Chinese), in China. (Why is it so easy for Asian women like me to accept a relationship between a western man and an Asian woman, but we tend to be surprised or even shocked, incredulous when we hear of relationships between western women and Asian men? Well, I know my answer to that one, but I would really like to know how other Asian women think!)

The main character, Alice, being fluent in Chinese, works as translator in Beijing. She translates for an American archaeologist who is doing a research on the Peking Man. Being in China, the American archaeologist has no choice but to work with Chinese archaeologists, one of whom is Lin Shiyang whose main reason for joining the team is to be able to track his wife who was put in a labor camp in the northwest of China during the Cultural Revolution. Shiyang and Alice fall in love, but right after he finds out for sure that his wife died years ago in the camp, he also finds out about Alice’s promiscuities. But that’s not the ending. You will have to read it to find out how it all ends.

It’s a story within a story, as the writer leads us to the story between Pierre Teilhard de Chardin and Lucile Swan in the early 20th century, and the love story between Alice and Shiyang in the 21st century.

After reading this novel, I promised myself I would read The Phenomenon of Man.

 But I ended up reading Forty Rules of Love by Elif Shafak, which, just like Lost in Translation is a story within a story. The main character in the 21st century is a 40-year old Jewish-American woman, Ella, married to a successful Jewish man and together they have three children, the eldest being in college and the youngest in elementary school. For twenty years she lived what seemed the peaceful and content life of the perfect wife and mother. But one day, she reads a book called Sweet Blasphemy written by a man called A.Z. Zahara, and this book changes her and her life forever. While we are reading about Ella and her life and her consequent meeting and falling in love with Aziz, we also get to read Sweet Blasphemy which is about the spiritual friendship between two Sufi mystics, Rumi and Shams of Tabrizi.

Forty Rules of Love by Elif Shafak

This novel contains so many quotable quotes all from Shams’s Forty Rules of Love. One of my favorites is

“There is only one way to be born into a new life: to die before death.”

Shamse Tabrizi.jpg

Shams of Tabrizi

In the novel, Ella’s new life entails leaving her husband (he was cheating on her anyway), and her three children, to be with a man she just met and whom she “loves”. I put love in quotation marks, because even after reading the novel and Sham’s Forty Rules of Love, I do not consider passion as love. How can you truly love somebody you just exchanged emails or text messages with? To finally meet that person and find he is even more interesting than the one you have been texting with may be very exciting indeed, but excitement does not equal love. And finally I cannot see any justification for leaving one’s children to pursue one’s happiness. Perhaps if the children are old enough to live without both parents. But for little children, I can only imagine the difficulty of growing up without both parents to guide you and make you feel secure in this world. But I have to say this, leaving a philandering husband is perfectly fine, (also the husband who forgets his wife’s birthday and their wedding anniversary, yeah!) I salute women who do so.

That said, I am grateful for this novel for introducing me to Sufism. I promised myself I would read more about Sufism, after reading about Pierre Teilhard de Chardin and the Phenomenon of Man, that is.

But Dostoevsky’s White Nights is calling….:)

What book are you reading?

When Love Goes Wrong

Life goes on

             Life goes on

“There is always something ridiculous about the emotions of people whom we ceased to love.”                                                   (Oscar Wilde, The Picture of Dorian Gray

The words above quoted from Wilde’s novel were spoken by my favorite character in that novel, Lord Henry Wotton

At my age, I find it nothing but mere melodramatics when people say they cannot live without a particular person in their lives.

Of course I have been in that situation myself when I thought my world had ended because a particular person who I had made responsible for my happiness (and consequently, unhappiness) left me.

There is something inherently wrong in the belief that one cannot live without a particular person in their lives. First is that another person can be responsible for one’s happiness. Second, that one’s world would end when that person is gone.

No one else is responsible for our happiness except ourselves, and the world can and will really continue to exist with our without a particular person in our lives. If you tell a jerk (because even a jerk can fool somebody into loving him) that he is your life, your world and that both would come to an end if he leaves you, then you are giving him enormous amount of control over your life. Not smart. And if you tell an honest and responsible man the same, then you are giving him undue pressure and undeserved feelings of guilt whenever you are unhappy (which may be your aim, and that makes you the jerk.)

When you are truly, madly, deeply in love you seldom think clearly, logically. But when that period comes to an end, then it is like you have just recovered from a psychological cataract, and you see, if you’re lucky, the purity and selflessness of your love, or if you’re unfortunate, the silliness of your thoughts and actions.

When you fall out of love, you become this person that is able to distance yourself from the relationship and see yourself and the former object of your affection and the dynamics between the two of you, like the two of you are characters in a movie or in novel whose plot not only you can relate to, but also you can analyze and comment on objectively.

At first you may feel pity for the spurned person, especially if you have “lost that lovin’ feeling,'” but they haven’t. You may feel dislike or disgust for them, especially if they had betrayed you. Or you just may find them irritating when they cannot let go and keep trying to win back your love.

