Monthly Archives: January 2017

Oh, for the love of…

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When we were little, my siblings and I would ask our mother, “Who’s your favorite? Which one of us do you love the best?”

We’d always get the same exasperating answer. She would hold up her hand and say, “See my fingers? Which finger do I love best?” With her other hand, she would point to one finger and then the other and say, “Do I love this one the best? Or this one? How could I answer that? Of course, I love them all the same!”

(Secretly, I’d think, “Oh come on! Surely, you love the thumb or maybe the pointer the best…?“).

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Everybody has a favorite finger.

Only once, when we were all grown did she admit to me that she does, in fact, have a favorite child.

(Yes, siblings, it’s true)!

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My mother and her dearly beloved firstborn daughter.

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Daughter #2 – Best at Everything, Couldn’t be More Perfect if She Tried, and did I mention she had triplet BOYS?!

 

 

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Me and my long-awaited baby brother…so longed-for, so cherished that he was named Theodore, i.e. “Gift from God.” (It took four tries, but they finally hit the jackpot)!

 

 

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My mother revealed to me that she loves best…whichever one of us needs her the most at the time.

I thought of that when I was driving my son to his gym this weekend. I was ranting and raving about the state of our nation’s affairs as I have been since November. My son interrupted my diatribe to ask: “Do you want to move to another country?”

It’s not a crazy question. My husband is from the U.K. and has often fantasized about returning to Scotland, where he spent his childhood. Every time he visits Scotland, I get a spate of real estate listings in my email inbox. As for me, I am the child of immigrant parents, who freely changed their country of residence from Korea to America as often as some people change the oil in their cars.

HELL NO!” I said with a vehemence that shocked even myself. I struck my own chest in a melodramatic gesture I’ve only seen performed by my own mother and maybe a few Korean drama heroines: “This is MY country!”

What the hell has come over me? I thought as soon as the words flew out of my mouth.

To be honest, I’ve always been somewhat suspicious of the very concept of patriotism…I’ve thought that being patriotic was corny at best and slightly sinister at worst. But now I understand what my mother meant…I love our country more than ever before, because it desperately needs us right now. The American values upon which our country was founded are being hurled to the winds. Your tired, your poor, your huddled masses yearning to be free are having the door slammed on their weary faces. Citizens of countries where the president does not happen to have business dealings are being denied entry. Even permanent residents have been turned away. As one of the speakers at a rally I attended this weekend said: This is a civic emergency.

I’ve always considered myself to be an apolitical, introverted couch potato, but I spent the weekend at rallies and marches, joining in the shouts of “THIS is what America looks like!” and “THIS is what democracy looks like!” and “No hate! No fear! Refugees are welcome here!” As I squeezed in alongside other protesters and activists, I felt my heart swell with love for this country and for the people who are doing whatever they can to make this place a more perfect union.img_2812-2 img_2819img_2822img_2830img_2836

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“Love thy neighbor”

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I guess that makes me a radicalized patriot.

God bless America.

What would be needed were Americans in successive generations who were willing to do their part – through protests and struggle, on the streets and in the courts, through a civil war and civil disobedience and always at great risk – to narrow that gap between the promise of our ideals and the reality of their time.
– Barack Obama “A More Perfect Union”

Related Post: Their Country

Signs

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I left C’ville around 6 am with a couple of friends to head to the Women’s March. In Arlington we joined up with a couple more friends and headed to the Metro. Kudos to the Washington Metro Area Transit Authority for opening early, adding trains, and filtering the crowds for safety. It took some time just to get to the platforms, but despite the huge throng of people, the atmosphere was joyful. Every time another group would be let through the turnstiles, a cheer would go up. When the next group of people would be let up the escalators, there would be another cheer. After we let two overcrowded trains go by, we finally ended up taking a train one stop AWAY from DC to actually squeeze onto a train headed TOWARD DC. It soon became so crowded that it became hard to breathe. A man standing next to us collapsed and people immediately started calling for a doctor. You might imagine that in a train packed so full, it would be difficult for anyone to make their way through the crowd. Magically, the crowds parted to let through a panoply of women – an EMT and nurses were first on the scene. A bottle of water was passed hand over hand above people’s heads to be given to the gentleman who had fainted. He was given a seat and was soon pronounced alert and responsive. This was the atmosphere I experienced throughout the day. People were supportive, considerate, and positive. Everyone looked out for each other. At the rally and march, I was humbled to see at least two elderly women in wheelchairs. I can’t even imagine what they had to go through to get there.

Here are some of the things we witnessed:

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This was the sign I carried:

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There were many chants throughout the day, but my favorites were these two simple ones: “THIS is what America looks like!” and “THIS is what democracy looks like!” I’m so glad to have been a part of this. At the beginning of our trip, we had to go one stop backwards in order to move forward to our destination. Maybe this is a metaphor for what this country is going through now. I certainly hope so. Let’s keep this train moving forward.

