To Stay or To Go

I was in the library the other day working on my thesis when a woman came in and seated herself in the lounge chair across from me. She looked familiar but I couldn’t place her. I tried to make eye contact and smile but she was staring intently at something outside the window; I might as well be invisible.

An hour passed. I noticed the woman across from me had not moved once. Still, she sat, staring out the window. I followed her gaze to the outside: nothing but trees and parked cars. I observed her, happily indulging in a distraction from my paper.

Still, she sat, not moving an inch. Resting into the lounge chair, her hands folded in her lap, she stared, not at the world outside, but into the maze of her thoughts. It’s a process, reaching into one’s own soul searching for answers. Here lied the question: to stay or to go? Still, she sat, while her thoughts revisited the aggregate of cities and places she had collected in the past five years.

Every time she arrived in a new city, she gave herself an adjustment period. It varied depending on whether she needed to learn the local dialect, how much she liked the food, how easily accessible the city was via public transportation. Just when she’s mastered it all, when she’s learned the streets and adjusted to the customs, she began to grow weary of the same scenes. “I’ll come back,” she told herself. There are so many places she hasn’t seen yet, why stop here?

How was she supposed to pick a place to stay when they all bled into one another? How could she pick the right place when she hasn’t seen them all? So she kept moving.

It can’t last forever, this moving around, going from city to city, forming intimate relations with no long-term plans in mind. She longed for an anchor, a reason to stay, without which she had only her heart to guide her. And through five years of travels, she has not yet mastered the map of her own heart. So she sat, contemplating her next moves, immobilized by all the possibilities.

I looked out the window and there you were, five floors down, in a white tee and pants the color of the Caribbean Sea, the color of your eyes. Out of a city of tens of thousands, I picked you out. I recognized you by your walk. You smiled and I knew we were kindred souls, two pieces of the same puzzle. I packed up my bag and walked out of the library, leaving the woman there in the lounge chair, with her possibilities.

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Fate Playing

Because the message somehow met a goblin,
Because precedents tripped your expectations,
Because your London was still a kaleidoscope
Of names and places any jolt could scramble,
You waited mistaken. The bus from the North
Came in and emptied and I was not on it.
No matter how much you insisted
And begged the driver, probably with tears,
To produce me or to remember seeing me
Just miss getting on. I was not on it.
Eight in the evening and I was lost and at large
Somewhere in England. You restrained
Your confident inspiration
And did not dash out into the traffic
Milling around Victoria, utterly certain
Of bumping into me where I would have to be walking.
I was not walking anywhere. I was sitting
Unperturbed, in my seat on the train
Rocking towards King’s Cross. Somebody,
Calmer than you, had a suggestion. So,
When I got off the train, expecting to find you
Somewhere down at the root of the platform,
I saw that surge and agitation, a figure
Breasting the flow of released passengers,
Then your molten face, your molten eyes
And your exclamations, your flinging arms
Your scattering tears
As if I had come back from the dead
Against every possibility, against
Every negative but your own prayer
To your own gods. There I knew what it was
To be a miracle. And behind you
Your jolly taxi-driver, laughing, like a small god,
To see an American girl being so American,
And to see your frenzied chariot-ride —
Sobbing and goading him, and pleading with him
To make happen what you needed to happen —
Succeed so completely, thanks to him.
Well, it was a wonder
That my train was not earlier, even much earlier,
That it pulled in, late, the very moment
You irrupted onto the platform. It was
Natural and miraculous and an omen
Confirming everything
You wanted confirmed. So your huge despair,
Your cross-London panic dash
And now your triumph, splashed over me,
Like love forty-nine times magnified,
Like the first thunder cloudburst engulfing
The drought in August
When the whole cracked earth seems to quake
And every leaf trembles
And everything holds up its arms weeping.

From Birthday Letters, a collection of poems written by Ted Hughes to his wife, Sylvia Plath, in the years after her suicide.

Before Midnight

It’s 11pm and the streets outside are dead. Shanghai would never be this quiet at this hour, but this is Nanjing. This city has its own rules.

The traffic lights continue to change even though there is no traffic to direct. If I stare long enough I can catch a pedestrian or two wandering the streets. Who is out at this hour? What are they up to? I want to be a fly on the walls of their lives; I want to dive into the complexities of their days. Just so my own troubles will seem insignificant yet be validated.

I don’t think I’ve ever sat here at this hour and observed the world outside. I’m usually so caught up with the happenings within these windows. Did you know that while we wasted hours away together there was an entire world outside with pedestrians, traffic lights, and half-finished construction sites?

The Ties That Bind Us

In Chinese folklore, two people who are meant to be together are tied by red thread, a single line of thread seemingly flimsy and unsustainable.  But have you ever tried to break a piece of thread with your hands? The material digs deep into your skin, persistent and unyielding.  This magical, invisible, stubborn line binds you to your one.

