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The Fallen Basket

Summer does not officially start until summer solstice, which falls on June 21 or 22 in the Northern Hemisphere. However, most of us having gone through a harsh winter could not wait but usher in ‘summer’ over the Victoria Day Long weekend, which fell on May 21 to 23. Even if one forgets about this well honored tradition of summer’s unofficial arrival in Ontario, one couldn’t help but noticed gardeners flocking to nurseries bringing home their favorite flowers, before the perennials start blooming in their gardens. Victoria Day’s arrival offers us confidence that our new acquisitions will survive from this day onwards, barring the occasional drastic weather. And drastic we did have already, from a thunderstorm on May 21 that left 10 dead, many fallen trees and tens of thousands without power for days into weeks, and then a record breaking heat on May 31.

Amongst other annual rituals, I hang a basket of impatiens on the gazebo in the corner of my backyard to mark the beginning of ‘summer’. Rather than buying a ready to hang basket, I usually create one myself. This way, I get to choose the color and type that will do well in that corner of my yard. Red impatiens usually survive the shade and stand out in the relative shadowed part of the garden. Further, creating my own basket surely save some money than getting a prearranged one, particular in these days of running inflation. The only down side, unlike a ready to hang basket, flowers take time to settle after being transplanted into their adopted basket. They need to be comfortably rooted,  before they feel belonged, grow and show their true colors.

A week has passed and I looked with satisfaction from a distant window to see my basket of impatiens taking root and blossoming into a round bouquet of redness, amidst a bed of green cedar behind. Hanging baskets elevate their inhabitants to a new height where they can show their beauty. Their height however also places them at risk. I water my plants early in the morning to keep them well nourished from the heat buildup through the summer day, and early enough so that they won’t be sleeping with their ‘feet’ wet during the night. As I watered my impatiens, I suddenly heard a big thumping sound and watched the basket tumbling down hard onto the ground. The basket cracked open and the flowers spluttered out with only parts remained inside, lopsided if not smashed. It’s reminiscent of the scene of a motor vehicle accident.

I remembered having seen a barely visible crack on the basket when I first transplanted the impatiens. Ignoring the hairline crack, I didn’t think twice if the basket would hold its inhabitants well. And it did, until the water that I poured in weighted on it. The pressure suddenly reached a threshold where the crack widened, sending the basket with the flowers within tumbling down together. The height of the flowers created the deadly momentum that sent it tumbling, smashing instantly on impact.

What was just described may well describe many of our life experiences. Being held high and visible often puts us in a lofty and admired position. But when we fall from that height, it hurts a lot more. Nonetheless, one cannot blame on height alone. The crack that I didn’t pay much attention to was already there. A barely noticeable crack was benign, until the pressure on it became unbearable. What was intended to nourish us in our growing process, like water for the flowers, could become a burden when showered upon, too much too fast. More so, an inherent weakness in us, when unattended to and untreated, suddenly became an open wound that no remedy was ready to mend.

I picked up and tried to salvage all the pieces, transplanting them into another basket. This time, with one that I could detect no cracks. Other than the intact pieces, I stuck back a few broken ones which I felt I could save. From that day onward, I carefully watched over the sorry state of my impatiens. While I so wanted to see them quickly return to their glorious state, which was there only the day before, I would be happy to settle with any sign of life or gleam of hope for rejuvenation. There was not much I could do, but to water and wait. I noticed the broken pieces that I stuck back into the soil weren’t doing much. They hanged onto their sorry state of temporary existence, while drawing nutrients away from those trying to thrive. Reluctantly, yet determined, I pulled them out.

Now a week or so has passed since that tumbling crash, I can see some resemblance of a red bouquet returning. In life … not only do we fall from time to time, we try to come back from our tumbles. It takes time for us to recover from a shocking crash of whatever kind. Our shaken nerves, like the bruised roots, need to settle in the soil, find our footing and wait to blossom again. Waiting is a virtue, as we can spoil things by undue haste. Waiting is nevertheless not a passive pastime , as we take time to prune away what is stalling our growth.

