Thursday, January 27, 2011

Time to say goodbye

RIP white leather sandals. It was a good four years.

It comes around unexpectedly, when you're occupied with life as usual. Going to church, having lunch, browsing books. Little do you know how close the end is.

Later, when hindsight brings its perfect perspective, you realise you'd only just responded to a compliment on how good they looked by saying what a good, long time you've had together and how well they've treated you. The places they've brought you, keeping the hot ground from scorching tender soles. The treks up hill and down dale, shuffling through sand, wading through cool shallows. Tramping over the remains of a quietly crumbling fort, getting to know new old cities, keeping pace with an 87-year-old as she ventures out on movie jaunts. Unforeseen splashes through mud puddles that waited innocuously for a careless, busily chattering girl to walk right into them. All forgiven with a quick rinse in cold water.

My feet still bear the marks of our last hurrah. Two V-shaped tan lines, from when I capered over Fort Cornwallis with two other generations of my family for nearly an hour, having only sunscreened my face and upper body due to my characteristic inconsistency. Just glancing at the worn buckles, the peeling leather of the lining, the upper soles scuffed shiny, would show you how I've changed them permanently. But the tan lines remind me that they have changed me, too.

It comes around unexpectedly, and you're suddenly left without a leg to stand on. (Literally.) You find a new way to walk, and it's not a bad way, but it's different. You can't help thinking, If only we could meet again. But that will be something new, not the same old. Because the old can't work anymore and, truth be told, it didn't really fit anymore, either.

But the new, if it comes along...

There'll be some times ahead.

Maybe I'm not only talking about shoes.

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

To number our days

I started writing this post in my head yesterday (as you do...), which turned out to be a great long day of things not done in proximity to a computer and broadband.

It all began with the questions last week.

"Kor-kor*, when will you go to Australia?"

"Kor-kor, will you make me a calendar to show me how long more?"

The pudgy four-month-old baby nephew I left behind when I first set my sights on that elusive orange is now a lean, inquisitive ball of energy with a heart-melting, multi-dimpled smile. At the age of three and a quarter (as my father proudly told some old acquaintances yesterday -- "you're very precise," they told him), he's only just getting his head around the concept of time.

In the weeks before he was to begin his academic career at a local pre-school, he would ask a few times a day, "When do I have to go to school? Is it tomorrow?" (in various permutations, including Is it today? Is it Monday? Is it next week? Is it after Christmas?) Hence the appearance of the page-a-day tear-off calendar I solemnly presented to him, counting down to his first day of school.

Apparently, the daily ripping of the top page, the ritual of reading out the number and counting up to it on his fingers was such a success that he felt my approaching return flight required equal attention.

(That's what I tell myself; it sounds a lot better than "My nephew is counting down the days until I leave.")

And so, whenever I'm in the living room, it stares me in the face. A very tangible reminder of how much time I have left before I move on to the next stage of my life. How much time to spend with this small person who knows many wonderful things and who is a wonderful thing. How many days remain for me to see my family and friends in person, instead of trying to imagine their voices as I scan emails from across the distance.

Each time that little hand waved the calendar in my face with a gleeful "SEVEN days more, Kor-kor, you are here for SEVEN days more," I would cringe at the thought. I look forward to being back in Sydney for however long I find myself there, but I know there are also people I will miss dreadfully (or am already missing).

But then it reminded me of some ancient words I first read some years ago, words that I then began to echo in my own right.

Knowing that I have but a handful of days left in my birthplace, at least for now, is helping me to crystallise my idea of what this time should be. What I will do; what isn't worth my time; what I can achieve; what I hope will happen.

On a larger scale, it's how I've been trying to live for these past few years. It might be rather helpful if I had a tear-off calendar, too, like Keith. Unfortunately, I haven't been given the rather morbid benefit of knowing precisely how many days remain of my life. They may run well into the tens of thousands, if I have decades to go. But I really don't know, and maybe that's why I've come to see every day as being Day Zero. Even if I live long on the earth, I'm never going to experience this day again. I'm never again going to be positioned exactly where I am, with the people around me exactly as they are and conditions just so.

And so I find myself asking each day, what will today be? What am I being offered, and how shall I respond?

Because there may be seven or fifteen or three hundred and thirty-eight days left on some other calendar, but on the one that matters, today is The Day. The only one in which I can move and choose and speak.

And when I get to that Day, when I find there really is a solitary 1 on the countdown calendar of my life, I hope I will feel satisfied at having chosen well.

I will want to know that I had lived boldly and bravely, amassing riches that can't be corroded by the decaying agents of this temporal life. That I had loved well, for I have been loved well. That I had worked hard at what was established for me to do, becoming rich in experience and learning. That I had brought goodness to others. That I had danced joyfully through days bright and dim, and that my seasons in the darkness had purified, not putrefied, me. That I had stayed close to my loving Creator and praised him all of my days.

I can't come close to knowing that on my last day...

... unless I aim to know this in my every day.

A three-year-old nephew is a handy device for remembering how I want to live.

*Most Chinese dialect groups have an entire library of honorifics for every elder in the family. Since I'm my brother's only sister, my nephew gets to call me by the generic title allocated to one's father's sister/female relative of the same generation. I love that you can figure out how someone is related to you by how you address her. At least, I've got it nailed in Hokkien... any other dialect and I'm lost, back in the safe generic reach of "Auntie" and "Uncle" anyone.

Saturday, January 01, 2011

Will 2011 be the year I...

Image from Project: AK-47

  • wear a child soldier's dog tag to remember the priceless lives being sold to a waking, 24/7 nightmare?
  • finally get my social enterprise, no matter how small, off the ground?
  • fall more in love?
  • advance in my personal food reform plan, choosing to make more healthful and socially aware diet choices?
  • get a pet that isn't composed of pixels?
  • live in faith that it makes it normal to feel waves underfoot?
  • have clients to counsel?
  • have my work published again?
  • can play a musical instrument unhindered?
What questions are you asking about 2011?
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