Life Reflections

The Shoulders of Giants

TV on Street

“I want to thank the Academy…”

They all share the Oscar with their families, with their colleagues, with the nameless downtrodden of the world. “This is for you.” The golden trophy will sit on their shelf at home, but somehow, in spirit, it belongs also to the ten or ten thousand others he named on that stage.

Other than my middle school math contest fluke and participating in piano recitals, I think its safe to say my trophy days are over. If I ever have such a platform, or an acknowledgements page in a book, you can look for yourself there. I have already imagined that I will put your name in bold script with a paraphrase of Newton’s quote.

“I stand on the shoulders of giants.”

In a world that loves the polished front and saving face, you protect my frailty. My friend’s father says, “If you’re dumb, you gotta be tough.” Unfortunately, I’m often the former, and not the latter, but you always have my back—scraped knees, splinters and broken hearts. You beat up my old dinosaur book when it started screeching in the dark. You brought me McDonalds after I braved the hospital shots. You held me when I cried in a hotel room because I thought my world was ending. You answered the phone when I killed the car battery at 10 PM. I’m working on being tough, but in the meantime at least I can say, “When I’m dumb, my Dad is tough.” Thank God.

In a world that hangs love on terms and conditions, you are steadfast. I have seen children who are a prize, measured by the sum of their awards, the rank of their schools, the letters that trail behind their names. But I am just your little girl, the daughter you said you wanted, in a culture that clamors for sons. I know the rest is nothing to you—some fun but dispensable bragging points at noisy Asian parties—because I don’t think any of your friends would do this: offer to let their kid drop a job and move home because their heart was hurting, in a completely non-medical-emergency way.

In a world of proper-looking photos, we are gangsters, pirates, and kangaroos. Venice canals, Roman architecture, and New Zealand beaches are neither sacred nor safe under the glare of our camera lens. There must be something deep about this—like how we laugh in the face of human constructs of significance. You have my humor (or I have yours), and its runs its thread through our picture albums, in the movie theaters, and at stiff boring parties. It flickers in the pirate pose, in the joke no one else finds funny, in the glimmer of mirth we share amid an oblivious crowd. Our laughter understands in a way words cannot capture.

You are in a story I wrote this year, and my professor cried. You are in the pictures I share, and my friends laugh. You are among the people I boast about, and boys say they want to be like you. (Because, I think, of your mastery of travel points and credit cards). It’d be nice to find one who really is.

Love is a debt I cannot pay, a gift I cannot touch. It is in the life you give me, the life you live alongside me. It is in the labor I do not see always see, it is in the words I cannot always find.

Mei you ni, mei you wo.

This is my Oscar speech, overtime and under-read, but its really only written for you, anyway. Cue the commercial break.

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Drabbles & Scribbles, Life Reflections, Poetry

Quietly, She Builds the World

Poetry is oft for lovers, rarely for mothers.

Theirs is the thrill, the mystery, the romance, I suppose. They command our devotion, with a drama of ecstasy and despair. Some strange charm beckons us in the star-crossed tale and the daring plunge of two naked souls.

But what do we write of the ones who fold the laundry, steam the rice, and frighten the ants away? What glory do we dismiss, when we relegate her to nursery rhymes: the ones who bore us to life, and in times of thunder, hold up our skies?

Quietly, they build the world, when the world is not watching.

My mother, she builds

with thick skin and iron fingers

She never wears mittens, juggling pots with bare hands. She is not delicate, as fearless in the face of man’s mockery as she is with boiling dishes. Let them laugh, she says, why spend your life saving face? We choose whether their words wound us or not.

Grown in the soil of her country, she will always love its food, but never wear its masks. Who will judge you, when Heaven has pardoned you?

as a romantic and a realist—

She once danced for farmers in the rice paddies as dusk shimmered away, back when Mao was god. Her limbs moved with childlike grace, a brief light in poverty, a defiant laugh in the dark. Beside her candle and banned books, she dreamed of being a rural schoolteacher. Now, she visits suburban homes and American libraries, teaching calculus to the fearful and probability to Ivy League-dreamers. Still, she labors with compassion, and knows in silent wisdom that the rich may be poor in spirit.

like Sherlock to my Watson

She fires every gardener she hires for costly incompetence. She cannot bake sweets, but solves puzzles instead. What sort of grandmother will you be? I lament. Oh, I will teach your children about Calvin, not cookies. She forgets, sometimes, how to convert her height to feet and inches, and the order of planetary orbits. But communism was thin in the education department, and she has deeper things to ponder. She does not hear, sometimes, satire and sarcasm, because her habit is bald sincerity. She might offend you, or she might inspire you.

She lives good stories, and I try to write them. And sometimes, she wears funny hats.

in sorrow and splendor—

She is there when my world cracks and catches fire. Though she knows, in all her logic and reason, that tears do not fix broken hearts or dreams, she lets me weep. And when I cannot believe the kind, empty words of men, she speaks, like a songbird piercing hollow cathedrals. How splendid, when the strong in truth walk beside you in suffering. How steady and sure, the promises of God sound in her voice, whispered into the summer night.

Quietly, she builds the world

when she lays new dirt in the spring, when she fills the kitchen with garlic and soy, when she questions my sanity in all the right moments, and when she takes herself lightly, serious only in what matters most.

Quietly, she builds the world, yet teaches me—in triumph or in tragedy—not to love it so. But to store up in heaven the treasure of my soul.

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