The crack of the fallen basket reminded me that weaknesses in us not addressed in time can open up to damaging wounds. Ignoring one’s Achilles’ heel, while trying to spring forth and hasten growth, can inadvertently cost more damage. On this, my impatiens has taught me patience in the journey to bouncing back and blossom.

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The Blessings Are On Me

Never realized until I hit the highway one late Friday afternoon how traffic has become so congested again, despite being in the middle of our 6th wave of covid. That said, a serious accident on highway 401 didn’t help. However, given it was my mother’s 94th birthday, I had planned to venture out and pick up her favorite food, rather than have her endure my cooking yet again during this protracted pandemic.

A week ago I sat down for lunch with 8 old friends. As a result, at least 6 of us were tested positive and showed symptoms of omicron after our otherwise happy gathering. Having had covid during the first wave likely has shielded me from being infected again. I showed no symptom and my two rapid tests 36 hours apart were both negative. Yet, as a precaution, I have been eating my meals away from the rest at the dinner table. It poses a problem though when my mother’s helper is away. While Mom can theoretically feed herself mechanically, her dementia causes her to stop and stare at her food for protracted period of time if not assisted. The solution is to assist feeding her first with my mask on, and then have my meal away from her when she is finished.

Back to that Friday night on her 94th birthday. Needless to say, it was well past 9pm when we sat down at the dinner table, after I finally made it home at a snail’s pace on 401. I watched Mom ate as I used spoon and chopsticks to carefully put sliced pieces of food in her mouth. I could see that she was enjoying her food even though she didn’t say much. I remember once asking Mom, “Are you happy?”. She looked at me and said “I don’t know”. May be she has forgotten what ‘happy’ means, or maybe she can no longer verbally express her feelings. But then she paused, smiled at me and said, “Give me a hug”. To which I gladly offered. Now my stomach began to grumble as feeding Mom took time and I was so tempted to put down my mask momentarily and quickly gobble down the delicious looking food which was beginning to turn cold.

I remember a trip to Germany with my mother and brother quite a number of years ago. My father has already passed away then. Having breakfast one morning in the hotel restaurant, my mother watched admiringly at an elderly gentleman patiently and painstakingly feeding his wife in a wheelchair. My Mom commented, “He must love her very much”. That scene and her comment stuck in my mind since.

Someone looking at Mom being fed lovingly on her 94th birthday in the comfort of her home, albeit a little late for dinner for an old lady, may well say, “She’s so blessed!”. Yet the truth of the matter is that the blessings are on me. You see, while Mom has her physical, and may I dare say her emotional, needs met, she now lacks the full faculty to enjoy or appreciate the intricacies involved. On the contrary, while I had to delay my gluttonous gratification for a moment, my joy of meeting her need, when her needs are needed most, is both instantaneous and long lasting. At least, until my own memory begins to fade. As such, my doze of blessings are more than hers.

People who either know me for a long time or have just met Mom and I a few times often commented, “You are such a wonderful son”. I wish I am. But the truth of the matter is, “I don’t know”. The reality is that I have not been tested. It would be a true compliment and I would gladly accept it, if only my mother is a difficult ill tempered person, and I treat her the same nonetheless. The fact is that she isn’t and she has never been. I would rather not be tested though, as I will likely fail. Even as limited as she is now, she watches out for those caring for her and never forgets to give thanks. With dementia, one can get disinhibited and she says what is on her mind uncensored. Yet, what comes out are all genuine and kind words. One time, looking at the hands of a new helper intently, she commented, “Your hands are so fat, you must eat a lot.” The helper who doesn’t speak Cantonese asked my brother what she said. To that, he mumbled something sheepishly in embarrassment. Mom has regressed to a little child, a fun, happy and a very good nature one. Happy birthday Mom.

