What feeds your soul.

Some days, “politics” can really wear you down.  The personalities you have to tiptoe around, the words you have to carefully choose.  The mask you have to wear, the ruminations of what you shouldn’t/should have done.  And when you hear others’ experiences enough, you don’t feel uplifted, like “hey, we’re all going through the same thing,” you just feel downtrodden.  Like there’s no end.  In the middle of one of these conversations with a friend, I had to interrupt and ask – so what feeds your soul?

He told me stories – the time when his sister-in-law secretly treated them to dinner even though she was penniless; the time when his brother’s father-in-law felt so uncomfortable with being treated to an expensive meal that he ordered the cheapest items on the menu but suffered through each dish; the time when he hugged someone even though he knew it was going to be awkward because it’s been too long, but hey, it was good, in the end.  For him, I think it’s being part of moments of simple, but selfless giving, that brings joy to his heart.

When it was my turn, my answer was a little less coherent: reading a great book, watching thunderstorms and being reminded of my waterloo roommates, walking barefoot on grass in the summer, falling on a ski run and needing friends to pick me up because I was laughing so hard and then doing the same for another friend on another run, a moment of peace when sunset streams into my apartment and gently brightens my every day objects… At first I found it hard to find a common theme, but it is in these moments that I am reminded how utterly blessed I am.  Blessed – with literacy, with friendship, with health, with opportunities to travel, with a place of my own…

So, what feeds your soul?

“This year I will…” revisited

A year ago, I had some moments to reflect on the ways friends have changed me.  I made a list that was partially a challenge, and partially to remind myself of those who were halfway across the country.

Here was the list:

1. I will laugh when I feel frustrated and want to throw a tantrum instead.
2. I will take walks in the rain rather than run away from it. I will try even to not use an umbrella.
3. I will not take as many photos for memories and instead, revel in the moments.
4. I will lie in a park all afternoon doing nothing. Literally.
5. I will not take out my phone in the company of my friends and family.

And I am proud to say that except for lying in the park (where my highly anxious self was worried I’d fall asleep alone in a park) I was able to do those things consistently. Funny enough, when I tried to draw up a similar list for this year – my mind drew a blank.  I realized that I haven’t reflected enough on my interactions with friends.  I was so wrapped up in “taking a break” when I could  (be it eating out, traveling, checking out random events in the city) that my last journal entry was in August 2011.

But fragments resurfaced to help me construct a list.

For the time I got frustrated at a friend who seemed to care more about my condo than my mediterranean cruise, I will take an interest in the mundane details of everyday because sometimes those things are more important than the most recent trip to somewhere.

For the time I had snobbish thoughts about returning beer bottlesI will seek opportunities to give friends a hand (even if it’s to the garbage dump) because that’s what friends are for.

For the time I felt useless to those who matter to me most, I will spend time in their presence rather than hide behind a guilt-soothing attempt to “help”

For the time a friend openly told me that she is trying to save our friendship,  I will learn to be truthful and vulnerable.

For the time I watched one of my best friends walk the aisle and I was her one of her bridesmaid, I will remember what love does to transform a person and the world around him/her.

*

What’s yours?

 

Regret

Several months ago, I blogged about regret. Looking back, it was a naive entry.  I have never experienced what it was like to be at the hospital day-in-day-out, never experienced the sense of bewilderment and helplessness, never experienced being a family member with a loved one at the hospital.  

It wasn’t until January of this year, when my grandma was admitted to the hospital, that I became one of “those” family members.  I was probably the “neurotic” type.  The one who knew too much, but actually didn’t know anything at all.  My relatives looked to me to explain everything that was going on for my grandma.  But the truth is, other than knowing that my grandma had diabetes, I had no idea that she’s been refusing insulin all these years.  I see her for dim sum and dinner frequently and everyone always comments on her hearty appetite.  But until I saw her in a gown, I had no idea that she was so thin and frail. Until I saw her delirious and on two-point restraints, I never realized how utterly vulnerable she was, the matriarch of our family.  When they asked me, “So what’s wrong with grandma?” I could only answer what wasn’t wrong with her.

