An Unlikely Friendship: Three People, Two Cultures and a Single Bond

In the summer of 1994, after four years of studying and living in the US, I invited my parents to visit me for the first time. First time for my Mom to come out of China; first time for my Dad to come to this side of the hemisphere—he had only taken business trips to Japan in the past. So before they arrived, I had prepped them with a few “Don’ts,” things that Americans were typically uncomfortable talking about but we Chinese never shied away from.

“Do not ask people how much they make.”

“Do not ask woman how old they are.”

“Do not ask people whether they are married or not.”

I told them. “Do not describe people as ‘fat’ but use ‘big’ instead,” I also warned them, “because unlike in China where ‘fat’ is a neutral word, in America it is a bad word; it borders on moral judgment like ‘stupid’.” For whatever reasons, Chinese had been intrigued and even fascinated by why Americans often looked taller, larger and stronger. We were so convinced that it was the cheese eating that did it. So I thought if they knew these unspoken social norms, they would ultimately avoid unnecessary awkward situations with my friends, my professors or people they might meet. After all, when in Rome, do as the Romans do.

I lived in a small house, one of the few house-turned dorms for graduate students on a quiet street in downtown Princeton. The University owned them all. Each house had three floors, and each floor 3-4 rooms. The students shared three bathrooms and one kitchen in each house. My room was on the top floor, like an attic, enough to fit a single bed, a desk and a chair. Small but cozy.

We had a janitor take care of the common areas of our house. His name was James, a tall African American man with very dark skin complexion, a bit on the heavy side, maybe in his early 40s. Gentle and friendly. Every morning around 7 o’clock he would pull up his beaten-up Pontiac into the driveway promptly and stayed until 6 in the evening. During the day, he would go around the houses cleaning the kitchen, hallway and bathrooms, mopping the floor, mowing the lawn and taking away the trash. He would also do some light repairs for our rooms. When he walked around, a long string of keys dangled from his hip would give away the clicking sound as if to announce his arrival. Sometimes he would heat up the lunch he usually brought with him in the microwave and eat with us: white rice and black beans. Same food. Every day.

My communication with James was quite minimal. As with every graduate student, I went about with my crazy schedules, rushing in and out of my room like lightning. I would cook up simple meals quickly and return to the library. But whenever I saw him in the hallway, on the street or around the house, I would politely greet him, sometimes cracking a couple jokes here and there. That was about it.

Then my parents’ arrival changed everything.

During their visit in the summer, my parents stayed with me in my cozy little attic. I shared a bed with my Mom, and my Dad slept on a mattress on the floor. Don’t ask me how we did it, but we did. My parents were early birds. They got up before 6 o’clock every day and went about with their morning exercise routine, often doing Tai Chi, walking and strolling around the blocks. My Dad, being a quintessential extrovert, was charismatic, outgoing, curious and not afraid of making mistakes (I am anything but that unfortunately). He could read some English but did not speak much of it. Nonetheless, he often carried conversation with people he met with his halting English. My Mom on the other hand, an introvert and observer, was more on the quiet side. She did not speak or read English.

At the beginning, as with any new acquaintances, James and my parents were friendly and cordial with each other: they would wave, smile and nod whenever they met. But within a few days, quite remarkably, my Dad and James had become like old pals, often laughing and talking with manly handshakes and bear hugs. To help him better communicate with James, my Dad often brought with him an English-Chinese dictionary to look up for words and expressions that he might not fully understand. My Mom on the other hand, was not so quick to embrace such warm gestures. She continued to smile and nod at James but kept a healthy distance from him.

One time after greeting my Dad with a bear hug, James tried to give my Mom a hug, too. Visibly uncomfortable and guarded, my Mom had quickly pulled herself away even before he pulled her closer. Unfazed by the moment of awkwardness, James hugged my Mom anyway. I watched them on the side, part embarrassed and part amused, but I was not surprised. Apart from her personality as an introvert, cultural inhibition was also a key in my Mom’s reaction. Like many Chinese of her age, she had never known a single person whose skin color was different than hers, let alone stood so close to one. Besides, she was only 5 feet and 110 pounds, and James 6 feet and over 200 pounds. I could imagine what went through her mind, but I knew all this would change with time.

One evening after dinner my Dad casually said to me: “James is a good man. He works really hard.” He continued, “You know, he didn’t have a father growing up. He lived with his mother and grandmother as a child, and now lives alone in Trenton. Is that the place we accidentally ran into the other day?” I knew exactly what he talked about. A few days earlier on our way back from Longwood Garden, while looking for a gas station, I accidentally made a wrong turn into, shall I say, a not-so-desirable neighborhood. It was the first encounter of urban poverty for us, a family from the other side of the world. Though my parents had been through a lot in their own lives under China’s Communist regime, this experience was still quite dramatic for them. I remember we sat quietly the entire time afterwards until we reached Princeton. If I were to guess what was on their mind, it was the despair in people’s blank stare that shocked them the most. It was also the sharp contrast from the beauty, grace and affluence of Princeton, the not-so-far-away picturesque town they were first introduced to. In their mind, hunger and poverty should be rare in this country.

So I told him: “Yes. It’s the same Trenton.” My Dad then said: “Well, since I have nothing else to do, maybe I can give him a hand. What do you think?” Having known my Dad all my life, I knew even if I said “No” to him he would offer his help anyway. So I said: “Sure, but don’t overdo it.” Just like that, my Dad started a self-appointed pro bono job as a janitor’s helper in a country thousands of miles away from home. Initially he helped clean the kitchen mess, like wiping the table, washing the stove, and gradually, he started taking away the trash and sweeping the floor. The two men’s friendship had also deepened. My Dad even picked up a few slang terms from James. Don’t ever “get high” was one I still remember vividly.

I bumped into James on campus one afternoon. He was very complimentary about my parents, saying how lucky I was to have them. Then he said, “I have been thinking about this. It must be uncomfortable for your Dad to sleep on the floor. There is an empty room on the same floor as yours and no one is going to move in until in the Fall. If you are OK with it, I will unlock the room before I leave in the evening and your Dad can go sleeping in there. Lock it back on in the morning.” Wow, that was a very generous offer and would be of tremendous help to us, I thought. But I said: “It is so very kind of you, but I don’t want to cause any trouble to you.” “No trouble at all.” He said, “The room is empty this summer anyway.” With that, my parents were finally able to have a couple months of comfortable living arrangements during their short visit. What a wonderful gift from James!