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Garbage and Kimchi

Multiculturalism, nationalism or melting pot? The pros and cons of these polarized models or it’s compromise have been debated over the years. Unfortunately most arguments on both sides have largely been based on ideology and political interests, rather than social economic evidences.

Putting aside policy debates, I find multiculturalism richer and more fun to live with. Other than the abundance each culture brings, their unique language and dialect offer something altogether intriguing. How monotonous and bland our verbal exchange would be without the disperse of tongues from Tower of Babel’s fall?

I was shopping at my neighborhood grocery store, check out the iceberg lettuces among other items on sale. Given the sky rocketing inflation and supply chain problems, one needs to carefully strategize so as to stretch one’s grocery budget. My attention to my task was interrupted by a loud enquiring voice from behind. I shouldn’t be surprised. I must somehow project a knowledgeable look while shopping for groceries. I often get questions from fellow shoppers as to what to pick. And they are all females. Guys don’t ask directions, any direction. Sure enough it was a female voice with a certain accent, “Are these garbage?” With that, I gently pointed her in the right direction where piles of cabbages on sale were stacking up.

Even as I moved onto my next shopping venue Costco’s, I couldn’t help but still be amused by my early encounter; and by no means in a condescending way. I find it hard to locate items in this big warehouse, particularly when they decide to move things around. Maybe they are adopting IKEA’s strategy of making you walk through all the different areas, in case you miss out on buying something that you don’t need. I finally spotted a staff and shouted across the crowd “Where can I find the cream cheese?”. He gave me a puzzled look and uttered “Kimchi?”. “Philadelphia CREAM CHEESE”, I almost spelled it out. To that, he gave a nod and pointed the way. I was quite sure that it must be the mask that muffled my voice or my half exposed Asian face, rather than an accent that distorted his understanding. But then a lady shopper nearby overheard me, asked “Kimchi? They sell kimchi here?” There goes my denial … thanks.

I love the British accent, the Queen’s English version. I’m also mesmerized by French and Mandarine. They sound so melodic and civilized. These are the few languages I have some exposures to, but unfortunately couldn’t call them my mother tongue or speak well with. As to my mother tongue? I couldn’t tell if it sounds nice. Have you ever been told that you look like one of your parents or siblings? You can’t tell, can you? When you were born or have lived with someone or something for so long, you can’t be objective. Mother tongue is the same. What I can say though is that mine is a rich dialect full of history and evolving slangs. I’m proud of it … except when its accent interferes with my English. The truth of the matter is that anyone who speaks his mother tongue until around 12, before adopting a foreign language which he then speaks even on a regular bases, will find it hard to shed his original accent.

I now try to speak clearly and properly, while allowing my accent to naturally be part of it. That’s part of the fun living in a multicultural society. Further, who knows? … may be one day I will become a Cantonese version of Audrey Hepburn, or Dr. Ruth Westheimer, with all their allure.

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Pre-Loved

My first couple of cars were bought from used car lots. That’s what they were called in those days. ‘Used’ cars were then renamed ‘second hand’ cars over the years. ‘Second hand’ cars evolved into ‘preowned’ vehicles somewhere in time along the way. Returned or once defected electronics are now ‘refurbished’.

But that apparently is not good enough a description anymore. Recently I received this promotion from IKEA drawing our attention to their second hand furnitures:

Give pre-loved furniture a new forever –
Save more than money with our Circular Hub (As-Is), full of pre-loved furniture in need of a good home! Plus, as an IKEA Family member, you’ll get an additional 25% off* this Green Friday from November 26–29

Used furnitures are now beautified as ‘pre-loved’ items looking for a good home. To align with this love theme, these used items are not only pre-loved, they are ready for a picking to their ‘new forever’. Further, your attention is drawn to their ‘as-is’ quality, rather than their ‘used’ past. How self assured they look as they rest comfortably in their Circular Hub. But more so, how clever an advertising ploy working its way into our psyche.

