Found In Translation

I attended a birthday meal for a septuagenarian this evening. I wasn’t the cook so it was this side of better. It seemed a breeze was breathed on us continuously which was relief from the humidity I seemed to experience everywhere else I was present for the day. We were sitting talking before the meal which for me means listening to predominantly Chinese phrases. I am sometimes isolated by my vocabulary which consists of ‘xie xie’ or “thank you” and ‘dou bu qi’ which means “I’m sorry”. I have had a six year relationship with my Canadian Chinese fiancé knowing nothing more and needing not much else. There is some English when we visit her family which provides me the opportunity to put my foot in my mouth and say ‘dou bu qi’ and practice my Chinese.

Someone asked what time it was. My initial reaction was to suggest it was time to eat as BBQ almost everything was already on the table but something struck me. Someone reached into their pocket and siphoned the time from their cell phone while I turned my wrist and glanced at my watch. If I want to know the time I look at the microwave, the oven or my watch before I even think about the cell phone in my pocket. As far as I’m concerned cell phones are for music, EBay and confirming how few of you read this blog. I don’t even use mine to make calls as I have one of those old phones you have to travel half way across the house for. I would like to argue that I like the exercise but there are people I know who do read this blog and they could only laugh at such an argument.

Time means something different to each of us. To the 8 year old at the table it was an eternity until we cut the cake. The chef at the BBQ toiled for hours marinating and turning several forms of flesh and I ate most of it in a fraction of the time it took others. This slight failing falls squarely at the feet of my parents who birthed four hungry boys. Last one to the table scrapes the bowl. My swiftness to swallow was further fine tuned among inmates who would ask “are you going to eat that?” If it was on your tray you didn’t want it.

Like time, life experiences are subjective and subtle. Money for someone who experienced the Great Depression is something different from the 13 year old with the X-Box, IPod and Dr. Dre Headphones. Homelessness is a foreign concept to one and a reflection and reminder to the other. The 8 year old waiting for the cake will likely never fathom his grandmother passing her portion of rice to her children.

If you were to ask one about food, the stories, memories, impressions, meanings and experiences would be as far apart as the years themselves. I hope neither know hunger again or ever but there is nothing like it to add to appetite and to colour food with flavour and celebration. It becomes not something we do three times a day but something we are blessed with in the moment.

Cicadas

With this heat wave the Cicadas have been screaming somewhere in my vicinity. They are an interesting insect. In some varieties the nymphs burrow into the ground for two to five years, some even seventeen years. They all come out like the Pied Piper was leading them somewhere. Their predators don’t have a life-cycle that coincides with theirs so they can survive to serenade you and me. I remember listening to them when I was in the hospital. My friend Ed informed me of their significance. Like insects our dark moments can be a prelude to a metamorphosis.

Off and on I spent a couple of decades in a darkness not of my own choosing. None of it seemed natural but possibly it was. I wasn’t joined by droves in similar circumstances. Had I been a Cicada I might have taken comfort in the fact that there were others buried with me. It often seemed to be just Ed and myself. I can’t argue that it was a prelude to something better.

Some of what I lost needed to be lost. When we are stripped of most of what we recognize, we are in fact given a gift. When we emerge we have the unique ability to make choices. As I was left with little I could choose once again what to fill my life with; I had the freedom to metamorphosize though many other freedoms were denied. I chose to surround myself with better people and undertake things that provided personal meaning. Hopefully my acts are less self-centered than they once were. I am more conscious than I ever was and attempt to occupy myself with endeavors that also benefit others. My bank account reflects this but money can sometimes be difficult to emerge from itself. Migrating from purchase to purchase can be like standing still. When you are beneath the “material” there is no view and subsequently little perspective.

I’m not sure I feel like something singing from a tree but I do not feel buried. To be embedded in turmoil and pain can seem like a curse in the moment. When I was able to emerge I cannot put into words how sweet even the air was. I was able to see and experience things I was unable to before. I remember my first trip into London after several years from home. The skyline was like New York, I was in awe and inspired. Obviously I wasn’t given much of a different view. Some of the people and places in my life were exactly the same as before I was submerged. In some strange fashion I did metamorphosize and in doing so I gained a perspective that was quite different. Some of my life is like getting a new television. The channels may be the same but the picture is a welcome improvement.

When you can’t see your children for over a decade every child you see reminds you of your loss. On some of my weekly passes I came into contact with a relative’s daughter who was the same age as mine. I had no idea what my daughter might even look like. In my sadness I was still able to share my life with this individual as I would have had she been my own daughter. Like the song says “if you can’t be with the one you love, love the one you’re with.” We often don’t get the opportunities we would choose but we are given opportunities.

I could easily stare at the Hole I emerged from. I could curse the sky for what I lost and endured but that would only cloud what I have gained. I would not have a song to offer if I considered what I now have as second rate. I wouldn’t have chosen some of the people who are in my life but now that the choice is mine again I would not trade a single one.

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