 

I need therapy

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There are many ways to deal with life when the going gets rough…

The hardiest among us can simply:

img_8048Being of the non-hardy variety myself, I find that eating a cookie can help:

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Eat your heart out!

Sometimes animals are the best therapy of all. At the university where I work, various groups will often hire a petting zoo to roll onto campus to alleviate stress during exam periods. The students abandon their books and fly out of the libraries and dorms as soon as they catch wind of the fact that the animals have arrived…Wouldn’t you?

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“It followed her to school one day…”

Even my grumpy colleague can’t help but crack a smile when the petting zoo arrives:

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Of course we have our own cute and cuddly therapy animals at home:

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What’s that you say?! You mean you don’t find Darwin the mudskipper cute and cuddly?

 

 

Are you SURE?!

My friend Tina is a child psychologist. Her trademark tools of the trade are her therapy guinea pigs. They earn their keep by going to work with her every day. For years she’s been telling me that guinea pigs make great pets. If you’ve been following this blog, you may recall that my daughter was pining for a more exotic variety of pet. First she wanted goats, which I considered getting for her for a hot minute before coming to my senses. Then she decided she wanted to have ducklings. I was about to get her the ducklings, when I discovered hawks and foxes in our backyard. Remembering my friend’s advice, I finally convinced my daughter that guinea pigs would make far better pets. I made absolutely no move to actually get them for her however.

On Martin Luther King Jr. Day we all had a day off from school and work, and I had scheduled dentist appointments for the kids. As we left the dentist’s office my son asked me if we could make a quick run to the pet store so he could pick up some marine salt for Darwin, the mudskipper…(Don’t all these stories start so innocently)?

My daughter was in a foul mood, having just had a recalcitrant baby tooth yanked out of her head and sealants placed on her molars ahead of the braces both she and her brother are scheduled to get next month. At the pet store, she grabbed me by the hand and dragged me to the back corner of the pet store. And there they were…two unfathomably adorable baby guinea pigs. Obviously, they came home with us.

My crabby girl perked right up. img_2640img_2635img_2655

We played with them all day long. They were so cute, my daughter and I could only tear our eyes away from them to look at each other with these expressions on our faces:

Not everyone in our household finds them to be so irresistible:

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“Aaaaagh! Take it! Take it! Take it!”

Now when I get home from work, my daughter takes me by the hand and says, “Come. Let’s have some guinea pig therapy.”

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And it works like a charm.

Now I totally get why Tina took those guinea pigs to work every day…because as everybody knows: therapists need therapy too!

Dr. B & the ties that bind

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Set me as a seal upon your heart, as a seal upon your arm: for love is strong as death…

On Saturday we went to a beautiful service for my friend Peter. Residents who had been mentored by him painted Beta Bridge in his honor.

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At the reception we saw a couple who had been our very first friends in Charlottesville. We hadn’t seen them in ages. Almost twenty years ago now, I attended a UVA Women’s Club event for newcomers. I was desperate to make friends, but there was only one person there who looked even remotely close to my age. I assumed that her mother had brought her along. I struck up a conversation with Emily and was delighted to discover that we were about the same age and had both just moved to Charlottesville. We had both recently gotten married and were trying to finish up our dissertations while our husbands were just beginning their academic careers. Overcoming my natural reticence, I told her that I was not going to leave without her phone number.

For many years we got together on a regular basis, but the last time we were really in touch was right after the birth of their third child. The baby had come so fast, they didn’t even have time to make it to the hospital. The baby was born at home with Peter giving instructions to Emily’s husband over the phone. At church the next Sunday, Peter and I chuckled over his easiest delivery ever. That was years ago, and now we were meeting again at Peter’s funeral. In his honor, we made a commitment there and then to rekindle our friendship. Just as I had resolved not to leave without Emily’s phone number all those many years ago, we resolved not to leave the church without putting a date on our calendars to get together.

On Sunday we were sad to learn that yet another friend and fellow church member had died that day. My daughter and I talked about other friends we had lost touch with and decided that it was high time to check in with Dr. B. I asked my daughter to write a note to herself to remind her dad about this. The girl does not mess around:

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“Bug Dad. -Dr. Bradley -Phone”

Dr. Bradley was our neighbor at the first house we lived in when we moved to Charlottesville. He had been a Colonel and an army doctor – a true officer and a gentleman. My English husband once said Dr. B epitomized all the things he loved most about America: he was generous, wide-eyed with wonder, curious, eager to learn, and open-hearted. Before we had even moved in, he put up bluebird houses for us and had planted tomato plants for us to enjoy. He would come back from trips to local orchards with bags brimming with apples and peaches to share with us. At Christmas, he would bring over a plate of the cookies he made using his late wife’s recipes. As a retiree, he was able to audit UVA classes and he would often take advantage of this benefit by sitting in on my husband’s classes on political theory.