As with international students studying in this country, one common thread we all shared was our constant homesickness. The smell of a familiar dish sometimes could quickly trigger a mysterious and overwhelming nostalgia. So it was quite a treat for me to have my parents’ company in the summer that year. My Mom was a great cook who could whip up some delicious hearty meals in authentic Sichuan style that I had not had for a long time. I felt like a princess. Every day. There were two other Chinese students living in the same house at the time. Knowing how I missed homemade meals, my parents often invited them to join us when we made dumplings, steamed buns and other delicious dishes together to share. Always a happy occasion.

James was curious about Chinese food and often watched my Mom cook. She would patiently explain to him through my Dad what ingredients were needed and why they were needed. Gradually they had built a nice rapport. Each time she made some delicious dishes for me, she would save some for James. One day she said to me: “James seems to eat the same food everyday for lunch—rice and bean. How awful. Maybe you can ask him if he wants to join us for lunch.” Ever since then James had become a frequent guest at our lunch table during the summer. My parents were very happy to have him eat with us. To use my Mom’s words, it was just “a matter of adding an extra pair of chopsticks.”

Three months flew by quickly, and by the time my parents were about to go home, they had become a big fan of James. My Dad not only continued his pro bono janitorial work, but he also appointed himself as a house inspector, frequently reminding my housemates to clean after themselves. The two men continued to exchange laughs, jokes, hugs, and even fist bumps. My Dad’s English seemed to improve quite a bit, often chatting with my housemates on subjects like politics or China and US relations. Perhaps the biggest transformation was from my Mom. Though she was still on the quiet side, she had completely let her guard down. She was more receptive to James’ bear hugs, and on occasion, she would reach out to James with handshakes. She even started to greet strangers on the street. From time to time she would invite James to come with us to the Chinese grocery store, so that she could show him a few Chinese dish ingredients that he might be interested in later.

On the day when my parents were heading out to the airport, James gave them a card. I forget the entirety of what he wrote, but one thing has stuck in my mind all these years. He told my Dad that he was like a father to him that he had never had. The two men stood there holding each other’s hands for a long time, their eyes welled with tears. An unforgettable scene.

In 1998 when my parents came to see me again, I had already graduated from the University but still lived in an apartment in Princeton. When they knew James still worked in the same houses, they asked me to invite him over for a re-union dinner. We made dumplings together. Just like the first time they met, my Dad and James carried a lively conversation with the help of an English-Chinese dictionary, and my Mom listened quietly, smiling and occasionally pitching in. Just like that, three people of different ages, different races, different cultures, different languages, and different skin colors, shared a single thread—a beautiful friendship across continents.

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When I write this blog, my mind travels far back to these hot summer days, with a mixed emotion of nostalgia and sadness. Now my Mom is gone, my Dad is slowly finding solace in the loss of his lifelong partner and I lost contact with James quite sometime ago. And yet the thought of their unlikely friendship has brought heart-felt warmth to me. I marvel at how people transform in the process of building a friendship, moving away from the place of fear to the place of bond.

In Yoga practice, we believe in the teaching and spreading of kindness, non-judgment and mindfulness. Indeed, we don’t have to be the same to be human to each other; we can be different but still be human. The fun of human interactions is to celebrate and relish the differences. We let our guard down, we embrace the unknown, we open up to endless possibilities, and then we find a common thread. The friendship between my parents and James reminds me the importance of celebrating what bonds us rather than what divides us.

Summer’s First Family Letters

Sunday, June 26, 2016

Dear Ben,                                                                                                                                                             

                 By the time you read this letter, you may have already settled in with your awesome summer camp: you may have made cool friends, done cool things, and been to cool places, but you may still miss home–Daddy, Ollie, Ducky, and me. I miss you tons already!

                  I am super proud of you, buddy! Remember I told you? Being able to do things on your own and away from Mommy and Daddy is part of your growing up. It is not easy at the beginning and being homesick is part of the process. I totally get it. Right now you may only see the bad part of this whole thing, but I can guarantee you that you will have lots of fun at the camp. By the time you are ready to come home, you may not want to leave your awesome camp at all.

                  I hope you will write to me a lot sharing your experience at your camp. I will also write to you everyday letting you know what is happening on the home front—how Ollie is doing, what and when I feed him…I cannot wait to receive your letters and hear your adventures. I miss you tons and wish you were here, but remember I love you!

                  Buddy, I love you!!

P.S., I wish I could draw as well as you do to show you how much I miss you!!

                 XOXO, Mommy

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Monday, June 27, 2016

Hi Buddy!                                                                                                                                                             

                  Right now, it’s early morning on your first full day at camp. You should be waking up right now and looking out there the trees at the rising sun. I’ll bet that it’s really pretty. I hope that your first night at camp went OK. I’ll bet that it was a bit tough to be away from home. I wish that I were there to give you a good morning hug!

                  Mommy and I had a pretty good trip home last night. There were no events like flat tires and police cars on the way back (Author’s note: we had both on our way to the camp)! We got home about 8:30 in the evening, and it felt very quiet in the house without you—not nearly as much fun as it is when you’re around.

                  I cleaned out Ollie’s cage last night and gave him a very long scratch. He liked that—happy bunny! You’ll be glad to know that we also clipped his nails, so he’s in good shape now. I gave him a treat, too!

                  I thought that you’d like to know that finally after all of our searching, I saw my first firefly last night! I was bummed that you weren’t with me to see it together, but I’m happy firefly season has finally arrived. When you get back, we’ll have to do some good firefly catching together. I hope that you can see and catch some fireflies at camp, too!

                  I was really happy to get a chance to see your camp yesterday when we dropped you off. I thought that the setting was really beautiful. I liked your cabin—you’ll have to tell us which bunk you’re in so that I can picture you there. I think that the best part of the camp for me is the lake front area with the dock, the boats, and the swimming. That looks like so much fun! I can’t wait until I hear about some of the things that you do there! I also think that everyone that we met was really nice—the camp directors, nurses and your counselor Jeremy. I’m sure that they’ll all take really good care of you!

                  I have to tell you, Buddy, that I’m really proud of you. I know that it was really hard for you to have Mommy and I drop you off and then leave you there by yourself. Like everything that you do, though, you handled the challenge of it incredibly well. I’m sure that it’s going to be hard sometimes, and sometimes you’ll be missing home a lot, but I know that you can handle it. You’ve also got a lot of people there with you who want to help and support you any way they can.

