"Tell me, what is it you plan to do with your one wild and precious life?" ~ Mary Oliver

Tag: women’s lib

“red sparrow”. . .


skipping rope

When we lived in Berwyn, Maryland my family often gathered with other Chinese immigrant families. One of them was the Chang family who were related to us as second cousins or an aunt & uncle once removed or something like that. I was never quite sure what the connection was. We settled on being “cousins” with them. Judy (on the right of the photo) and I spent a lot of time together skipping rope at my house. We went to see Bob Steele and Hopalong Cassidy cowboy movies every weekend at the Greenbelt Theater. Afterwards we would walk up and down the aisles of the five-and-dime store, inspecting the plastic toys and candy that we would choose to blow the rest of our allowance on.

Judy was an only child and her parents were both physicians. Her mother worked at a hospital and was often away from home. Her father took care of Judy and did the housework at home in addition to being a doctor. Whenever I stayed over with Judy at her house on the weekends, Uncle Chang would buy us whatever we wanted to eat and let us do whatever we felt like.

One day when we were about nine years old, Judy and I sat on the living room rug of her house and demolished a gallon of peach ice cream together. We also ate a large bag of Fritos. We got so sick afterwards that I haven’t gone near peach ice cream or Fritos ever again.

Because both her parents worked, Judy stayed with us over the entire summer when school was out. She was very good at drawing, went to Swarthmore and afterwards became an architect. She also became a hippie of sorts. She met her husband, an American, on one of her treks in the Himalayas. Even though our lives went in different directions, I sought her out for a reunion of sorts when our children were young. We met at a restaurant with our then-husbands and families and then lost touch again. Her marriage ended at the 20 year mark. Mine ended at 26 years.

Much later, I invited her to visit us for Thanksgiving in 2002. By that time, Judy’s father had passed away and she spent her time in Philadelphia practicing architecture and visiting her mother in a nearby nursing home. Judy told me that she had made peace with her mother who was by now nearly a hundred years old.

We had a good, albeit awkward visit together that Thanksgiving at our home. She brought her drawings to show me; I showed her my writing efforts. We talked about how it wasn’t too late for women to reach out for what was still important to us. She told me she had always wanted to travel to Mongolia to take photographs and to sketch the landscapes there. In 2003 she won a SWIMPY (“Senior Women In their Most Productive Years”) grant from Flora Stone Mather College at Case Western Reserve University to sketch a restoration project in Mongolia. She said, “It was a spark I needed to begin a journey imagined a lifetime ago.”

When we skipped rope together, we moved in tandem. Each of us fiercely wanted a creative life. We found a belief system that worked for us: mine in Taoism and Judy in Buddhism.

We spoke again after she returned from Mongolia. Then, she became ill with cancer and died in 2006 with her sons by her side. In memoriam, they created a website to celebrate her life and her art. In the process, her sons discovered drawings that none of us had ever seen. They are posted on a website called “Red Sparrow.”

“life is long” . . .

thankful every day

“Life is long”. . . a woman speaker told us at one of the Wednesday morning assemblies when I was a scholarship student at Smith College in the ’60′s. She talked about how important this idea was because as women, we might have to put the care of others ahead of ourselves. And that there might still be a chance to do something or be something that was really important to us. Later on.

It was a turbulent time. Joan Baez, Pete Seeger and others sang to protest the Vietnam War. Women’s Lib was at its peak, American astronauts walked on the moon, and the Beatles rocked everyone, singing “I Want to Hold Your H-A-N-D…” Being somewhat shy, I was too naïve to know what I really wanted out of life, never mind whether life was short, or whether it was long.

My first marriage lasted for over a quarter of a century and the best thing that came out of it was our children. The one thing we did well together was raising them to be independent, to be curious and to give them experiences and tools to find their way in life.

Preferences in the way he and I wanted to live were in stark contrast to each other: he wanted to travel the world and live in exotic cultures–the Wanderer. All I wanted to do was to be at home. In my own home in comfort of my own making: to read, play the piano, knit, cook meals, listen to music. We couldn’t have been farther apart in terms of what we each wanted to do at the middle-aged period in our lives.

The divorce was lengthy and painful, lots of to- and fro-ing. Worries about finances. I moved three times in two years, including cleaning out the Victorian house that our children grew up in for twenty-two years, virtually by myself. The first week in my new apartment, the family dog slipped out from the back yard, even though the iron gates looked secure. When I searched but could not find her, I found solace in the I-Ching reading which said, “peace.” I figured that either I should chill out because she would turn up, or that she was already at peace. The next morning, the phone rang and a dog Samaritan said she found Bridget on the causeway in the next town. Two degrees  of separation, the Vet’s number on Bridget’s rabies tag and my new phone number left with the Vet during the move coincided to reunite us once again. I didn’t have a job at the time, although by then, I had worked for seven years in a biotech start-up and had a track record for making decent money. Three months later, I got a call that led me to a new biotech start-up company sixty miles away.

The movers, in their haste, forgot to tighten the lyre on my Steinway grand piano. I looked in the phone book for someone specializing in Steinways to come and take care of it. That person turned out to be my future husband. We were friends for four years when we decided to marry. This year, we celebrated our 16th wedding anniversary and have been together now for almost twenty years. I never thought this might happen during the turbulent unsettled time in my life.

We are both pianists, grateful that we are together to share our lives. Whenever I say that I should have left my first marriage earlier given all the trials and tribulations, my husband quickly disagrees. He feels that had even one thing been different in our pasts, we might not have met each other at all. Timing is everything, it seems, even if it takes awhile.

As a postscript, my ex-husband married within a year of our divorce being finalized. He and his wife travel and live all over the world. All’s well that ends well, it seems.

That’s how I came to understand what I heard when life was still innocent and full of promise, “Life is long.”