Tuesday, July 31, 2007

The Pretending Angler

It was a summer afternoon, the sun was fierce, the air was hot, and there was quite a crowd by the lake at Black Hill Park for the cool breeze from the water.

I was standing on a pier leaning against a wooden rail, chatting with a friend, when we were distracted by some commotion at a shaded corner of the lake shore. A man had just got off his canoe, carrying a huge fish he had caught with his fishing rod.

The fish, I was not sure of which kind, was so big that everyone, my friend and me included, got all excited. I could clearly see that while its tail touched the ground, its mouth rose above the waist of the beaming tall man holding it.

A young guy approached the angler who was busy tending to his impressive catch, said something and got a nod and a smile from the other man. Then he took off his shirt to show off his muscular torso, took the fish and held it in a pose for his girlfriend to take a snapshot.

I thought of those who later on would look at that photo and admire the guy's fishing skill. Well, it's just another manifestation of a very common ailment.

Sunday, July 29, 2007

In a Movie Theater

Last week I took my young nieces and nephews to see Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix. It was the first time for them to be in a movie theater, so I let the youngest one, who is seven years old, sit next to me to soothe any anxiety he might feel.

Surely enough, a few minutes into the movie the kid started to cover his eyes with his small hands, then he clutched at my arm as if his life had depended on it. So I told him to sit in my lap, put my arms around him and whispered explanations of what was happening on the screen. Reassured, he stopped squirming and followed the movie through some quite frightening scenes until the end.

On the way home, the little boy solemnly told me in his soft voice that of all the world he loved me best. No kidding.

Wednesday, July 25, 2007

Interested in Interests?

Do you currently have any interest in your life, anything at all? If not, I know how it feels - it feels dead.

There was a time when my life was stripped of all interests. Lethargy like a smog permeated everything around me. I went about doing my daily business almost like a zombie, people felt like robots, trees and flowers might just as well have been plastic, and the moon and stars were just pale dots on a dark canvas. The worst thing is that you might not be aware of your predicament since your mental faculties could also be gripped by the same torpidity.

So get yourself an interest if you don't already have one, because to be interested is to be alive.

Friday, July 20, 2007

Sugarloaf Mountain

Sugarloaf Mountain rises among the hills between Frederick County and Montgomery County in Maryland. A narrow country lane winding through fields and meadows, horse farms and vineyards leads to the foot of the mountain; then another road twists its way through trees and shrubs, skirting numerous crags and cliffs up to the rocky top.

The mountain is beautiful enough in summer with its lush green mass of tree crowns lit up in the hot sun, but it is in fall that it feels like a golden fairy tale with bright yellow leaves all around you, above your head and under your feet. Each step you take, each sound you make, each breath you take in brings you closer to being part of an imagination come true.

I like to sit on a boulder at the mountain top looking down at the countryside below. Fields and groves, farmhouses and barns, men and horses all appear in another perspective. The things that normally can swallow me up now look like toys, and the knowledge that I have the choice of rising above them all fills my heart with peace.

View from Sugarloaf Mountain

Monday, July 16, 2007

Parallel Universes

A few days ago I met a man with a remarkable story.

This man is an Amerisian, born to a Vietnamese mother and an Italian American father. He came to the U.S. to learn that his father did not want to see him, and that he had a mafioso for an uncle.

He became a gang leader and a drug dealer, shot people and got shot, saw people die from the drug he had sold them, and eventually got caught and jailed. At some point while behind bars he found God. After he was released, he entered a seminary, graduated and became a pastor.

His old life was something I'd only read in fictional novels. Having someone who had actually lived that sort of life sitting in front of me and telling me about it was a startling experience. I felt I was looking through a spacecraft window into a totally alien world.

Then I thought of the other worlds that I knew nothing about, all lived by the people I saw everyday in shops, streets and other places. Each has his own world unknown to others, like soap bubbles floating near each other but floating separately, like those multiple parallel universes - each with its own space and time - dreamed up by theoretical physicists.

The world is such a complex place and our experiences are woefully limited. How far can we stretch our imagination, how open can our mind go to empathize with each other? Like the wormholes that connect the hypothetical parallel universes, true understanding between people is just as rare.

I guess that's how loneliness happens.

Thursday, July 5, 2007

A la Recherche du Temps Perdu

Sorry, Mr Proust. I like your book too much not to borrow the title.

In my own way I've also searched for my lost time, traveling halfway around the world back to the places of my childhood and adolescence. My feet started pacing the same old sidewalks while my heart was fluttering with memories and expectation. The sights and sounds being registered to my senses were not quite the same but still familiar, so how come I felt like a stranger among these familiar surroundings?

Could it be because my psyche had shifted a long way and no longer in tune with this land, or the spirit of the land had changed and no longer accommodated an estranged native?

I went to an old friend's home. The gardens in the neighborhood had disappeared, replaced by garish townhouses. I was relieved to see my friend's house still standing even though the white walls and brick-colored windows looked old and blemished. I could recognize the attic where I'd often spent hours rummaging through the used books which had opened my eyes to a new, fascinating world despite being stacked away in a narrow, dusty space.

Only strange faces greeted me when I walked in. My friend's family had left, renting the house to some students of a nearby college. I turned back, my feet less light and my steps less brisk.

Hours later I was ringing the doorbell of another old friend. She opened the door and did not recognize me. I couldn't help it so I grinned and immediately heard she call out my name. Twenty odd years had passed and she still remembered my grin.

So I did find a bit of my temps perdu. What I had not realized before was that I did not have to travel that far to find my lost time. A part of it had been residing in my grin all along.