They stroke our desire for untainted newness, while at the same time steer us in their desired direction. After all, who wants to inherit ‘used’ items, not to mention paying for one, particularly in times of the pandemic. ‘Second hand’ at least sounds better than ‘used’. It gives an image of the item gingerly handed over to you, even though it may have passed through many hands. And ‘pre-owned’ offers an air of liberation. It has now been set free from its previous owner. But then who can refuse a piece of ‘pre-loved’ gem, yearning for its new forever; its final stop in its life mission? Of course, until someone comes up with an even better, a more clever and heart clenching euphemism in time.

Don’t get me wrong. I’m totally into being environmentally friendly, recycling usable items and hey, saving a buck here and there. That’s me. But as I’m lured into the hub, I can’t help but wonder if this new branding on used cars and furniture applies equally to us, humans. I mean, imagine I was ditched by my husband or wife. Would I be admired as having been loved and now liberated from my previous partner, waiting for a new beginning with someone who would appreciate and hold onto me forever? Or would I be looked down as ‘used’, ‘second hand’, or worse, ‘rejected’?

Who knows? Fortunately, unlike cars or furniture, our value as a person is not determined by a seller or buyer. We do not have to sit passively in the circular hub, waiting for Mr. or Ms. Right to walk in and take us home in order to feel complete. Rather, our self worth, particularly after one or many of these recycling process, rests on how we manage to come through and carry ourselves. Have we turned dejected and vulnerable as a result? Or have we matured and learned to love ourselves better, despite the many dates that have come and gone, or finding ourselves at the end of a long marriage?

Those of us who take lives positively into our hands find our journey meaningful and invigorating. But we will be the first to admit that it’s by no means easy or even always possible. While our human spirit is admirable, there remains one harsh reality. Those unfortunate enough not to have received consistent and unconditional love, early on if not later in life, find it very difficult or even impossible to love, even themselves. Researches coming out from orphanages show that one problem that affects the emotional development in their orphans is the frequent change of staff. As kind as their caregivers may be, they change shifts and they change jobs. To the orphans, their love is neither consistent or unconditional.

But what about mothers? Consider a mother who looked through the nursery window at her new born child with an adoring smile on her face and an unconditional love from her heart. But is it truly unconditional? The nurse came around and said “Sorry Mdm, it’s not this one. It’s the one on the left.’ The mother quickly turned her gaze to the left and together with it her smile and love. “That one is not mine, this one is”. Recent cases where wrong embryos were planted into mothers who then gave birth caused much confusion, heart ache and then hefty law suits against the fertility centers. “The baby that I fought to bring into this world was not mine to keep” or “Which one is my child, and whom should my love be devoted to?” So the confused parents lamented.

When asked, many parents will say that they are fair and they treat all their children equally. But we are humans and we do have blatant or hidden favoritism. We instinctively react differently to our children’s varied temperaments and then to how they treat us as they grow up. Those who are adamant that their parents treat them equally may be up for a nasty surprise when their parents’ will is finally read.

But there are saving grace from these harsh realities of life and our human failings. The good news is that we have all been truly pre-loved unconditionally. Not because we were once lovable or that we inherited all the favors being the only child. On the contrary, we turned against the one who created us and gave us love. We then exercised our God given freedom to walk away. Yet God’s love to us has not changed. He patiently awaits our return to His embrace. His love not only pre existed, but it continues.

Reading the Message translation on Bible’s Roman 5:6-8 “He arrives right on time to make this happen. He didn’t, and doesn’t, wait for us to get ready. He presented himself for this sacrificial death when we were far too weak and rebellious to do anything to get ourselves ready. And even if we hadn’t been so weak, we wouldn’t have known what to do anyway. We can understand someone dying for a person worth dying for, and we can understand how someone good and noble could inspire us to selfless sacrifice. But God put his love on the line for us by offering his Son in sacrificial death while we were of no use whatever to him.”
‭‭
And from the Message translation on 1John 4:19
“We, though, are going to love—love and be loved. First we were loved, now we love. He loved us first.”
‭‭1 John‬ ‭4:19‬ ‭MSG‬‬

And that’s part of the Christmas story. Happy holiday!