                  In a short while, Robert will be here to pick me up and take me to the airport. By the time you get this letter, I’ll probably be in Hong Kong. I’ll take a Star Ferry ride for you! I’ll also take some pictures, and I’ll send them to you since we won’t be able to do our usual Skype calls.

                  Again, Buddy, I miss you so much, and I love you even more! I hope that camp goes great and that you have tons of fun! I’ll write again as soon as I land in China.

                  Love always, Daddy

IMG_3056Monday, June 27, 2016

Dear Mommy and Daddy,                                                                                                                         

                  I am having fun at camp so far. We have done archery, baseball and swimming. Later we will see the horses. Sleeping in the cabin is okay. The food is great, and it’s sort of like Hackley. I miss you a lot, and I’ll write to you a lot more. One thing I forgot we also made a fire and we heard a loon singing. Tell Daddy I am on the Yule Ball in “Harry Porter.”

                   Love, Ben (Heart and smiley face drawn by him)

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These are the first sets of paper-pen letters my husband, my son and I wrote to each other as a family. What a treat to still be able to communicate the old-fashioned way!

Last Sunday we dropped off our 11-year-old son, for the first time, at a sleep away summer camp, five hours away from us. We would not be able to see, hear or talk to him for 3-5 weeks. The only way to keep in touch with him was through mails. It was hard for all of us. Before we started the journey, we had promised him that we would write to him every day and hoped that he would write back to us whenever he could. Then on the fourth day into his camp, we received his first letter to us. Short yet sweet, his letter gave us a glimpse of all the activities he did on his first camp day. Just like that, our son has set out for his first solo adventure, away from us, away from home. I am proud of him more than I can say!

IMG_3058While I am writing this blog, my thoughts are scattered, searching for the right words to describe our motivation to send him away. Like many other working parents in this country, the summer’s long break has created both a bliss and trepidation for us. On the one hand, we are extremely happy that we don’t need to rush out of the door every morning to send him to school, and I am particularly grateful for not being like a time bomb sometimes to storm out of my office, run to the subway station only to watch the train slowly pulling out of the station right in front of my eyes. But on the other hand, in a culture that everything happens with an incredible velocity and competitiveness, summer has lost its magical touch where doing nothing means doing everything. Parents are inundated with the infinite choices of summer camps, from sports camps to music camps, from art camps to pseudo outdoor camps. Many still feel like an extension of the already cramped school year, highly structured and hurried. Don’t all our children these days already have enough of a programmed life, from academic classes, to organized sports, to music lessons?

So our primary motivation to send our son to a sleep away camp is not to cultivate a strong character in him—of course, self-reliance, resourcefulness, corporation will come with the experience; but rather, we want to send him to a place where he can have real adventure and fun—out in the woods, get hands dirty, and learn by participation. To us summer should be winding down time when life is dynamic and purposeful, yet unstructured and unhurried. Children can find their own style and self-worth without excessive competitive tension. They develop their skills and interests at their own pace. If gazing at stars, catching fireflies, hatching eggs, riding horses, jumping in and out of water are all that our son wants to do, that’s wonderful. If by the end of the summer, he forgets that 1+1=2 or adverbs modify verbs, so be it. There is always time to catch up, but creating unforgettable memories comes and goes. I believe we have found what we are looking for in the camp we send him to. Though too early to tell how he feels about the camp, I hope he will have the time of his life!

Of course, I miss him terribly, constantly wondering what he is doing or how he is coping with his homesickness. I then think of the many trips we have taken together as a family:  all these long lasting happy memories we have created with him—the sparkle in his eyes, the ear-to-ear grin on his face, his looks of wonder, his giggles of joy…I trust that he can handle any challenge well, because he knows by heart that we have his back, as always!

 

 

Mama Dearest: Post Mother’s Day Reflection

First Mother’s Day without my mother. The lingering sadness is sometimes poignant, and others numbing. People say the feeling will never go away, but time will heal. I believe it.

In fact in the past 5 months since her passing I have been more reflective than grief-stricken. What is the single most important thing I have done that has made my mother happy? I have been thinking. A doctoral degree from Princeton? A decent job at a Fortune 500 company? Nah. Surely these are the things that have made her proud of, but neither has made her happier than a family of my own, and soon after a child who transformed me into a mother. My mom was not just happy, she was ecstatic. Like any other mother, I imagine. It’s just that she had never overtly expressed it. So her. I can totally relate to it.

Through her action and my own experience, I have come to realize that motherhood is such a deliberate act, one that embodies intense love, empathy, patience, mindfulness, caring and giving. It can manifest in a wide range of emotions: joy, happiness, pride, awe, forgiveness, worry, disappointment, fear, anger and pain. To our children, we are essentially a commander-in-chief, a dictator, a friend, a cheerleader, a fan, a sympathizer and occasionally a partner-in-crime. Sometimes mothering is smooth sailing others storm impending, but ultimately it is belief beyond believing that defines a mother’s love.

I was a late bloomer—marrying late and giving birth late—not a grand gesture of my feminist side, I can assure you. In a culture that often puts a premium on families and children I was quite the exception rather than the norm. I am sure of it. I would belong to the league of “leftover women”—a term that often refers to a Chinese woman in her late 20s who is still single and unwed. Sigh. Luckily I moved far away during my prime reproductive years, and my love life was not subject to close scrutiny. But that didn’t make my mom’s worry for me go away. She probably worried more.

Every now and then when we spoke on the phone, my mom would casually bring up the topic of marriage with a “by the way…” I knew she was trying to get a progress report from me, but the conversation would always end with her saying “I know that special person is out somewhere. You are destined to meet him one day. Don’t sell yourself short.” That was her subtle way of nudging without pushing. I was sure she must be incredibly relieved when I was finally “domesticated” at age 38 and became a mother at age 40—39 ½ to be exact.

Ironically in many ways, my mothering was as much to mimic my mom as it was to break loose from her. Literally. It was comical and hilarious at the beginning. I remember the long list of “Dos and Don’ts” she had sent to me right before my son was born. All were rituals and customs about what a new mom was or was not supposed to do. After all they worked in her time and in my culture.

Rule No. 1: Only hot and warm food and drink; it will help your body recover faster–but I went straight for ice water and cold milk.

Rule No. 2: Stay in bed for the first 30 days; you will benefit from it for the rest of your life–but I started moving around as soon as I was discharged from hospital. I am still pretty healthy 11 years later.

Rule No. 3: Keep your baby indoors so he won’t catch cold or virus–but I walked everywhere in town with my son snuggled in a Baby Bjorn on my chest, and took him on subway rides to see his pediatrician in the city on a weekly basis. He was fine then and is fine now.

