Track 81 — 100 Years

The other morning as our train pulled into Union Station, Siaya turned to me and asked if three weeks at grandma’s and grandpa’s house was enough. I stared at her for a long moment, regarding her question with a little more thought than she was expecting. I know she was hoping for a quick answer. A simple ‘yes’, or ‘no’. Not the monologue she was about to get. Nevertheless, I smiled at her and began.

I can remember back when I was your age, traveling to visit my grandparents, aunts and uncles. Although your grandparents, Uncle Scott and I lived in Canada, we were always a plane ride or eventually a road trip away from everyone. Visits were never frequent. Back then, they remained annual events, very similar to our own trips back here to Canada. And like our trips here, they seemed to finish just moments after they began. Really. Doesn’t it feel as though we just arrived?

Siaya stared at me with polite boredom. I knew I had already lost her; however, I pushed on.

I listened to you and your brother laughing and chattering away as we pulled away from the platform in Cornwall. This train ride has been fun for you both. Onan loves just being here. For him, trains, buses, planes, you name it – they are all amazing. He is still at that age where a ride on any type of vehicle is exciting. You, I think, are anxiously anticipating the adventure that awaits you in Toronto. This will be your first vacation alone; your first summer camp. Your focus is on the freedom and independence that lies just around the corner.

 Believe it or not, I can still I remember feeling the same sort of excitement and delight every time I boarded a train, walked down the gangway onto a plane or piled into an overstuffed car. When you are young, your focus is very much on the now. This means, every time you travel anywhere, the trip is all you can really think about. Your attention remains on the present adventure. This usually means that any amount of time spent on holidays is enough. Of course, there is disappointment when you leave; however, you have the trip home to make things a little easier. A little more fun. And that, my dear, is a youthful perspective.

Siaya’s eyes told me that I was beginning to take away from her fun, but, hey, I was on a roll.

For me, I must admit that this train ride carries with it a little more bitter than sweet. I am very sad to leave your grandma and grandpa behind. They are getting older and I don’t know how many more trips home like this I will get. Although I am thrilled to be sharing this train ride with you and Onan, I don’t have your youthful view on life. I can’t shake this feeling of sadness as we move farther and farther from your grandparents’ home. At this moment, I am preoccupied with where we are leaving rather than where we are going. And that, my love, is a more aged perspective.

I knew that that was too deep, so a backtracked a bit.

For a time, your grandparents, Uncle Scott and I would drive to New Jersey to visit my grandmother, aunt, uncle, and cousins. New Jersey is only a seven-hour drive from Cornwall, so we did this with a little more frequency. We made it into long-weekend vacations, about twice or three times a year. And every time the weekend ended, as we drove away, your grandpa would honk his endless goodbyes, and your grandma, Uncle Scott and I would wave wildly through the windows of our packed car (You really have no idea just how packed it was.). I remember watching as my grandmother grew smaller through the rear window of the car. She was always so much sadder than the rest of us. Her wave had a little less weight to it. Her smile never seemed to penetrate through the slow trickle of tears that made their way down her cheeks. At the time, I didn’t – couldn’t truly understand why she felt so sad. I was about to eat pretzels, chips and chocolate-marshmallow cookies for the next seven hours. What was there to be sad about? And besides that, we would, of course, return on the next long weekend. Youthful perspective.

Now that I am older though, my perspective has changed drastically. This morning, for example, as we boarded the train, the only thought on my mind was having to leave your grandparents. And it sucked. This feeling got even worse as the train pulled away. I’m not sure if you saw your grandpa standing on the platform as we left. You were very busy getting settled into your seat with your brother. I, however, did. And it broke my heart. How sad he seemed trying to catch a glimpse of us through the tinted windows. His waves held much less promise than the torrent of beeps he used to give his mother so many years ago. It brought tears to my eyes.

I had Siaya’s attention, if just for a moment. I needed to bring my rambling to an end.

No, my love. Three weeks was not enough. But as you get older, you realize that no amount of time will ever be enough. All I can do is to enjoy every moment that I share with your grandparents and satisfy myself with the understanding that each goodbye is simply a prelude to the next hello.

I could have gone on. I had more to say. But, I didn’t. I recognized that Siaya had had enough. So, instead, I kissed her on the forehead and let the moment pass. For her anyways.

Not for me. Not yet.