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Paying for our Bad Habits

I woke up one morning unable to bend my left thumb. It was locked and caused much pain when I tried to. Once I succeeded in doing so, it was as stiff and painful when I tried to straighten it back. As a right handed person, I counted myself fortunate that it was my left thumb. Nevertheless, I soon realized that no part of our body is dispensable. 

Dr. Google diagnosed it as stenosing tenosynovitis or trigger finger. Inflammation of the tendon sheath causes the affected finger to lock in a bent position. The pain ranges from mildly annoying to very painful, depending on the severity. My family doctor asked me to give it time or have a steroid shot if unresolved.  I read that medical intervention is often necessary for immediate relief, including surgery for more severe cases. I also learnt that occupations that require repetitive motions such as typing or gripping exacerbate the condition. Trigger finger is also common among people with diabetes, osteoarthritis, and rheumatoid arthritis. But I have none of the above.

I immediately thought of consulting another person … Dr. M. She’s a dear friend who has no formal medical training other in laboratory science. She is however intelligent and a voracious reader of anything medical. More importantly, she has suffered and learned from her own assortment of medical ailments over the years. The idiom ‘prolonged illness makes a doctor of a patient’ describes her well. As such, her many friends bestowed the honourary doctorate on her.

Dr. M recommended that I apply the RUB-A535 cream. Failing to improve, I was to get a prescription of Glucosamine CR-5% Diclofenac 2% Cyclobenzaprine from my real doctor. She also suggested that I do a number of finger exercises regularly. Perhaps most importantly, Dr. M. cautioned me to become aware of and cease from doing any repetitive movements that involve my left thumb. Remember that Dr. M is also a seasoned patient? She went on to illustrate not only how she successfully treated her trigger finger, but also what she believed triggered her trigger finger in the first place. 

The morning that I woke up in pain with my trigger thumb, I already knew what triggered it. I told Dr. M. that the only consistent and weight bearing motion involving my left hand and thumb of late was in lifting my mother. Given what happened,  I changed my approach in lifting her. Despite that, the pain persisted and my thumb was still locked … at least for sometime. However, over time and persevering with Dr. M’s remedy, I was finally relieved. I straightened it to give Dr. M a thumbs up.

Then I noticed something intriguing. It could have easily gone off my radar were I not mindful. While I have adopted a new approach in lifting my mother, an old habit of mine involving my left thumb quietly slipped back. I found myself tugging at my facial hair with my left hand when it was idling. Further,  I noticed this maneuver always involves my left thumb and one of the other fingers. On the contrary, my right hand is often occupied, thus spared from being  conscripted into this unconscious bad habit. When my left thumb was locked, it naturally ceased to tug on its own. But when the pain is gone, the old habit returns. 

I believe that tugging my facial hair repetitively over time is the true culprit to my trigger finger, rather than lifting my mother. After all, I typically use both hands in lifting her and while the motion bears weight, it is not repetitive, at least not enough. Yet, it was the first thing that came to mind when I couldn’t bend my thumb, because it stood out as recent, strenuous and labor intensive, in comparison to the mild tugging that usually happens without my being aware of doing it. If I did not put one and one together , I’m quite sure my thumb will lock again in time and I’ll be looking for another obvious trigger to blame.

Isn’t that analogous to so many things in our lives? When something bad happens, we look for an immediate and obvious trigger, overlooking the real reason that contributes to it over time. It can be said of our health, our finance and our relationship, amongst other things. For example, it’s usually our lack of regular exercises and not the incidental fall that cripples us. And our living on our credit cards for years and not the unexpected house repair bill that breaks us. Needless to say, it is not our last bitter argument, but our lack of communication over the years that finally ends our marriage. As the Chinese idiom puts it ‘ice a meter deep is not frozen in one day’. Yet when it happens, we blame it on the slippery ice patch, the untimely repair and whoever started the last argument.

