Friday, September 25, 2015

Remembering Ivy

I’m not sure why I remembered her today. Maybe all the Facebook posts of friends having friends who passed away triggered it.

I met her way before the Facebook age and in a lot of ways I’m glad we did. At the time, writing real letters was the only way to keep in touch without spending a ton of money, and I remember how I eagerly awaited all her letters and postcards from a place that seemed so alien yet so fascinating to me.

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 fall behind.  She was that kind of personvery helpful, accommodating, reliable, and 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 Japan after getting married.  T’s job was there and of course it was the practical choice.  When Ivy moved, our correspondence began.  I’m pretty sure she was the one who 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. 

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 preceded my realities.

In late 2004, the same year I migrated here to the U.S., a devastating tsunami hit various countries in Southeast Asia.  Ivy, with her husband and three children were vacationing in Phuket, Thailand at the time.  It was around Christmas when all this happened and by the New Year, I received news that she died when the tsunami hit. Her husband and three very young children were never found and eventually presumed dead.

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?

Still, none of this makes sense and eleven years after the fact, I still feel my insides grieving for her and her lovely family. I now imagine how it would have been if we were both on Facebook, constantly sharing our writing online, pictures of our children, and inviting each other’s families to visit. 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 and wisdom she always so selflessly shared. She may be physically gone, yet her presence, her mark, lives on in each life she has touched along the way.  That, I am certain of. 

In one of the science shows I watch, where the topic was the possibility of life after death, someone suggested that this merely refers to the legacy we leave behind after dying. An idea was proposed that each life can be likened to a mosaic, an image made of tiny pieces, details put together in a beautiful way.  While we are alive, those we touch around us, those special to us or to whom we are special, are able to make a ‘copy’ of that mosaic. Though the pieces are much larger, less complex, less intricate, and therefore more blurry and less precise, what results is still a copy of the original, albeit less perfect.

I find comfort in this idea. Now that Ivy is gone and I read her words as she shared her life as a mother, wife, writer and thinker in a foreign country, I realize that she has been living within me and through me all this time. She died young but I could never say that her life could have been better, could have been fuller or more meaningful. She took great risks, loved deeply, thought profoundly and lived passionately. Is there really anything to regret?

She continues to inspire me, nudging me to do my best to try to make as many worthwhile copies of my own mosaic while I still have time. And the numbers don’t matter as much to me as the quality of these copies. I wish them to be as 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 to the world during your borrowed time. In the end, it boils down to lovehow much and how deeply you knew love and never feared to live it and be in its presence in all that you do.

Thank you, my friend. Thank you, Ivy, for loving life and allowing me to witness how gracefully you did it.

*This essay was previously published on Catharsis on 8.5.2011 under the title Her Vibrant Mosaic. It has been modified for this current publication.

Friday, September 18, 2015

Beware of the Hulk at Morning Drop Off

Have you ever had one of those days when you just feel angry? You wake up angry and it's not because of a dream you had, but just some unexplained, uneasy feeling that lingers and simmers inside. 

Have you gotten one of those days when your chest feels hollow and tight at the same time, and you keep trying to inhale and exhale to see if it will make a difference but instead fear that fire will burst out of you? You are standing on the precipice and one tiny step will turn that anger seamlessly into hostility.

Do you know what I'm talking about?

Well, recently I've been having such days and there really is no clear rhyme or reason to it. It could be hormonal, who knows? I haven't really dug deep enough but one thing has certainly become clear to me. On such days, it becomes imperative for my son to catch his school bus in the mornings. On these angry, hostile days, I've now realized that it's just too unwise of me to choose to expose myself to the morning drop off line in school. That would be like confining Bruce Banner in a torture cell and think nothing would happen.

Here's what I mean...

In my son's school, you'll find two car lanes when you enter the premisesone lane for cars entering to drop off, and the opposite lane going the opposite direction for cars exiting the school after drop off. Pretty simple, right? 


The rules are simple for smart and decent adults. But as expected, there are always those few who think they're special and to whom the rules never apply. Personally, I think they're just stupid. The sad thing is, as I always say, stupidity and arrogance always go together. And this completely drives me insane! There are always those who, for whatever reason, don't think at all—don't think about the consequences of their actions, are oblivious to their surroundings, or simply don't give a sh*t about anyone else but themselves. Stupid and arrogant, like I said.