Rule No. 4: Drink Pig’s Feet and Peanut Soup everyday so that you will have enough milk pumped out—but after 2 days of milk drought catastrophe, my milk supply could feed a troop of army non-stop. So I didn’t drink that thick and rubbery soup for a month.

Rule No. 5: Swaddle your baby tightly so that he will have beautiful straight legs—I did swaddle my son in a teddy bear cotton blanket hand-made by my sister and mailed to me directly from China, but I did it to make my son feel safe as if he were still in my womb.

The list went on and on. My point is it was not my mom’s childrearing advice that made her so special to me, but her presence in my life. To know she was always there for me was a tremendous gift she has left to me till this day. It has inspired me to so want to be an anchor point in my son’s life, and to roll with the punches as a new mom. Through trial and error. Many times.

It sounds like a cliché to say this but it is true. It was not until my son was born had I realized motherhood could be this profoundly meaningful and the love for a person could be this intense, eliciting “tight chest, lump in the throat emotion” (beautifully said, Sally, and thank you!).

In the early days when he was a baby, I often woke up in the middle of the night consumed with all sorts of worries: Was he breathing? Was he well fed? Was my milk nutritious enough to help him grow? Why was he not crying? Was he on track with his developmental milestones? I would check on him again, again and again. In his toddler years, I watched in agony his intense separation anxiety: the big tears dripping down his cheeks, that it-can-melt-your-heart sweet but sad face, and those tiny wiggly fingers trying to reach for me. Was he happy? Was he fearful? Was he having fun? Was he making friends? Could he feel my love for him?

How I wish I had known back then whatever he was going through was completely age-appropriate! I remember sitting by the door of his pre-school classroom waiting anxiously but patiently for the right distraction to draw him in so that I could walk away confidently without feeling guilty. I remember the 3-to-4-page note I often wrote at the beginning of each school year to his new teachers: about what I had known of him as a mother—his likes, his fears, his habits, his routines, his love for trains, airplanes, Lego, puzzles, as well as the many trips we took as a family. All with one hope and one hope only–to have an early head start for the teachers to bond with him. How incredibly silly was that! Maybe it was. But deep down I knew that was the least I could do to help my young son cope with the anxiety he could face in a new situation.

Now eleven years down the road, my confidence in mothering has grown in parallel to my son’s confidence in himself. Still a quiet, sensitive, empathetic, creative and analytical gentle soul, he has grown more self-assured by leaps and bounds. Do I continue to worry about him? You bet I do. Well, maybe the old worries have gone away but new ones have kicked in. I still have these awakening nights with the same intense emotion worrying. In a world of high pressure and fierce competition, how can I help him not only reach but also build his potential? And to never stop dreaming? How can I nudge him gently without pushing him too hard? How can I help him understand it is OK to be him? And to take more risks without changing who he is? How can I ensure what he wants is not what I want him to want? How can I prepare him to cope with potential adversity without breaking his spirit?

Then I see my mom and her broad smile at me. In motherhood there is no epic failure but only epic love. Bask in his presence. Roll with the punches. Enjoy the ride. She is telling me.

Oh, the magical power of a mother’s love, endearing and enduring. Nothing to worry about. I am telling myself.

 

Justice for All

When I write my blogs, I am typically reflective, rational and logical. But I want to have none of it this time. For once, let me be irrational, let me be illogical and let me be politically incorrect, because today my raw emotions are running high.

Last Monday was Chinese Lunar New Year when we Chinese gather together to celebrate families. It is a happy time, a time when we express gratitude towards our parents, our sisters and brothers for sticking with each other. But for one Chinese family that happiness has turned into gut-wrenching heartbreak. Late last week the former New York City rookie cop Peter Liang was convicted of “second-degree manslaughter” for his “reckless” killing of Akai Gurley, an unarmed black young man, in a Brooklyn housing project on November 20th, 2014. He faces up to 15 years in prison.

To say that I was shocked at the verdict is an understatement of my current sentiment. I was actually sad, frustrated, disgusted and angry. It’s not that I don’t feel for the deceased. Trust me. I do. As a mother, it pains me greatly to see two young girls who will grow up without a father. It saddens me beyond words. But this blog is not about Gurley and the family he left behind, but about Liang’s family and the Chinese community as a whole.

From the get go I have paid closer attention to this case than any other ones, not only because Liang is one of us who share similar lineage and family values, but also because this case has its complicated racial and sociopolitical dynamics involving two families who are both immigrants and minorities and whose American dreams are no smaller than yours and mine. It is a tragedy on so many levels, and my heart aches for both families.

I watched the short speech Liang’s mother gave during his post conviction press conference. It was gut-wrenching. Their story is one of many about a hard-working immigrant family coming to and settling in America. His parents, a cook and a garment worker, moved from Hong Kong to the US when he was a child. Speaking very little English, they have lived in Bensonhurst, a working-class neighborhood that has become Brooklyn’s second Chinatown. When Peter was about 6 years old, his mother was robbed of a gold chain. He was so mad that he swore one day he would become a cop to protect his mom and his family. So he did. He had worked for TSA briefly before graduating from the Police Academy and joining the New York City police department. But barely two years into his dream job was he convicted in the line of duty. How ironic and tragic!

I am no legal expert, nor do I understand many of the legal jargons associated with this case. But from what I have read so far, all I can say is this was a tragic accident—an accident resulted from Liang’s inexperience, poor training and fear for his life. There was not a single ounce of “deliberate shooting” where Liang pointed his gun at the victim, an inaccurate but inflammatory statement made by the DA in his closing argument to the jury. I kept putting myself in Liang’s shoes and imagining what I would have done if I were in a similar situation: in a pitch dark hallway of a housing project where safety was not stellar to say the least, I would have been scared out of my mind and my intuition would have told me to take the gun out and prepare for the worst. Admittedly, I am not a police officer nor do I have the same mental strength to face such a dire situation. But yet human beings are not robots and mistakes are made by all, professional or not.

Is Liang responsible for the death of an innocent black young man? Yes, I think he is. Is Liang’s accidental shooting malicious enough to warrant him up to 15 years in prison? No, I truly don’t believe so. In my opinion, our system failed Gurley and it failed Liang. It pitted the unjust death of an innocent black young man against the unjust scapegoating of an Asian young police officer who was frightened, poorly trained, and who committed a terrible accident. In essence, this case was not about Chinese against Blacks, it was not about Chinese against Whites, it was about minorities against a broken system where racial injustice and prejudice have been committed time again against many ethnic communities throughout the US history. It was a case about “justice for all.”