Habits stay for a long time and some never go away. Bad habits survive even longer as they insidiously slip into our lives without much fanfare. They only  take a breather when we are confronted with the damage they create. But when our pain is gone,  bad habits usually find their way back through the rear door. 

I’m not tugging my facial hair any more … at least not yet.

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Prick Up Your Third Ear

Imagine you received a rare gift: an extra ear. Whereabout on your body would you plant it? It would likely look awkward anywhere. Further, since you already have your own pair to cover the spectrum, what use would you have for an extra one? But before you are too quick to return this gift and rely on your habitual ears, let’s consider this:

We hear many and varied things at any one moment. After filtering out the noises, there are three, amongst other, categories that our ears prick up listening to: one, for information that are deemed necessary and useful to us. Second, empathically lessening to others talking about themselves, and third, listening to them talking about others, usually behind their backs. On this third category, the image of Les Chuchoteuses (The Whisperers), a 2002 bronze outdoor sculpture by Rose-Aimee Belanger installed along Montreal’s Rue Saint -Paul came to mind. It depicts three animated women closing in on a gossip.

While these are three distinct categories, there are times when they merge or crossover. Consider this: Your friend whispered to you a juicy piece of news, and said it was bonafide, directly from the horse’s mouth. She could hardly hide her satisfaction that it was told to her in confidence. While you were relishing in being let in on this gossip, your tickled excitement was dampened while realizing something between you and your friend. You wondered how much of what you had confided in her have also been deliciously shared with others. 

Instead of listening passively on topics seemingly about a third party using our usual pair of ears, we may learn something about the speaker and ourselves when we prick up our third ear and listen up. 

Consider another: your good friend or a family member lamented to you that his effort in providing for another friend or relative has largely been taken for granted. You can testify that he has often willingly helped others, going well beyond his call of duty with no complains.  Well … until now. It then dawned on you that you yourself have often been a recipient of his kindness. He has never complained about you being ungrateful, and he won’t, at least not in your face. Yet, his complaint about others tells you that appreciation matters to him, lest you get too relaxed and takes him for granted. 

More often than not, people, acquaintances and confidants alike, are uncomfortable giving us direct critical feedbacks. However, if we prick up our third ear, we may learn a thing or two about them and us.

Let’s keep our third ear handy, as it can save us our days.

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Letting Go of a Friendship


Have you given up on a relationship? Any relationship? You may feel that you have or that both of you have tried, to no avail. When you finally ‘give up’, it’s more often because you feel you’ve tried enough, but the other party has not tried hard, or at all. Admittedly, when it comes to matters like this, we can’t help but to be subjective and see mostly from our end, in spite of the fact that there are always two sides to the story. Nonetheless, the feeling that you couldn’t have done more or that you are not prepared to do more sealed your decision … to let go. And it goes both ways, for you can also find yourself at the receiving end of being let go.


But what does it mean ‘to let go’? It is more clear cut when lovers part ways or a marriage ends up in divorce. But the changes can also be subtle. While many couples have virtually given up and let go, they have not walked out because of vows made, children shared or the financial bond that still binds.


Formal relationships aside, what about friendships? There are no vows or contracts signed, or are there dependents and finance that bind them together. For friends, they can easily ‘walk out’ of their relationship. For them, it is often the depth and resilience of their friendship built over the years, sustained and tested in good and in bad times, rather than legality, that still binds them. Yet when tested, some valued but fragile friendships are broken over arguments or torn over conflicts of interest. More often than not, friends drift apart because the situations that brought them together have changed, unmet expectations led to disappointments and either one or both parties stopped investing in their once cherished relationship. One begins to find flaws in a friend’s character which were never bothersome before, but now overshadow what first attracted them. Walls are built and the distance between them lengthened.