We learned far more from him, though. After living in New York City for many years, my husband and I were faced with an acre of lawn and more leaves than we had ever seen in our lives. We kept putting off the Sisyphean task until finally one weekend we decided to face the music. We began to laboriously rake massive piles of leaves toward the woods. Our arms and backs were stiff, but we had only managed to move the leaves a few feet. Dr. Bradley strolled into our yard carrying a leaf blower and a tarp. He helped blow our leaves into piles and showed us a far easier method of moving the piles by loading them onto the tarp and dragging them to the woods. We were so grateful for his help, but deeply embarrassed to take it at the same time. We kept trying to hint that he had done enough for us, but he cheerfully continued to work alongside us until it became too dark to see.

“What time shall we start tomorrow?” he asked. We demurred, but he insisted that he loved using his leaf blower and that it was fun for him to spend hours and hours helping us clear our yard.

“Well,” I responded, almost believing him, “We’re going to church tomorrow, but we should be back by 12:30.”

“OK!” he said, “I’ll be back then!”

The next morning we woke up stiff and sore and decided that we would sleep in rather than go to church.

We were still lolling around in our pajamas at around 11 am, when to our horror we heard Dr. B’s leaf blower roaring into action. We couldn’t possibly let our elderly neighbor take care of our lawn, but if we went outside, it would be obvious we were goofing off rather than going to church as I had proclaimed we would be doing. Of course, we threw on our clothes and slunk out of the house to help Dr. B help us with our leaves.

One Halloween, I made a special point of visiting Dr. B’s house with my sons in tow. They were dressed up in Scottish kilts and I knew he would appreciate this as he had just been to Scotland on a tour:
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We found him sitting in a dark living room, reading a letter by the dim light of a floor lamp. It was from his grandson, who was serving in Iraq. Dr. B wanted to read out loud to us from the letter, so we sat and listened. Just a few weeks later his beloved 20 year old grandson was killed in action.

We moved away from our first neighborhood and then two more times after that. Dr. B moved too. We tried to keep in touch with him, and visited him a few times in his nursing home. He always had things set aside for the kids…img_9516

The last time we visited Dr. B, we brought him some peaches we had just picked at the orchard. He wasn’t at home, so we left them for him at the desk. We never heard back from him.

It was time to reconnect, so I looked Dr. B up today. I guess I shouldn’t have been surprised to discover that he died almost a year ago, on January 19th. He was 93. I wish we had kept in better touch. I wish we had had the chance to say thank you and goodbye. Dr. Bradley’s name, and the names of all the friends and family we have lost, are written not only on our arms, but on our hearts.

On love, loss, and life.

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img_3733Thank you for bringing me here.

This line from my sister’s novel Tiger Pelt has been on my mind this past week. A year ago today, a dear friend died. This evening I will gather with Carla‘s friends and family. We’ll have dinner together and we will celebrate her life and the many ways she touched our own. At the end of the week, I will attend the memorial service for another friend who died almost a week ago today. Peter was one of the finest human beings I have ever met. I feel honored to have known him and to have called him a friend.

It’s been a rough year, if I’m being honest. I’ve been trying to prepare a celebratory post about Tiger Pelt, which is launching today, but I’ve been reeling with sadness and stumbling my way through the week. This past year, a beloved uncle and aunt also died, a close friend moved far away, and we worried about the health of our elderly parents. In a moment of overwhelming anguish I declared to my husband that I didn’t want to know any more people. Knowing people sets you up for sorrow.

Many years ago when I was in graduate school I ended a relationship with the person I thought I was going to marry. I was completely undone. My oldest sister rushed to my side to be with me in my misery. I wailed to her that I wished I had never met the person in the first place. I could have spared myself so much grief! I had invested so much of myself into the relationship, only to be left with a heart that was literally throbbing with pain. My sister told me that despite the hurt, I shouldn’t wish that time away. She said that every experience – good and bad – creates the layers and depths that make you more of a human being. One day, she told me, I would realize that the relationship had been a valuable one, and for all the pain I was feeling, my life would be fuller and richer because of it. I didn’t believe her at the time, but she was right of course.

In Tiger Pelt, the two main characters experience loss after terrible loss. Toward the end of the novel, Young Nam clasps the hand of Hana, whose life has intersected with his own in painful, and even destructive ways and says, “Thank you for bringing me here.” In this line he acknowledges the truth of what my sister once told me long ago. I think this is what I love most about this novel. The protagonists endure unimaginable suffering, but they choose hope, love, and gratitude over despair. You may cry when you read Tiger Pelt, but you may also laugh and be inspired by the strength of the human spirit. Hopefully, the stories of Young Nam and Hana will settle into your hearts forever.

And so I end with this. To Carla and to Peter, who both inspired me with their character, integrity, and spirit: Thank you for bringing me here. You are now a part of my heart and my story. I am better for having known you and I am so grateful.