Remember the 1982 murder of Vincent Chin in Detroit? A pair of white father-son auto workers whose anger towards their jobs being lost to Japan turned into bludgeoning death of a completely innocent Chinese young man. Yet this brutal hate crime only garnered 3 years in probation, $3,000 in fines and $780 in court costs for the 2 murderers, and they were allowed to continue to live their lives as free men, a far far cry from justice. To add insult to injury, in a response letter to protests from American Citizens for Justice, the judge in Chin’s case Charles Kaufman declared, “These weren’t the kind of men you send to jail… You don’t make the punishment fit the crime; you make the punishment fit the criminal.” Outraged? You bet I am. I am beyond outrage!

Remember the 2004 shooting death of Timothy Stansbury Jr. by a white police officer, Richard S. Neri which bears eerie similarity to Peter Liang’s case? A grand jury declined to indict Officer Neri on charges of criminally negligent homicide, declaring the event an accident, after he gave testimony that he had unintentionally fired; he was startled, he said, when Mr. Stansbury pushed open a rooftop door in a place where drug dealing was rampant. Why was there no indictment? The answer was simple: the accused was white.

Then there was the 2014 shooting death of an unarmed black young man Michael Brown by the white police officer Darren Wilson and the subsequent non-indictment of Wilson, which later prompted the movement of “Black Lives Matter”. All lives matter. Don’t you think?

The most ridiculous case has to be the 2014 chokehold death of Eric Gartner. As with many deaths involving white police officers and minority victims, a grand jury refused to indict Officer Daniel Pantaleo whose chokehold caused Gartner’s death. However, earlier this year Sgt. Kizzy Adonis was charged with failure to supervise, an internal indictment brought by NYPD. What was the difference this time? The police officer was a black female.

My stomach is literally churning when I think of all the cases which involve deaths of minority victims and acquittal of white police officers of any crimes or wrongdoings. Yes, the racial injustice cannot be traced simply to individuals – there are also larger, systemic issues that need to be addressed, issues that persist even after someone is scapegoated and fired. So without some kind of systemic solution – an organization-wide training, a large-scale discussion about race and power and privilege – the problem will not go away; it will simply pop up elsewhere. It’s no better than a dermatologist can slice off a malignant mole and assume that all of the cancer has been removed. After all, none of us can live in a vacuum, we’re all part of larger systems, and we’re all susceptible to systemic pressures outside of ourselves. We’re all capable of being bad apples. Until the path to justice is to hold all police officers accountable, regardless of their skin colors, should we stop fighting for “justice for all” because ultimately, as Martin Luther King Jr summed it up well: “Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere.”

For my Chinese American community, I hope Liang’s case will provide a good opportunity to stand up and let our voices be heard. For decades we have been model citizens without a voice. We are hard working and conscientious: we pay taxes, we follow instructions, we do not complain nor do we challenge authorities. We attend good schools, we hold steady jobs, we drive nice cars, and we buy big houses. We send our kids to private prep schools, and to Ivy Leagues. But to some, Chinese are a bunch of privileged ethnic group, whiter than white. And to some others, Chinese are merely a “Chink in the Armor,” an offensive 2012 ESPN’s headline referring to Jeremy Lin, a well-loved Chinese American MBA player. For those people, we are responsible for taking away high paying jobs, inflating test scores, making college entrance more competitive, and best of all, we are a bunch of achievement-hungry psychopath Tiger moms. A myth can’t be farther from the truth.

I have an eleven-year-old boy who does go to a privileged private school which annual tuition feels like one for a mini Ivy without the name tag. In his small and insulated world, he makes friends of all skin colors and socioeconomic backgrounds: Indian, Iranian, Chinese, German, Turkish, American, white, black, yellow and brown… In his untainted tender heart, he sees no difference between his skin color and half Chinese blood than those of his friends. The only difference in his eyes is who likes Legos more. As a mother, I so hope that my son will continue to live in such a world where the same moral/justice standard applies to all and where only love prevails. I so hope the anguish and heartbreak that families of Vincent Chin, Peter Liang, Akai Gurley, Michael Wilson, Eric Gartner and many others have lived through will not repeat in my son’s generation if he chooses to become a parent one day. I so hope this is the only one good thing coming out of a double tragedy like that of Liang’s and Gurley’s.

 

In Memory of My Mother

FullSizeRenderHong Kong has a special place in my heart. It is a city my family likes to visit again and again. My husband goes there often on business trips. My son loves to jump on and off the beautifully built, one-of-a-kind Star Ferry shuffling people from Hong Kong’s one island to another. To me, Hong Kong is like a giant collage juxtaposed between eastern and western cultures. It is a soft landing pad enabling me to travel back and forth without feeling lost in either world. There is also a deeper level of connection for me with Hong Kong. Each year we travel there on route to see my parents. They live one hour away — about 10 years ago my parents joined China’s elderly “snow birds” splitting their time between the north and south. Once we arrive in Hong Kong, I can feel their presence and the excitement of my coming home rises up.

On December 7th, I rushed back to Hong Kong once again. But this time I could no longer feel the city’s exuberance. It was gray, dreary and damp instead. I could feel its hollow emptiness, frozen in time. Previous day I lost my mother, a pillar in my life, a woman who has a profound impact on me, molding me into who I am today. I was consumed with sadness, but mostly besieged with guilt. How come I was thousands of miles away from her? What could I have done differently to be with her before her passing? Did she suffer during the final moments of her life? Could she feel the pain? Was she thinking about me, my dad and my sister? Where would she go after this life? Was there indeed a place called heaven where she could continue to live and watch over us? These were some of the million thoughts rushing through my mind upon hearing the sad news.

As I tried to regain composure, I started to think about what losing my mother means to me. No one loves you like your mother. She knows you better than anybody else. We Chinese have this metaphor: we think growing up is like a mother’s unleashing you from under her protective wings. Bit by bit. Eventually she let go of her leash, setting you free. You are on your own. But the older you get and perhaps farther away you are from her, the stronger the grip you have onto her—the leash is invisible but you know it is there for you when you need it. You feel the ultimate closeness drawn to her. When she passes on, there is a certain sense of being adrift, unmoored without the foundational support she has provided your entire life. While I feel this huge void in my heart right now, I also feel my mother’s presence with me when I breathe in and breathe out.

I thought my mother was the most remarkable woman ever.

