Cultivate the habit of being grateful for every good thing that comes to you, and to give thanks continuously. – Ralph Waldo Emerson
I last wrote about my wife’s long journey home to see her father. I am saddened to say he passed away just eight hours before her plane departed. After receiving her negative covid-19 results, she input the information into a government app that cleared her for travel the day before her flight. That night, at midnight our time, she got the terrible news from her brother that their father had died peacefully in his sleep. As I held her in my arms, sitting next to her two packed suitcases, the direction of her journey changed in those minutes. Talking with her brothers and sister, they promised to delay the funeral ceremony until she cleared quarantine and could attend. As we prepared to go to the airport, I reminded her of her last long video conversation with her Dad, and how he held the phone the entire time and had the presence of mind to talk at length with her. I said, be thankful for small mercies.
We are now on opposite sides of the planet. She is half the world away in Shanghai waiting in limbo. I am her watching the sun set over her window box of vegetables. It is the same sun that is rising on the other side of the Pacific Ocean. Hong’s older brother said he said goodbye to his father every time he left the hospital – not just see you later but farewell. Always in the back of her mind she felt she had been doing the same – saying farewell to her father each time she finished a chat. These moments we are granted with our loved ones are truly small mercies given to us by fate. We never know when the final moments of grace will come. I had lived far from my parents for years. When I moved back to the same state, I stopped overnight to talk with my mom. When I said goodbye, she hugged me tightly, and I still feel the strength of her embrace deep in my soul. The small mercy of our last hug lessened the pain of her passing a short time later.
I have always been the one in my family who could make people laugh. Last October I flew home to surprise my Dad for his 95th birthday. My goal was to make him laugh. The look on his face when he saw his wandering son standing there – was priceless. While we were eating cake, I got him to laugh pretty heartily. After his birthday as I was getting ready to leave, I bent down to hug the old warrior. I tried not to squeeze too hard. He looked at me with watery eyes,on the verge of tears. “I’m so glad you came. You never know when you’ll see someone for…” He choked back the words, but we both knew. My Dad had said his final goodbyes to far too many people. Young friends in the war, family and friends who died too soon from terrible diseases. He had outlived nearly everyone he knew from his generation. That small mercy of a touching goodbye was a blessing. I talked to him last on Father’s Day, as his mind and body were slipping away. I was able to make the old man laugh one more time. That was a true blessing to hear his laugh one more time.
As the sun kisses the horizon, I throw a kiss in the air to my beloved. I have tended to her garden today, done the laundry, and am doing the things on the list she left for me. Although separated by a great distance, we are still on the same path. As I unloaded her suitcases at the airport, I gave her a small red envelope called Hong Bao. I told her the envelope and the money inside was from her mother. Hong’s mom always gave this traditional holiday gift at Spring Festival and whenever we would travel. The amount of money, although small in denomination, is considered lucky. I have saved several of mom’s hongbao. When she accepted me into the family, I felt honored. Thanks to a hundred different tasks, Hong will be able to join her brothers and sister, uncles, aunts, cousins, nephew, nieces and friends as they gather in remembrance of her father. As I drove home, the crescent moon and brilliant red Mars marked my path. I recalled the last time I was at my wife’s family home, and the last time I saw her dad. I told him Hao Jiao Bu Jian – long time no see. Her father surprised me and told me, in English “Welcome, please take a seat.” These small mercies are all around us – look for them. Carry them close to your heart, and they will brighten the shadows when they fall. Peace. Stay healthy and safe.