I think most people have experienced breaking up with someone or being let go by someone. If you broke up with someone that you ceased to love, then whatever they say becomes mere hollow sounds to you. If you’re polite, you will pretend to listen and do a mental eye-rolling when they tell you those saccharine words that you used to love to hear them say to you:

You are my world.
I can’t live without you.
You complete me.

Duh.
Or …
D’oh.

For those who cling to a lost love:

The pain of unrequited love is real. But you have to move on because:
1. It’s not the end of the world. Really.
2. You are responsible for your own happiness. No need to pass that responsibility on to somebody else
3. You CAN move on.
4. You WILL move on.

Let go but don’t let yourself go.

Childhood Memories

childhood memories

I watched the movie “Lucy” sometime ago and thought the first half of the film was interesting, and then it just got stranger and sillier until the end. But one scene that stuck with me is the phone conversation Lucy had with her mom, where she told her she could feel everything, remember everything vividly, as if they happened just a few seconds ago. She could remember how her mother kissed her when she was still a baby.

Would you like that? To remember everything so vividly? I am guessing most people would like to remember just the happy, beautiful times and not the painful ones. In fact most people would prefer to forget the pain they have gone through.

When I was a little girl, being the youngest, I was very affectionate with my mother. I always liked kissing and hugging her and being kissed and hugged in return. She always smelled of Johnson’s Baby Powder, and I liked that. I went on being like this even when I was already in my late 20’s. My sisters used to tell me off telling me it was disgusting that I still acted like a baby when I was already an adult. But it never bothered me what other people thought.

Those are not the only memories I have of me and my mother in my childhood though. I also still vividly remember the times my mother got angry with me and my sisters. I would not say it was a typical Asian way of discipline, but it was quite common to be hit and scolded in front of family and friends or even strangers. My sisters and I sometimes talk about those times with a little sadness and a lot of laughter, but my mother remembers nothing of those times she was not gentle with us.

Yes, I remember them as well, but those hugs and kisses are the more powerful memories.

So now that I, myself, have become a mother, I hug my son tightly as often as I can, hoping he will never forget how much his mom loves him and makes him feel loved. I want him to always remember the loving look his mom gives him, and how when he is scared or hurt, his mom comforts him and makes him feel safe.

It is useless to wish he won’t remember the times I get angry with him, but I hope those memories will not be as vivid as the beautiful ones.

One of my favorite scenes from Dostoevky’s novel The Brothers Karamazov is at the trial of Mitya (Dmitry) when Dr. Herzenstube was called to the witness stand. He recalled a time when he saw Mitya as a little boy, “barefoot, his little trousers held up by a button…” He felt so sorry for him, knowing that Mitya’s father cared little for the boy, and decided to give him a pound of nuts. After that he did not see Mitya again, until twenty-three years later, a young man came to visit him and reminded him of his generosity. This young man said to him, “I’ve just come to town and I want to thank you now for the pound of nuts you once gave me, because you’re the only person who has ever given me a pound of nuts in my whole life!”

What happens in our childhood may have a major impact in our lives as adults. We remember things that happened to us when we were children as if they just happened yesterday. Some may be good, others may make us cringe or angry.

What’s your best childhood memory?

Love and Anger from Boredom

JMUAFT6

One day many years ago, when I was still young, free and single, I spoke with a colleague/friend who was only a few years older than I, about a boy who had been calling me almost every day for several months and then one day just stopped. I was telling my colleague/friend, who was married with two toddlers, that I could not stop wondering what happened, and that I could not sleep just thinking how it could just end like that. She looked me straight in the eye and said to me, coldly, “You do not have real problems, so you invent problems.” (I miss you, Nancy GRO.)

I do not know how anyone else would react to that, but I laughed. And even now, I laugh when I remember it. Indeed, that was not a real problem.

A few weeks ago, I re-read “Notes from the Underground” by Fyodor Dostoevsky, and I highlighted the quotes below as I know I have been guilty of these things myself too many times in my youth, and a couple of times in adulthood.

“How many times, for instance, I’d take offense, out of the blue, for no good reason, deliberately; I’d know very well that there was nothing to be offended at, that I was playacting, but in the end I’d bring myself to such a state that the offense would become real.”

“Or else I’d try to force myself to fall in love; in fact, I did it twice. And I suffered, gentlemen, I assure you I did. Deep down in your heart you don’t believe in your suffering, there is a stirring of mockery, and yet you suffer – in the most genuine, honest-to-goodness way. I’d be jealous, I’d be beside myself…And all out of boredom, gentlemen, all because I was crushed by sheer inertia.”

We sometimes think people have offended us, when, in fact, if we had important things to do or think about, we would not even remember what they said. And sometimes, when people have nothing to do, they imagine being in an amazing place, with an amazing person living an amazing life. And then this imagination can lead to the illusion that one is in love, when in reality, there is nothing amazing about the subject of one’s imagination.

Idleness can lead to love or anger, both of which may be mere illusions.

One ought to have time for quiet, for introspection, (I maintain that being quiet or introspecting is not the same as having an idle mind) but one also needs a distraction from the tediousness of daily living – a distraction that needs action. Hence, the need for a hobby. As an introvert, I am happy to add photography and guitar-playing to my list of hobbies that include reading and writing.

