Amidst all the dust, boxes and packing tape, the colorful part of packing for a big move is the rediscovery of semi-forgotten treasures. In one of my packing days, I found these…
…old letters from an old friend, a really special person.
Her name is Ivy. I met her in 1992 when I was a sophomore in the university and I had just shifted majors from Molecular Biology to Sociology. I didn’t know any of the other students but Ivy took it upon herself to be my ‘buddy’. She was very friendly and I just remember her making me feel at ease. As the semesters passed, we would always find ourselves in the same classes and we’d always sit together, mostly in the front row. We would share notes, be project team mates, review buddies during exams and whenever I had to miss class due to illness or for whatever reason, she would always be there for me to tell me what I’ve missed and let me borrow her notes so I won’t be behind. She was that kind of person…very helpful, accommodating, reliable, highly intelligent.
It did not take long for us to become friends. Sometimes we would hang out in campus or even go to the mall to catch a movie during our long breaks. I later found out that she had a Japanese boyfriend ("T") at the time and that things were pretty serious. Soon after our college graduation, she got married and I was one of her bridesmaids. It was a quiet yet meaningful ceremony.
A part of me felt it may have been too early. She was fresh out of college and she could still do a lot of things and accomplish much. Was she ready? But at the same time, a part of me knew that she was a mature person, strong and capable of whatever life threw at her.
She migrated with T to
after getting married. T’s job was there and of course it was the practical choice. When Ivy moved, that’s when our correspondence began. I’m pretty sure she started the whole thing, that she sent the very first letter. She would send one, I’d reply and send one out. Then I’d eagerly await her next letter, telling me of her new life in a foreign country. It was helpful for her adjustment to be in touch with me and it was a wonderful experience for me as she opened my eyes to a bigger world filled with possibilities. I was a curious and indulging friend and audience and I was always thrilled to learn about her adventures. We were both in our early 20s yet I knew how vastly different our paths were. I have always found living abroad on my own a seductive thought, attending a foreign university an exhilarating possibility, and there was my friend living all that. The choice to live vicariously was a no-brainer for me. Japan
Her earlier letters were mostly about adjusting to a foreign culture (language, customs, religion, etc). Then there were letters about adjusting to married life and it did not take long for her letters to then shift to motherhood. Eventually it became about balancing family life and career as she found work as a teacher and writer and I am certain she excelled in both. At the time, these were not my realities. But now that I am also with family and living in a foreign country, I realize that I can find a wealth of wisdom in her letters. I read her words now and they might as well had been written by me! Her angst, her struggles with motherhood and its rewards, issues with her spouse, all seem like my own echoes, only these echoes precede my realities.
In late 2004, the same year I migrated here to the
U.S. and just got married, a devastating tsunami hit various countries in Southeast Asia. Ivy, with her husband and three children were vacationing in Phuket, at the time. It was around Christmas when all this happened and by the new year, I received news that she (and possibly her entire family) died when the tsunami hit. Thailand
None of this made sense to me. How can this happen? She was so young, had so much promise, was just starting out, had such young children?! How can this wonderful, almost magical human being leave this earth so soon, so tragically?
None of it makes sense still. I’ll never know, will never find the answers. All I am grateful for is that in the short time she lived, I knew her and was touched by her beautiful spirit. As I pack our things in this house and remove paintings and decorations on the walls, I see ‘shadows’, outlines left where dust settled all around the objects. Well, magic dust surrounded Ivy and though she is now physically gone, her presence, her mark lives on in each life she has touched along the way. That, I am certain of.
I find comfort in this idea. And I'd like to believe that the more intimate the relationship is, the finer, the more complex the mosaic copy becomes. My objective is not to have a lot of mosaic copies when I die but to have copies that are intricate and as pronounced as they could possibly be. After all, life is indeed measured not by its length but by its beauty, by how you touched others' lives and the value you have added during your borrowed time.