Eventually my grandma recovered, and she was discharged home with CCAC supports.  Eventually, CCAC discontinued their services.  Surgical rotations started, my parents went traveling and left us with our dog and the family home to take care of… and the routine was reestablished. Behind the busy-ness, I buried the unsettling feeling of seeing the facade crack – of realizing that not all is “well.”   

A few days ago, my grandma went to the hospital again. As I was fretting over how to make up for being absent for Mother’s day dinner because I was traveling, her hospitalization rendered my worry a moot point.  There would be no mother’s day dinner this year.  

If I were a protagonist of a novel, the author would probably be able to depict my sense of filial piety mixed in with this obligation to use my so-called “medical knowledge,” mixed in with the sense of inevitability that this was the beginning of the end to explain why I am hovering at the periphery, asking all sorts of technical questions and yet, not being there.  And if I were a protagonist, I would probably be able to get beyond this feeling that somehow, I’ve failed, and anyways, when did it become about me. 

But this isn’t a novel. And there isn’t a satisfactorily neat lesson that I’ve learned from all this to conclude my entry.  

Eleven dollars

A few weeks ago, my friend asked me whether I could drive him to the beer store to get refund for all the bottles/cans that’s accumulated over the last three years.  I found some lame distraction to divert the conversation, secretly hoping he would forget about it.  When he brought it up again, I cringed, and found a lame “I’m busy” excuse.  Normally, most people would “get it” – but this friend (bless his heart because he is really one of the kindest people I know and everyone who knows him would agree) doesn’t usually get these kind of cues.  So finally this week, I decided to suck it up and let him load up five full bags of empty bottles in the back of my little yaris (it filled up the trunk entirely).  Even though it was a short ride, the smell that filled the car was potent and I was inwardly bitter that I had to get my car dirty.  As I helped him bring the bags in, I couldn’t help but feel quite self-conscious of what others thought of me. I couldn’t wait to get to the front of the line and get rid of those bags.  You can imagine my disappointment when we realized that we were supposed to sort the bags out.  In the centre of the beer store, there is a sorting table, and there I stood, emptying the bags can by can, with two fingers at a time because I wanted to minimize my contact.  Finally, we were done after what seemed like an eternity of people ebbing in and out of the store glancing curiously at our production – and when we proudly presented five tray full of bottles/cans I was shocked to find that it amounted to ELEVEN DOLLARS.

I dirtied my car, made it smell like a strange mixture of beer/vodka/wine, stood there clearing out three years worth of sticky alcohol-stained bags for ELEVEN DOLLARS?! I had to hold back all the snobby things that I thought in my head about  how easily I would’ve dropped $11.

But after the snobby thoughts came a sobering thought: is this what I’ve diluted my friendships down to?  People to do “cool” stuff  with – like skiing at tremblant, checking out a fancy restaurant, going to a fun concert …but if you ask me to (temporarily) stink up my car and get my hands sticky and my big ego slightly perturbed by the curious glances of passerbys all for a $11 refund then I’ll pretend I never heard you?

how sad – to realize that it wasn’t the $11 that was a laughable pitiful quantity, but my friendship.

(P.S. “Friends” – be warned.)

遺憾

The Chinese people have a word to express regret, but it goes much deeper. It means that at the end of it all, there is a sense of unfinished and “incompletable” business, an “if only” left hanging. Or something along those lines. But the word kept echoing in my head over these months of medicine.

I have interacted with family members of patients who were unreasonably rude to the point of insulting. In any other context I would probably lash out, but each time, it’s easy to see that they are responding to the guilt and helplessness in watching loved ones suffer… And even more deeply, sometimes, a desperate wish to compensate for all the missed opportunities to show that they care or love the person despite knowing that it seems too little, too late.

I felt this sense of “regret” most heavily on Christmas eve – some inpatients had family who brought in droopy Santa hats, presents, and constrained cheer – only to sit for half an hour with awkward attempts at conversations before leaving to other obligations. Others would ask to speak with the physician, and rehash the same questions they’ve asked over and over again, hoping for a different answer than the one that they could see in front of their eyes. But I had the rare privilege of witnessing something different that night as well.