She was born in pre-communist China to a prominent family, on December 8th, 1930. The middle of three siblings, she had an older sister and a younger brother. Her father was a banker and her mother a housewife. He was a good provider, hardworking, progressive, and a man of vision and integrity. Unlike many Chinese parents during that era who gave all the attention and privilege to boys, my grandfather insisted that my mother receive good education. So she did. She went all the way to college, enrolled in a top all-girl college until Mao Zedong came into power in 1949. Mao’s promise of a new China had brought out unprecedented exuberance and enthusiasm among China’s idealistic youth. My mother was one of them. Barely 19 years of age, unfazed by giving up her comfortable life at home, she left her ”silver spoon” behind and joined Mao’s revolution. Unbeknown to herself at the time, her life had later turned into a rollercoaster ride.

For those of you who have read Ms. Nien Zheng’s marvelous autobiography Life and Death in Shanghai, you may have already gotten a glimpse of China’s modern history: exciting and hopeful at times but sad and heart-breaking at others–from a war-torn nation, to a communist regime under the iron fist of Mao, to the great famine and the unimaginable Cultural Revolution. Mao’s era was nothing short of misery and brutality. Any remnants of wealth were an indication of opposition to his power which would be crushed by all means. Any individuals whose opinions dared to deviate slightly from his were deemed “counter-revolutionaries” and would meet their fate by persecution. Millions died through starvation, forced labor and execution under Mao’s regime. If you think Stalin’s Soviet Union was bad enough, Mao’s China was the evil twin.

For my grandfather, Mao’s China also meant no private assets were allowed. His bank was confiscated and properties taken away. He was put in jail. His crime? Stealing money from his own bank! All attempts to make him confess to the charges of embezzlement failed; all efforts to indoctrinate him were met by a steadfast and fearless refusal to accept the terms offered by his interrogators. But in the end, perhaps in the hope of sparing him and his loved ones from further mental torture and humiliation, he committed suicide in jail. The irony was all this happened while my mother was away fighting for Mao’s revolution. Decades later, when my grandparents’ properties were symbolically returned to their family, my mother chose not to claim her share of the inheritance, leaving it all to my aunt.

During all these years I had known her, my mother had not mentioned a thing about her life before me. Each time I attempted to find some answers from her, she would simply say, “Not worth telling it again.” Years later after I had settled in America, I was able to gather bits and pieces of her story from my aunt—my uncle’s wife. I started to realize that the memories must have been too painful for my mother to revisit. This time at my parents’ home, while digging through my mother’s treasure boxes, I discovered a photo. It was taken about 8-9 years ago. She and my uncle were visiting my grandparents’ graveyard in their hometown, Chengdu, Sichuan Province. On the picture, my mother was kneeling down, holding a stack of burnt incense in front of my grandparents’ tomb–burning incense is an old Chinese tradition to pay respect to our ancestors. The anguish and sorrow were written all over her face. She was crying, and crying uncontrollably. I was deeply touched. My mother, the woman I had known for being reserved, observant, and yet capable, disciplined and confident, had rarely shown her vulnerable side in front of other people, not even her loved ones. Here she finally gave herself in, pouring all her emotions out. Looking at the photo, I couldn’t imagine how much guilt and agony she had buried in her heart for all these years! I was in immense awe of my mother.

After the Korean War, my mother joined a West Point equivalent army institute, teaching mathematics to male officers while finishing up her bachelor’s degree in Statistics. There she met my father. Their life and love stories would later unfold like a Hollywood tearjerker. Under Mao’s iron fist, China had been through unimaginable human catastrophes one after another, and the “Brand New China” Mao had propagated before 1949 had turned into a giant human tragedy brewing pot–millions died through persecution, starvation and forced labor. The Great Leap Forward and the Cultural Revolution had become symbols of human suffering and ultimately, the epitome of human resilience.

During that time period, my mother’s privileged family background deemed her an “enemy of the state.” My father’s gutsy courage to speak up his mind about China’s cruel reality “earned” him forced labor in Siberia, farming in the Northeast, and studying Mao’s doctrines in re-education camps. For the next decade or so, my mother followed my father from one Gulag to another, sometimes together and other times on heels, enduring mental and physical hardships I couldn’t even start to imagine. As a result, my sister and I were brought up mostly by my paternal grandmother during our formative years.

When the Cultural Revolution ended, my parents were finally able to settle back home with us. My mother dived right into her line of work, trailblazing her way into a world of math and numbers dominated by men. She quickly became one of the most sought after statisticians at her workplace, often traveling to places to attend conferences, give talks and work on number-related projects. But because of her family background, she had been kept outside the door of “Chinese Communist Party” throughout her career. Like many people of her time, my mother’s youthful exuberance about Mao’s new China was ultimately squelched by Mao himself, perhaps the biggest tragedy of her generation.

For anyone whose life experience had a slight similarity to my mother’s, s/he may have already succumbed to the physical and mental torture, but for my mother, the suffering and anguish didn’t dampen her spirit; rather, they strengthened her character. No complaints. No regrets. No second guesses. She continued to charge on with her life like a real soldier. To me she had transcended everything I knew about human resilience.

In this time of loss and reflection, I have had so many memories about my mother come washing over me. One favorite story involved how she used clothes to subtly express her feminine side. In Mao’s China, women were not allowed to celebrate their feminine side in any shape or form. No skirts. No high heels. No make-ups. Not even waves of long hair. Women were all dressed like men: blouses and pants in color black, blue, gray, white or army green. Any deviation from that was deemed counter-revolutionary. Growing up I was always so impressed at how my mother put together each and every day. Yes, she followed the Party’s dress code, but her blouses were wrinkle free and pants crease sharp. Often she amped up her fashion by showing a hint of bright color through the collar of the shirts she wore underneath her dark-colored blouses. Refreshing and endearing. This little gesture had set her far apart from the crowd, and she had kept her fashion sense and sensibility till the last day of her life.

My mother left many gifts to me, but perhaps the most significant gift she passed on to me is her teaching of “believe in yourself” and “get up where you fall.” I call it the Girl Power. Growing up as the younger of two girls in the pre-one-child-policy China, I was keenly aware of the many brothers and sisters my neighborhood friends typically had; some even went so far as to have 4-5 sisters until a baby brother descended to the family. Suffice to say, I was part jealous and part grateful. When I grew older, I realized just how much boys were preferred in my culture and how important for a family to have one. I was curious to find out why my parents didn’t continue to produce a male heir. Were they ever regretted? I often wondered. One day I raised this question to my mother. She looked at me amused and burst out: “How silly! Boys are trouble makers!” That was that. But the story my father once told me had me love my mother all the more. After finding out another girl had joined the Zhao family, my paternal grandmother lobbied many times in vain for a grandson, but every time my mother would tell her: “Why do we need a boy when we already have two beautiful girls?”