What’s your hobby?

Will you remember…?

erhu

I love the melancholic sound of the erhu

 

I took this picture morning of Christmas Eve while I was walking at the park. I’ve always loved the melancholic sound of the erhu, so when I heard it, I  walked towards where the sound was coming from and saw this old man facing the pagoda as if he was playing for the one for whom it was built. Fortunately for me, he turned around and, click! I took a photo.

The ever sentimental me imagined the old man was probably playing for his grandfather or great grandfather, and I thought how nice it would be to be remembered the same way by the ones you leave behind. (Of course the practical and realistic part of me has something else to say.)

That night, Christmas Eve, my husband and our friends and I talked about death instead of having dessert after dinner. It came about after our friend complained about being over 60 and feeling that he was  getting really close to the end. I just laughed at him saying 60 wasn’t old, and I remembered crying when my father turned 60 as I thought he was going to die soon, but he lived to be 81.

It was not the first time we talked about death instead of having dessert. I remember another time when I thought aloud about dying and nobody would be coming to my funeral because I have not lived in my hometown for a long time, and my friends have also left. My husband, who is introverted,  felt the same way. And so did our friend who was in his early 50’s then.

But really, does it matter? Would we even know?

I would like to think my father is aware that we have not forgotten him, that I have not forgotten him. That I light candles for him on important dates, and I smoke a cigarette on his birthday and on All Soul’s Day, that I visit his grave whenever I go home and again before I leave. I do all these because I want to, because I like remembering him, and I want him to be happy, just in case he is aware of these things.

My husband once asked me if I thought our son (this was before our son was diagnosed with ASD) would ever visit his (my husband’s) grave in his hometown in the north of China on Tomb-sweeping Day. He was a little shocked by my blunt and totally unsympathetic reply: “Are you crazy? Why would you burden your son to travel every year just to visit your grave? You would not even be there anymore!” I did apologize for the bluntness, but he admitted it was a burden.

I don’t want to be buried. I want to be cremated, and my ashes scattered in the sea in my hometown or any sea really. Or, if Eli, by that time is already capable of feeling love and loss like typical people do, perhaps he can keep some for himself that he can carry around with him wherever he goes. And if the dead me sees that, I would be truly happy.

I think we all want, desire to be remembered by people we love. But when we’re gone, it doesn’t really matter if they do or they don’t, does it?

Remembering is only for the good of the living, not of the dead.

Love in the time of Computers

How many times have I fooled
Myself into hoping
That you’d come
Knocking at my door
To surprise me
To make me smile
Like you used to.

Why is it so hard
To store in this brain
That you had moved on
But left everything
For me to process
And decode the meaning
Of your sudden leaving.

Isn’t it enough
That you had left
(Not the country,
Though I sure wish you would!)
And that you see me
See you happier
Without me?

But ah, this brain
This brain has faulty programming.
Its memory is full.
It cannot store new data
And none can be deleted.
It can only self-destruct,
In due time.

“Everybody’s somebody’s fool…”

It was supposed to be a rock music day –I started with U2’s The Joshua Tree album and sang along with Bono, and then it was Freddie Mercury and the Queen. But as I went over the Lyrics folder in my old portable hard drive I saw “Everybody’s Somebody’s Fool” and remembered the song.

I first heard this song when I bought a CD called “When Love Goes Wrong” a few years back.

Everybody’s somebody’s fool

The world is the biggest school
As you live, you learn though a torch will burn
Everybody’s somebody’s fool

You go through life making fools of others
Pretending you’re giving them love
But remember sister or brother
You all have to answer to the one up above

It’s beautiful to watch love begin
But oh so sad when it ends
As you go through life remember this rule
Everybody’s somebody’s fool

It’s beautiful to watch love begin
But oh so sad when it ends
As you go through life remember this rule
Everybody’s somebody’s fool

It seems like ages ago when I felt I could have written those lyrics myself. I think many have played the fool at one point in his or her life — when one gave all and left almost nothing for oneself — to someone who, as one looks back, was not really deserving of it, and not just because the love that was offered was not reciprocated, but because the person was not what you thought. But c’est la vie. Perhaps at one time, too, we fooled somebody into believing we loved them, when, really, we were just fond of them like we are fond of pets.

This song also reminds me of the first line of one of my favorite contemporary novels written by Andrew Sean Greer, The Confessions of Max Tivoli: “We are each the love of someone’s life”. This sentence really moved me at the time. My mentor/spiritual director/idol mentioned it to me, and I looked it up and read the book and emailed Mr. Greer and, I think because he wasn’t as famous that time and had the time to read and reply to emails, he replied to my email, and I was in heaven. It is so true. There is that one person who truly loves us, and remains faithful to us despite the many shortcomings or hurts we have caused them. They are our angels. Of course psychology will have a different explanation, but who cares? Somebody loves us more than we can ever love ourselves or them, and it’s enough.

You maybe a fool now (perhaps you fooled somebody in the past), but know that someone out there loves you. You are the love of someone’s life. Be grateful for that love.