Tuesday, May 27, 2008


There were eleven years between us. He was the big brother, I was the baby boy of the family, and all along I had been looking up to him. When my family disintegrated, it was arranged that I came to live with him.

He turned my next few years into a living hell. I even forgot how to smile, which was no triviality, considering that I had been known as the kid whose eyes had been quick to disappear behind a broad smile.

At the end of these tormenting years, words could not describe how much I hated the man. The loathing was so overwhelming I felt quite helpless, and for that reason all the more resentful of him. It was lousy baggage to take with me on my own bumpy road of life, but it did feel like part of me, and oddly enough I wanted to reject it and embrace it at the same time.

Years went by, many things happened, and I became a man who stood tall and spoke for himself. One day we were sitting at a table together for the first time in a very long time. Suddenly I realized I could look at his face without any anger. Astonished, I did a thorough search of my heart, and all I could find was just calm and peace. I then gingerly held his baby son in my lap, who felt soft and cool to the touch and smelled like spring still lingering around. It shouldn't be hard to love this kid, I thought.

I had never felt such a strong relief in my life as on that day.

Thursday, May 22, 2008

Counting My Heartbeats

A watchmaker once remarked to me that each ticktock a watch made was just like a heartbeat of a body, both wearing the mechanism inside toward impairment and failure. So it occurred to me that if ticktocks were meticulously counted, then why not heartbeats?

Counting my heartbeats is an exaggerated way to say that I became keenly aware of them, thus living each moment I have in life as fully as I ever can. Thanks to an owlish old watchmaker.

Wednesday, May 14, 2008

Lake Gaston

Lake Gaston is on the border between Virginia and North Carolina. Seen from Interstate 85, it is a large silvery expanse of water bordered by pine forests, boat docks, and attractive vacation homes.

I used to drive that way a few times a year, and Lake Gaston was invariably one of the highlights of my trip. Whether the sky was cloudy or clear, the sun's rays slanting and mellow or vertical and blazing, it always offered something to refresh my spirit. It was so pleasant just to stop there for a few moments.

Then one winter day I drove by Lake Gaston and was astonished to see it had dried up, leaving only caked mud at the bottom. However, what really stunned me was to see how ridiculously shallow it was. Such an expansive lake, yet a man of average height like me could not have drowned in it. Such beauty and charm filled to the brim, yet at the first sign of trouble all that was left was barren ugliness.

I don't blame you for what you are, Lake Gaston. It's just that you reminded me of a wound that was supposed to have been forgotten.

Monday, May 12, 2008

Old Damp Bench

The old wooden bench was damp but I sat on it all the same. I wanted to be just outside the crowd gathering in the picnic shelter. The sky was overcast with a promise of rain, and the bursts of wind from Lake Lanier made me shiver a bit, silly me who had come to the woods dressed for a hot day on such a gloomy morning.

I crossed my legs and started looking around. The whole place was overwhelmingly green with patches of gray where the clouds showed through. A recent drought had severely reduced the lake level, leaving large swaths of barren ochre soil between the grassy banks and the water, and the boat docks hanging high with only mud and rock beneath them looked forlorn and irrelevant. Sure, I thought, when the times get tough someone is bound to become forlorn and irrelevant.

I directed my attention to the bustle inside the shelter. It was a gathering of two congregations for an outdoor Sunday service followed by a picnic. Already one end of the shelter area was busy for the worship music while the other end for the cooking, which reminded me of the story of Mary and her sister Martha when Jesus visited their home. According to the Gospel, Mary stayed at Jesus' side to listen to his teaching while Martha was totally occupied with preparing the goodies in the kitchen. Guess who got the approval from the Lord.

Soon the Mary camp was quietly attentive to the sermon and prayers while the Martha camp started to grill meat and deep-fry eggrolls. Not sure about the Marys, but it looked like the Marthas were enjoying themselves a great deal. They were chatting and laughing while their hands were deftly performing magic on the raw food. The resulted delicious smell was wafting towards the other end of the shelter and more than once turned heads in the Mary camp.

I chuckled and studied the crowd more closely, and it was then that my mood turned sober. Despite the merry occasion, most of the faces I saw looked drained, strained, and very much unattractive. Except for the very young, the mark of a hard life was unmistakably stamped in those lackluster eyes and sagging mouth corners, in the sallow complexion, and in the expensive best clothes that somehow managed to look wretched. Amid nature's lavish manifestation of vigorous beauty, this group of its highest form of life seemed twistedly incongruous.

At the spiritual end of the shelter, the preacher was urging his audience to rejoice in the Lord. He too did not look exactly like Mr Joy with his long, droopy face and a substantial paunch awkwardly sagging inside his shapeless suit. I wondered how many people would be convinced that eternal joy was possible by such a dreary messenger.

My dark reflections somehow made me more conscious of the chilly dampness of the bench, so I stood up in annoyance and strode downhill towards the lake shore. On a stretch of yellowish sand by the water some kids were engaged in rod-fishing. With this kind of wind I doubted that they would ever catch anything, still I stood watching them for a while. Then to my surprised delight, the sun was peeping out from behind the scattering clouds and the water hesitantly changing from gray to turquoise. The wind had also weakened to a breeze, and I was startled by the triumphant yell of one of the fishing boys.

It looked like that old damp bench would have a chance to dry after all.

Friday, May 2, 2008

Nicol Said to Jonah...

I am normally leery of anyone or anything that smells of moralizing, and "words of wisdom" usually sound gratingly hollow in my ears. A side effect of having grown up where noble words were routinely manipulated to serve sinister purposes, I suppose.

But I do like what a young amateur jockey told an ex-jockey one afternoon at a racetrack in the novel Knockdown by Dick Francis, one of the rare detective genre authors I genuinely admire.

And so Nicol said to Jonah:

"I'll tell you...I learned something from you. I learned not to go around squealing when things weren't fair. I learned to shrug off small injustices and get on with the next thing and put my energies in the future instead of rabbiting about the past. I learned not to mind too much when things went against me. And I reckon I owe you a lot for that."

I will try to remember that.