My mother truly believed in the Girl Power. She was not a person of many words, but every time she spoke, her words were authentic and carried tremendous weight. She often said to me: “So long as you set your mind on things you like, you will succeed.” Growing up I had never heard her label such and such “are for boys only,” or such and such “are not good for girls.” Rather, she encouraged me to play with boys, even if that meant to be rough and tumble. When I was 6 or 7 years old, I spent 6 months with her in her re-education camp—my happiest childhood memory. All day long I ran around with the local kids, chasing dogs, catching flies, playing hide and seek in the corn mazes. In the evening I would come back to our small cottage with cuts and bruises all over my body, sometimes in tears. My mother would check on them, wash off the dirt, pat on the injured spot and say something like “You are fine. Go have some fun tomorrow.” Perhaps because of her support on my back, I never felt subpar to boys, and always happy to take on challenges, mental or physical. Years later, these characters had served me well when I was thousands of miles away from home, on my own feet, reaching for the star. After her passing, while organizing her treasures, I found an army medal of honor she had received decades ago. Along with it was a certificate issued by China’s most respected and all-time military leader: General Zhu De. Her achievement? “Dedication to her teaching.” She was only 22 at the time. I was in immense awe of her.

My mother was the biggest fan to my sister and me. She had been there for us every step of the way even when I had my share of the terrible teenage rebellion. I loved that she encouraged me to follow my heart’s desire, but I also liked that she was not shy of giving me her input to my opinions. In my culture, science and engineering were considered superior to social science and liberal arts. They were core skills that would likely to grow with age, people say. They were also safe haven from political persecution as far as you stayed away from critical and independent thinking. A famous Chinese saying goes like this: “Mastering of math, physics and chemistry will take you to the top of the world!” Not surprisingly, all China’s leaders have engineering background. But I loved storytelling, and I was a thinker. So when I decided to apply for colleges, I wanted to study social science, like journalism. My mother cheered on my decision, but at the same time pointed out the pros and cons as a journalist, namely, lack of independent journalism in China. And she was right—journalism in China was merely a lip reading of the official Party line. So in the end I didn’t apply for journalism schools, but was admitted into a top university in Beijing known for its training ground for China’s future diplomats. The best decision for me!

When someone you love dies, it makes you wonder what happens in death. We Chinese believe in after life. We send our loved ones to heaven and their souls stay with us. For the first few months after their passing, we visit their graveyards every few weeks, burning incense to pay respect to them, bringing food to them, talking to them, checking on their life on the other side. These moments are sacred through which we are forever connected, and they are part of us who live on. I have brought my mother’s spirit with me back home and it will stay with me forever.

Upon my return from China, I soaked myself in a Yoga class. It was taught by a friend of mine, that younger, fun-loving quintessential Yogi girl. Her class is typically upbeat, reflective. This time, at start of the class, she read a short essay to us, a touching, beautiful essay, bringing many tears to my eyes. I am sharing it here:

Life is so ephemeral. Here one day and gone the next. You never know when your life is going to change in an instant. Cherish each blessing in your life. Life is so delicate and tender. Take nothing for granted because you may wake up one day to find everything is changed forever. No matter how much you want it back, you’ll never turn back the clock to a time gone by. Take the time now to appreciate the gifts that you have in life. Your body, your breath, your family, your friends. All the love that surrounds you, all the love you heart. It’s all that matters.”

I can feel you inside me, Mom, your love and support! I know you would love to see us continue to embark on what life bestows on us.

I love you Mom!

On Being 50

I became bold lately: by posting online photos of a few fun and seemingly challenging Yoga poses I did at home the other day, I made it known to my Facebook friends that I turned 50 this year. Yes, that number in all caps–FIFTY. On May 13th, I celebrated this half century milestone quietly with my family— no drama, no hype, just like many other birthdays I had celebrated in the past. But why such a big deal now? Well, lately I have given some serious thoughts about what turning 50 means to me, and often I find myself dancing around the two radically different cultures about youth, age and mortality.

Last June, my family took a trip to the beautiful Croatia. Swimming in the crystal clear Adriatic Sea, strolling along the gorgeous Dalmatian coast, indulging on hearty Mediterranean food…I enjoyed every minute of the incredible experience. Unprompted, my then 10-year-old son took a picture of me and my husband standing on a rock against the magnificent Dalmatian coastline. Both clad in swimming suits—me a one-piece cover-all and him a simple swimming trunk, we looked happy and healthy. Excited, I posted the photo on my Facebook wall. A friend of mine–a younger, fun-loving and quintessential Yogi girl, teased me about not wearing a bikini. Ever so conscious and embarrassed, I immediately took down that photo. “Come on, you are 50, and you are not the centerfold of “Sports Illustrated”!” I kept hearing that roaring voice in my head—that inner Chinese voice which was so strong and condemning as if I had done something seriously inappropriate. On top of that, an amplified version of the voice only an introvert could hear ten times louder.

Here are the points I want to make. You see, in my “old” culture, the one in which I was born and deeply-rooted, a woman does not have to feel pained or embarrassed to reveal her age. As a matter of fact, she gains certain privilege and respect with each year advancing to the next. Wisdom and experience count, we say. “The bridges we have crossed are more than the roads you have paved” is something we would often hear from older women, be our mothers or grandmothers. While commanding respect is admirable for an older woman, the idea of being older has also added a certain expectation in a twisted way. No longer a risk taker, an older woman is expected to be less daring but more complacent. The vitality, the energy, the passion, the curiosity…all things associated with youth and being young are lost in the years. Light has dimmed, curtain has closed–life has become less dynamic but more static. “I am old” has become a trademark excuse for many of us who take a comfortable back seat, watching exciting and exuberant life unfolding right in front of our eyes. If we are lucky and get upgraded into grandmotherhood, we are expected to immerse ourselves happily in the joy of taking care of our grandchildren, as if an older woman’s life can only be extended through her children and her children’s children. I often feel ambivalent and perhaps a bit heavyhearted about my role when I get to that “not so inspiring” age. Sigh…

Now enter my “other” culture, the one which I adopted 25 years ago and have since adapted to, more or less. This is a culture that embraces and celebrates youth wholeheartedly. Being young means being fabulous, beautiful, sexy, full of life, and most importantly, being desirable. The consumer market targets the young ones–have we not noticed that Victoria Secret’s models are all 18 or 20 year olds? The media focus on the glamorous but plastically reconstructed ones—have we not noticed that many familiar faces in Hollywood and on television all have frozen smiles, puffy lips and stretchy eye lids? The pop culture tailgates closely the ins and outs of the Kardashian clan—have we not noticed that these women are the epitome of narcissism but lack of substance? Alas, the list can go on and on and on.