The reality is that even when things may have changed, friends still run into each other in their social circles, and more often in their thoughts. But these too may come to an end if nothing improves. What if one chooses to be proactive and let go, rather than wait for time to take its natural course? Since friendship is one of those things that are loosely defined, and it drifts freely in and out without commitments of sort, how does one literally let go or walk out of a friendship? 
Well, we do so through the way we think and behave in our relating. Letting go does not mean eliminating the cherished past that brought our friendship together. But it does mean letting go of an expectation that it will or should continue as it has been. We need to adapt and be comfortable with the distance that exists in what has now changed. There is no need to pressure oneself to spend extraneous effort to make it work again. Equally, there is no need to avoid any awkwardness brought about by encounters in life or remembrance in one’s thoughts.

Whether we are the one who initiates or we find ourselves at the receiving end of ‘letting go’, we will understandably be affected by this change. However, the more at ease we are in where we find ourselves, the more we allow it to be. More importantly, we will find ourselves freed … from within. 

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Chance Encounters

As I walked into the supermarket, the corner of my eye caught an old lady looking puzzled at the foot of the escalator. She seemed lost and she was. After asking for direction as I approached her, she further enquired “Are you my eye doctor?”. It came my turn to look puzzled as I uttered “eh … no…”. And I thought to myself “How could I look like her eye doctor when half of my face is covered by a mask”. She half apologetically explained “And my eye sight isn’t that good”. That explains the eye doctor part I guess. But then she said, “But you even sound like him”.

When I wheeled my mother to the check out queue later, an elderly man looked at me expectantly with a smile. I didn’t know how to respond except to say
“Do we know each other?”
But before I could open my mouth, he turned his attention towards my mother and asked
“Your mother? … how old is she?”.
“93”
He raised up seven fingers to illustrate a point.
“Eh?”
“seven more years!”
“Eh?”
“To a hundred”
“Oh yeah!”
His animated look told me that it’s a goal he’s striving towards. By then he has already moved forward to the cashier with a bidding smile.

Two encounters in a day with eager and engaging strangers left me thinking. May be many, and particularly seniors amongst us have indeed been sorely deprived of social interactions during this drawn out pandemic. With lockdown now lifting, many flap their wings like birds leaving their nests, looking for food and connections.

I found my myself equally enchanted by these two chance encounters. Maybe I’m one of them.

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From Loathing to Loving It


Couldn’t download a document with Adobe Acrobat Reader on my iPad because it requires at least iOS 13.3 or later. Despite being updated automatically, my iPad operates on iOS 12.5.5. It is considered ‘too old’ … meaning a few years in the tech world. While the screen size is small, I thought “why not download it onto my iPhone12 mini which has iOS 14.8.1 There is no way it would not be supported”. Didn’t work either. I went to my laptop which I understand should be more reliable in terms of down loading and printing. Didn’t work.


Finally a more tech savvy friend, after squinting his eyes to read through the fine prints, told me that Window by default uses its own reader. One has to go to its setting in order to change it to using Adobe. Guess Microsoft and Apple prefer that everyone uses their own default operating system, than changing to someone else’s. While the obstacle was eventually removed, it was only after much researching through the loop, trying to understand the tech lingo, shifting from one link to another and finally having to consult someone more knowledgeable and patient than me. All I wanted was just to print a document that I needed … that’s all. I’m not asking too much. 


Ordered a ramp for ease of the walker to go in and out of the main entrance of my house. It looked simple enough, but assembling it took some effort. All the parts looked somewhat different from what was illustrated on the instruction sheet. One could not afford missing even the most inconspicuous part of the drawing, as it turned out to be crucial in orientating one to the whole configuration. Not very helpful for someone like me, who has a visual motor challenge. I just want to get to the end product… can I skip the middle steps?


There are things that we enjoy doing, and others that we rather not. Most of us are eager to get to the results, while some may not mind the step involved in getting us there. For example, I like traveling and I think a lot of us do. Some travelers don’t like the preparation part; checking out hotels, planning the route and selecting points of interest. They just want to be there. For them, they rather join packaged tours that save them a lot of hassles . For me, I quite enjoy the planning part. To me, this type of preparation is fun and a far cry from trying to figure out how to download a document or assemble a piece of furniture. In general, we all enjoy doing things that we are capable of doing. And the more we do them, the better we get. For the challenging ones, we avoid them at all cost. And the less we do them, the more aversive to us they become. 