Three mornings ago, I was there. I dropped off my son and as I was driving through the exit lane, I noticed a white SUV stopped a few feet in front me, blocking my lane. This vehicle, though in the same direction as those just about to drop off, was parked on the exit lane, my lane, blocking drivers like me who needed to leave. In other words, the driver went against the traffic flow. The driver, a female, was stopped side by side another SUV and they were chatting. I was stopped just a few feet away from this jerk, waiting for her to feel embarrassed. I saw her look my way and then looked back at her other driver friend and proceeded to chat. Clearly she took her time to wrap up their conversation and I swear that when she finally moved her vehicle, I did not detect any sense of urgency from her and neither did she wave at me to apologize for the inconvenience she's caused. It took every ounce of will power on my part to resist the temptation to keep driving and just hit her head on. Just sayin'...

Then yesterday morning, I witnessed something similar. By the time I got to the school, the line was already getting long and there were already a number of cars waiting. Things were crawling but I knew we still had a lot of time and there was no reason to get stressed out. I was actually having a nice chat with my son while we were waiting when this pick-up truck drove past me on my left side. To reiterate, that lane is only for cars exiting. This pick-up truck had no business going against the flow, bypassing everyone who was already lined up. I watched to see and gave the male driver the benefit of the doubt, thinking that maybe he would turn towards the parking lot. No, I was wrong. I kept watching and saw that he kept driving and basically cut the line. He stopped right by the school doors and dropped off his daughter. A**h*le!! Another arrogant jerk who thinks the rules don't apply to him because he's so freakin' special!

And let's not forget that of course on a daily basis there are parents who just refuse to be considerate and continue to take their sweet time during drop off. They open doors for their kids who appear perfectly capable of doing it themselves. They hug and kiss and chat a little, and gracefully waltz back towards their vehicles as if time has magically stood still. WTF!! They never seem to care that the line behind them has extended to close to a mile and that there are other students who would not make it on time, thanks to their stupid, oblivious, inconsiderate brains!

So yes, morning drop off is clearly very unhealthy for me. For someone who already suffers from periodic angry days, I think it's best I minimize contact with idiots who have unbelievable levels of self-entitlement. I just don't have the patience and I can't promise I'd have the will to stay well-behaved at all times. Don't say you've not been warned.

 Don't make me angry. You wouldn't like me when I'm angry...

Wednesday, September 9, 2015

A Summery Summary

Summer’s inches away from the finish line
And I hear it panting, desperate for a break
Or maybe it’s me grunting, rushing time
Aching for a shift, my sanity at stake.
It’s been a busy summer, 
much crazier than those before
The good and the bad, the fun and excruciating
I really can’t ask for more.

My mom surprised me,
flew across the seas to visit.
She wanted to show up for my son’s First Communion.
She said she couldn’t miss it!

Mom’s vacation is never long enough for me
This time only a hundred days she stayed
We had to make full use of every moment
So all summer long we all played.

We took a week-long vacation,
A once-in-a-lifetime cross-country trip
Driving three days from Nashville to Vegas
I’m surprised I didn’t flip!

We saw a huge meteor crater,
the Grand Canyon and Hoover Dam,
Explored casinos in Las Vegas,
And had a blast with the group Blue Man!

And then on the drive back
a different adventure,
Passing through Texas
We all felt real fear and danger.

A major car accident,
our Honda Pilot got hit
By a red truck that lost control
When traffic wasn’t moving, not one bit.

You’d think my bad luck
would stop just about there
But no, no, no, no!
There’s actually more to share.

I also got called for jury service
And had to show up twice
Then my dentist put a crown on my molar
Only to be further sent for a root canal…Oh how nice!

I couldn't eat, a pain to chew
and then there were days, I felt so blue
Had serious fights with those I love,
Said "I've had enough!", to the Heavens above.

Sure, things got patched up
and everyone moved on
Love is tough and stubborn that way
always ready for a new dawn.

But I'm seriously tired
Am so ready for Fall
I need to chill and lose the heat
I hope this week is its last call.

A new season, a change of pace
although I'm sure of new challenges to face
At least we have lots of Holidays to look forward to
So lets be positive and may the Force be with you, too!