That night, one of the patients took a turn for the worse and family members were notified. Her husband, who was constantly at her bedside the entire admission, asked her church friends to come. During the night, quiet tears were shed, but prayers and worship songs were heard. She passed sometime after midnight. She was surrounded by people who mourned for her passing but also rejoiced in her life with her and loved her. To me, that moment reflected a life that has no 遺憾 (regret).

I witnessed how when everything culminated to this point, neither herself nor her family members desperately grasped to hold on to something. We so often live in the future-tense, then when the present ends with no future, we are left like the roadrunner in bugs bunny. In the new year, I really hope I can live each day in such a way that I could say to myself, at the end of it all, there are no “if only’s” left hanging.

Clickety-clack of her boots

I watched a lone girl in her 300 dollar jacket and fancy boots walk up bay st. The clickety clack of her boots echoed purposefully – this was a girl who knew what she wanted and got what she wanted.

At around queen and bay, I saw her pause as she was coming up to a group of homeless youths. I saw her waver, contemplating whether to cross the street, but in the end, she simply straightened her back and kept her focus straight ahead, as if they were merely landscape. Suddenly, one of them stood up and she halted once again. Several steps ahead was a lone homeless man, wrapped in newspaper and crippled and she watched the youth approach the man “Probably to ask for a smoke”. As she resumed her pace, she overtook the pair, but turned back when she heard the clingy-clang of money being dropped in the man’s collecting dish.

*
Funny, somewhere in her purposeful journey from point a to point b, the clickety clack of her march drowned out a lot of sounds she used to hear as a teen growing up in the area. But the clingy clang of the youth’s coins was unmissable. It spoke of an unquestioning generosity, and even more importantly, an unconditional sacrifice. How much did he have to start with — who knows. What does it mean for him to give the other man several dollars — probably more than for you or me.

it’s true that sometimes the money is “misspent.” or that sometimes there are scam artists mixed into the pot. But perhaps that is where grace and mercy step in.
*

The girl with the fancy boots abruptly turned around again and continued her journey home. No, she didn’t reach into her purse to pull out money in the middle of the night. But with the reminder of grace and mercy, her steps became much lighter, as if she shed the burden of excuses she’s used over and over again for walking past the homeless blindly.

“I need to pee” & the Jesus parade

Last saturday, I was returning downtown after brunch with a friend mid-town.  By brunch, I mean that I had three cups of coffee among other things.  So by the time the meal was over, my bladder was slightly full, but I thought I’d be good until I arrived home.

twenty minutes later, I get off the DVP and I’m downtown.  The sun was out, I had my windows down, and I was loving life.  Then I was stuck on wellesley.  Being a local, I started taking all these side lanes and finally emerged, one small block north of college/yonge.  But the police officer made me turn north on yonge, and from there, it was one way all the way back up to bloor st.  As I crept along, I watched people of all ethnicities and all ages wave “I love Jesus” banners and some had their own bands on the back of the trucks … singing familiar songs like “Shout to the Lord.”  By now, I’d been circling the block to my house for forty-five minutes and I did not want to sing along.  In addition to that, I needed to pee.

The thought of my bladder bursting became so pervasive that I had to pull over and call my dear friend who (luckily) was at home and access to her house was not blocked.  This was the content of our brief conversation, “A, I need to pee.  I’ve been stuck circling around my place for the last hour, and I was wondering whether I could borrow your bathroom.”

But from borrowing her bathroom, I got to catch up with her over cottage cheese (her new love).  We went down to David’s tea together.  On the way, another friend E spontaneously joined us and we strolled towards the shop, enjoying the lovely almost-summery saturday afternoon.  As I was recounting my story to E, it struck me that at that moment of desperation, I came dangerously close to being angry at these people for being in the parade and causing all this chaos.   Neither of my friends were Christians, but ironically, A was the one who piped up, “we should thank Jesus! ”

It was true, because of the parade, I got to see two friends whom I haven’t seen for awhile because of different work schedules.  We got to enjoy the sunshine and the simple deliciousness of a lazy afternoon with nothing on the agenda.  Sometimes, we get so frustrated with roadblocks and delays in our lives, because we are so attuned to getting from point A to point B in the most efficient way possible.  But it’s moments like these, when we are forced to pause, that we see how much we can be thankful for.