The tie does not come easily.  It is said that ten years of cultivation grants you a passing encounter and a hundred years of cultivation will allow you to share the same pillow.  A century of past lives and encounters, good deeds and misfortunes, accumulate to bring you to this lifetime, weaving this red thread that intricately pulls you closer to your one.

If all of us believed that to be true, we would not dismiss anyone who crossed our paths and shared our pillows, even for one night.  We would wonder how many good deeds we had to accomplish, how many misfortunes we had to endure, before we were rewarded with this encounter, this love.

There is a tale about a young girl who was the disciple of the celestial being of love in the heavens.  She had accidentally broken a line of thread and was sent to earth as a mortal to fix her mistake.  Her mission was to find the two people who were meant to be together and mend the broken red thread between them.  She found the man first and fell in love with him.  Knowing that she couldn’t stay with him forever, she placed a pebble into a glass jar after each day she spent with him and promised herself that when that jar was full, she would finish her mission.

The celestial being intervened; he mended the red thread and brought his disciple back to the heavens.  She pleaded with him to allow her to return to earth.  He warned her that if she truly wanted to be mortal, she would have to be reborn, she would not be able to be with the man she loved.  And as a mortal, she would feel love and joy, but she would also suffer from pain and heartache, endure illness and ultimately face death.  But she was determined; she would rather be in the same world as him than watch him from afar.  In this lifetime, they would not be together, but there was always the next, the one after that, and the one after that…

With Open Arms

Yesterday was the twenty-ninth day of February; a day that comes only once every four years.  A rare day.  So I expected some magic: a shooting star, a pot of gold at the end of a rainbow, fairy dust…I don’t know, something.

One thing I remember from being a toddler: whenever I wanted to be picked up and held, all I had to do was reach out my arms.  Babies seem to know this from the moment they are born.  When I was old enough to do the holding, I would lower myself to my baby cousin, reach out my arms, and watch him wobble towards me hurriedly.  I would catch him and lift both of us up, shielding him from the wind while he grounded me and provided me with a sense of purpose.

When I was eighteen, I bought an ice cream cake on the eve of my boyfriend’s birthday to surprise him at midnight.  On the short walk back, I kept telling myself, “don’t trip, don’t trip.”  A few feet away from the entrance of the building, I lost my balance descending the steps into the courtyard.  Rather than reaching out my hands to steady myself and risk tipping over the cake, I let myself fall directly onto my knees.  The cake was unharmed.  Years later, I would perform the same fall while holding my best friend’s nephew.

As I got older, it became harder to reach out my arms.  I got used to wrapping my arms tightly around myself rather than opening them to someone else.  It was just easier that way; there was less uncertainty with that move.  Recently I was told that the ability to show vulnerability is the greatest display of strength.  I try to be susceptible to that idea during those moments of weakness.

“To love at all is to be vulnerable. Love anything, and your heart will certainly be wrung and possibly broken. If you want to make sure of keeping it intact, you must give your heart to no one. Wrap it carefully round with hobbies and little luxuries; avoid all entanglements; lock it up safe in the casket or coffin of your selfishness. But in that casket-safe, dark, motionless, airless-it will change. It will not be broken; it will become unbreakable, impenetrable, irredeemable.”

CS Lewis

Sometimes his words taste like drops of honey.  I swallow them before the sweetness settles, forbidding the taste from lingering on my tongue.  So the drops gather inside me instead, welling to new heights each day until they reach my heart.

Today is the first of March after the twenty-ninth of February, all is right with the world again.

A Human Touch

In a time of great technological advances, of cell phones that talk back to us, of face time and Skype, do most of us feel more or less connected?

I feel some annoyance every time my phone rings, how dare a person call and demand a piece of my valuable time?  I’ve replaced phone conversations with text messages and gchat.  Why spend 30 minutes on the phone giving one person my undivided attention when I can spread it among 5-6 people?  Communication nowadays consists of fragmented, incoherent shorthand’s masquerading as words.  When did “totes” become an adjective?  Sometimes I can barely remember how to form a complete sentence.

No amount of typing, whether on a computer keyboard or touch screen phone, makes me feel more connected to a human being than a simple touch: a hand gently placed on my arm, a hug.

I learned the lesson from Midas at an early age.  Midas was a king who valued wealth above all else.  Because of a good deed, Midas was granted a wish by the Gods: everything he touched would be turned to gold.  Midas was ecstatic; he had access to unlimited wealth! When his daughter came home that evening, he rushed to the door to hug her in celebration of his new power.  As soon as he touched her, she became a gold statue.

What is wealth (or technology) compared to the human touch?

Are we promoting productivity or detachment?

Perhaps it’s not annoyance I feel when my phone rings but anxiety.  After spending so much time interacting with keyboards, even a phone call feels overly intimate.  A unique voice on the other side of the line with the potential to invoke nostalgia, happiness, attraction, dread, excitement, loneliness…it’s too easy to press the ignore button and text instead.