But my experience took a turn when I came to a realization; and stumbled on an unexpected satisfaction. My realization turned loathing something that I don’t like doing into loving it instead. Eh … may be that’s an exaggeration. Ok … not really loving it, but at least not hating it. I only arrived at this enlightenment when a voice said to me “these tedious processes are not just means to an end … they are ends on their own”.


You see, we all have our pet peeves, Achilles heels … things we find tedious, and something we rather not spend a minute of our valuable time doing. Yours and mine are not the same, but we all have at least one, and usually more of these nuisances in our lives. If we only see them as means with little value on their own, we would want to skip, rush through, or have others do them for us. We just want to see our desired end product. 


As we age, we are encouraged to occupy ourselves with various brain teasers, learn a new skill or a foreign language in order to keep our brain from slipping … too fast. We don’t mind them because we sought them out, expect them to be challenging and they serve a purpose for us. But when you come to think of it, we don’t need fancy brain teasers. In reality, we encounter tasks that challenge us daily, like those that test my technical and visual spacial capabilities. Rather than seeing them as just means to an end, they can be our valuable brain teasers. We no longer need to loathe them as nuisances that waste our time. Paradoxically, the more we dislike them, the more we find them challenging … the more satisfaction we will gain in mastering them. 


After all, it’s not that far from the truth when I say “ I’m loving it” … while not the task itself, but the satisfaction that I still have what it takes to learn … and try to master it.

2

More Jail Time … More Freedom

Epilogue two to the series of 17 by a writer who spent 112 days incarcerated in a prison:

It was not part of the plan. I had hope to swing back to action right after my release from prison. There were lost time to reclaim, responsibilities to resume and new found freedom to inhale . There was no time to be wasted en route to resume normality.

Instead, I was further imprisoned for another three weeks. I returned home, but alone in the basement away from my family. I stayed isolated initially as a precaution. But my isolation became an enforced quarantine when my Covid test came back positive. And, it soon became obvious that even if I was not imprisoned in the basement, I was imprisoned in my own body.

The virus began to take hold of my body and mind. My breath became short and labored. The oxygen level dropped below 90, where it should be close to 100. My heart was beating above 100, even when laying low. These symptoms were particularly bothersome when I had to drag my compromised body up the stairs to the washroom. My taste of food changed or simply disappeared, resulting in poor appetite and weight loss. Despite sleeping a lot, I was still tired. The same nightmare visited me every nite. It surrounded the theme that I was still in a quasi prison, now with my family and our release depended on how many Covid infected inmates I managed to negotiate release. My days and nights became seamless and enmeshed . My nightmares and reality were difficult to tear apart upon first awakening. I did not realize how bad my brain fog was until much later and only upon reflection. I’m sure there are events I’ve distorted or altogether skipped over.

Yet, these three weeks turned out to be a serenely sweet time, despite what was depicted above. I was fed nourished food by my loving family who left full and picked up empty food trays outside my door. Dear neighbour and good friends delivered food and snack items throughout the weeks. Medications and supplements to build my health were diligently dispensed at regular intervals. While weak, I took the opportunity to catch up on correspondences at my own pace. I managed to watch Downton Abby in some evenings and finished the whole series over uninterrupted time. I read and listened to good sermons and talks selected and recommended by friends. I was truly nourished physically, mentally and spiritually. This period of extended imprisonment allowed needed adjustment before being thrown back prematurely to my ‘normal’ life. 

How special these three weeks were was appreciated, only after I returned and was quickly occupied by different chores and routines of life. Freedom can be unknowingly lost when caught up in making a living, not just financially. Freedom can yet be realized when attended to, in the most restrictive condition, be it self or other imposed. My life can no longer return to normal after what has happened, and neither do I want it to be. The best is yet to come.