Talking about another kind of expectation…A few days ago I made an appointment for my annual mammogram. Upon taking down my name and age over the phone, the receptionist asked me a question that almost floored me: “Do you have any breast implants that I should be aware of?” Not sure if I wanted to laugh, cry or do both, I replied with a bitchy sense of humor: “So if I tell you that my breasts are 100% of my own, does it make me an unwanted 50-year-old outlier?” I could hear the uncomfortable silence on the other end of the line, and then she said, “Well, I have to ask you this just because…” I have no hard statistics on how many women these days choose to have breast implants for cosmetic reasons, but I can easily believe the numbers are increasing.

It reminds me of a Facebook profile I’ve stumbled upon recently while researching for my blogs. A woman turned 50. She opted to have a facelift and posted photos of its entire procedure online—from having her face cut open, to her chin pulled tight, and to her skin stitched back together… Never comfortable seeing blood, I quickly skimmed through the pictures, but paid close attention to the many comments other women wrote on her post. “Inspirational”, “brave”, “courageous”, “role model,” “trailblazer,” “paving the way” are just a few examples of the overwhelmingly positive feedbacks she received. I am not here to judge as she may have many reasons behind her decision. But honestly I still can’t quite process why a woman goes so far as to self-inflict permanent scars and then hide them behind the ears and under the chins, just in exchange for a less-wrinkled forehead or more stretched-out cheeks?! It is lost on me. Besides, what’s so bad about having a few extra lines on our faces? It is called life and living.

But here is the thing. We live in a society where women are expected to look and behave younger than we are. Judging and self-judging has become part and parcel of our life. If an older age is the sole culprit of a man’s wandering eyes, or can hurt the potential love life prospect or squelch the hope of getting promoted at work, then who wants to show the sign of aging? Perhaps we will not be surprised at why a woman would carefully guard her age and forever celebrate the 29th birthday? Perhaps we will understand why a woman would resort to extreme measures to modify, enhance and repair her otherwise beautiful face? Sigh…

So what does turning 50 mean to me? Well, to me 50 is not the new 20, it is not the new 30, and it is certainly not the new 40. Don’t get me wrong. 20, 30, and 40, these are all wonderful years–so much to dream about, so much to aspire to, so much to cry over…but none has allowed me to fully be me. At 20, I was riddled with self-doubt, at 30 I pursued relentlessly the “American Dream”– whatever that was, and at 40 I walked gingerly between the fine line of a career and new motherhood… I’ve searched. I’ve paused. I’ve examined. I’ve let go. Finally I have gained the ability to see life from a different perspective. It’s like in Yoga, our constant inhaling and exhaling have finally brought us to the point where we can feel the whole being of ourselves. Yes, the whole being–this is the 50 I am having and aspired to have. Simply put–to do, to say, to be.

I am lucky to have lived and experienced two cultures where a woman’s roles and identities crisscross. It allows me to reflect on both, weave together the wisdom of both, and also critique the nonsense of both. It broadens my view on differences: rather than dismissing them, I empathize with them, and most importantly, I embrace them.

The new 50 allows me to continue to challenge myself in the context of myself. I often gush at the impeccable Yoga poses some of my younger Yogi girlfriends can do—the grace, the beauty, the strength, the power, the artistic expression… I can only dream of. If these are not artwork made out of human bodies, nothing else is. I cheer for my friends and cheer for their incredible artistic and athletic capabilities, but I no longer try to be like them. I probably would if I were in my 20s or 30s, but not in my 50s. I still do all these crazy Yoga poses –the wheel, the grasshopper, the flip-the-dog, the hand stand, the pretzel like twists and turns I can’t even name … I try, I fall, I try again, and I fall again. Some days are better than others. I will keep trying, but at the same time I will not sweat if I need to use one arm to fake my grasshopper pose or if my back bends are not as bendy as say, 5 years or even 1 year ago. But in the end, I only challenge myself, and I see the changes in me.

The new 50 allows me to rethink what’s more important in life and be able to say “to hell with the societal norm.” I still work as hard as ever before, strive to be the sought-after subject matter expert at work, and will not give up my career for the sake of anybody else, but I no longer aim to obtain a crown jewel of a glamorous corporate title like VP or SVP. I won’t feel pained to see younger women, and even encourage and help them, to step ahead to fulfill their career ambition. But if there is a schedule conflict between my son’s piano recital and a corporate function, I will not by a heart beat miss the opportunity to watch him perform on stage.

The new 50 allows me to relax and enjoy myself more. I still watch what I eat and manage my body weight, but I also indulge myself from time to time with calorie-loaded and sugar-laced junk food and then work twice as hard to get back in shape. Even if I can’t get back in shape quickly–hell, the ever slowing down metabolism at this age–I won’t feel ashamed to have a few extra pounds sit stubbornly on my love handle, saggy belly, or that politically incorrect location–fat butt. There is just more to love myself. Besides, paper thin body is not a vocabulary we “older women” should feel elated when talking about mature elegance.

The new 50 allows me to inject a sense of humor into the otherwise all too consuming menopause. That bitchy hormonal roller-coaster ride—the mood swing, the hot flash, the out-of-mind forgetfulness, and the extreme fatigue, a full spectrum of discomfort and embarrassment. I used to think I was invincible until a few months ago when I had completely transformed from a night owl to an early riser. And I still need more rest. Hey I am not ashamed to admit it. Still I loved turning 50.

The new 50 also allows me to fear less, mind you, only FEAR LESS not FEARLESS, about the prospect of getting to that extremely advanced age one day. I may not be able to enjoy a full range of the things I used to take for granted, I may not be as sharp intellectually as I used to be, and I may have to trade my independence with reliance on other people’s help. But for now, I choose not to dwell on a mere number; rather, I will only marvel at and be thankful for “What a ride I have had!”

I have no plans to hide my years, no matter how advanced they get. This is the beauty and benefits of getting old and I look forward to the second half of my life!