I turned from Siaya and stared out from behind the tinted glass for a moment, looking for another glimpse of my father’s face that was miles behind. I wish he could have seen me waving back at him as the train rolled away. He would have known that I shared in his heartache. But then again, I’m sure he knew. I’m sure they both know.

100 Years, by Five for Fighting is a song I tried to introduce to Siaya a few months ago. Unfortunately, at the time, she asked me to change the music. She said that she had had enough of my ‘old-school’ tunes and wanted to hear something from her generation. Fair enough. I do hope, however, that one day, maybe after reading this, she will give the song a second chance. For me, the lyrics have a lot to say. Once again though, perspective.

Life is short. As my father has said on many occasions, “Tomorrow always comes.” Fifteen turns to twenty-two turns to forty-five turns to sixty-seven turns to ninety-nine. And we’re done. As quick as that, it’s over. And all that is left are the memories that we have helped to create for ourselves and for others along the way. I have learned over the years to do my best to live these moments that I have been given. To laugh, to live and most importantly to love. Understanding that there is never enough time has pushed me to better cherish the time that I have. I may not have 100 years, but I will do my best to live a life that feels like it.

100 Years Youtube link

 

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Track 57 – Walking in Memphis

It’s been a little over a week since our plane touched down on Formosan soil and the sluggish haze that comes with traveling halfway around the world has finally cleared out of my head. Jetlag has officially left the building and I can finally say, “I’m back!” Back in Taiwan. Back at work. Back to my students, friends and family abroad. Back to the life that I started almost fifteen years ago when I decided to run away to Taiwan. It pleases me to say that I am glad to be here. (I’d be a bit of a masochist if I weren’t!) I quite enjoy the ease of life that Taiwan affords my family and me and I am sincere when I say that Taiwan is where we should be. For now, it is home.

Alas, nothing good in life comes for free. Over the years I have come to understand that there is always a hidden cost to every pleasure, joy or success that we receive. I accept that there is a need for a little tsuris (grief) with our naches (pleasure). It helps to maintain a sort of karmic balance. It’s also true that a little bitterness allows us to better appreciate the sweetness with which we have been blessed. Nevertheless, all the wisdom, rationalization and understanding means bubkis (nothing) during the instance when your karmic taxes are being levied. At that moment, it is common and quite natural to second guess yourself and question whether or not the blessing you have received is really a blessing at all.

For me, this moment came seconds before we pulled out of the train station in Cornwall. There my parents stood outside the train looking up, straining to see us through the tinted windows. My father, in his playful way, waved and danced in the cold breeze putting a grin on Siaya’s face. His antics, I am sure, were more than just an attempt to amuse my daughter. I believe he was trying desperately to calm the tight ball of sadness that was surely choking the life out of him.

My mother, unfortunately, had no defense against the thick coat of grief that seemed to have enveloped her. Tears, born from the breaking of her heart, dripped down her cheeks and splashed at her feet. I was reminded of my Grandma Betty. She too would stand with tears trickling down her soft, sagging cheeks as we left her at the end of another holiday. And like my grandmother, I am sure my mom remained frozen in the same spot for a minute or two after we glided out of view, her heart aching for the warmth of family that was pressed against her bosom a few moments before.

This was my moment of hesitation, the moment when I had to wonder if it was time to make a change. And then as I watched my father chase our train down the tracks, another attempt at some comic relief, I looked over at my wife and little girl. I thought about the life we were returning too and realized that, for now at least, it was where we were (are) meant to be. And so I swallowed hard on the bitter lump that had settled painfully in my throat and looked forward towards the blessings that we would continue to receive.

While I was at home one afternoon, my mom, Rachel, Siaya and I (My dad, it seems, was the only smart one that day.) took a day trip to Zellers for some shopping fun. (Ya….) As I watched Siaya poke through the toy section, I was treated to one of my favorite songs, Walking in Memphis, by Marc Cohn. Despite its obvious musical appeal, this song has a deeper, more significant meaning for me. Every time I hear this song I am brought back to our house in Cornwall. The odd thing is I don’t really understand the connection. Even more strange is the fact that I always return to the same day. It is a bright, crisp winter’s afternoon. The radiance of the sun is beaming off of the gold carpeting which covers our floors. The fresh scent of potted greenery fills the air with life and a still sort of adrenalin. My daydream ends with me padding up from the basement and basking in the tender embrace of home.

Walking in Memphis reminds me of the legacy that my parents have passed down to my brother and me. It inspires me to create with my family the most important blessing a spouse and parent can provide – a home.

Walking in Memphis youtube link