Time out

We arrived back in Toronto last night, after several days in San Jose for Gong-Gong’s funeral. It was a sad occasion but a very good weekend with the extended family. I think I cried even harder this time than at our first departure on April 24.

I woke up this morning feeling a little groggy, but very grounded, which prompts me to ask: what is it I feel normally, upon waking? Obviously not grounded. I think I live with a constant undercurrent of mild anxiety, of striving — today I need to do this and this, and go to these places, and get this much work done, and catch up on those things I’ve left hanging for too long, and oh dear it’s already so late — and that seeps into my dreams and wakes me up with a sense of already being behind at the start of the day. But this morning I didn’t feel like that.

What was so grounding about my trip home? I think first and foremost it’s that I put everything on hold for this, and there was an instant freedom in that, because my priorities were as clear as could be. My job was to take care of myself, to spend time with family, and to honor Gong-Gong; beyond that, there was no need to worry about anything, past or present.

I realize after this weekend that it is an enormous gift to be able to mourn a loved one in community, and with full acceptance of his death. Gong-Gong was about 95 this year, depending which calendar you use. We didn’t have to feel that he went too early, or lingered too long; we’d all had chances to say goodbye while he was still with us. We were all very sad, but — I don’t know how else to express this — our grief was clean, untroubled by regret or refusal to let go. I think we were able to honor Gong-Gong completely, because we were thinking only of how grateful we were to have known him, and how rich and remarkable his life, and how happy we were to still be surrounded by family. I spoke at the service, as did many other family members, and my Da-Jiu (uncle) read letters from faraway friends (including the father of our Hong Kong friend Joanna). We all wept and hugged a great deal, and it was very cathartic and comforting, and a tremendous counterpoint to that rootlessness and loneliness I’ve felt while traveling.

On the flight back to Toronto I watched two documentaries: one about the Amish, and another about young girls auditioning for a pre-professional ballet program. I watched them one after the other: first the Amish, with their rejection of worldly ambition and their submission to a life of hard work and godly community; then the ballet dancers, striving for entry into a prestigious school that would launch them into professional training at the young age of 11 or 13 or 15. Though their subject matter appears quite different, both films were about dedication and making choices, and as such, they spoke to the relationship between being, doing, and seeking. At times I’ve wished for the simple, day-by-day life of the Amish; other times, I’ve wished I’d started at an art school when I was young. But really, I couldn’t live at either extreme.

I had a wonderful time in San Jose, doing nothing and just being, but I can’t do that all the time or I don’t feel fulfilled. And yet, clearly, spending too much time thinking and working (and thinking about working) gets me caught in a stressful pattern of feeling that I always have to do more. What strikes me most about the way I felt this morning is the simple spaciousness of it: I knew I had a ton to do, but I just felt like there was ample time for everything. Or, rather, I knew there was ample time for everything that’s truly important. And I really believe that; it’s just that I forget, constantly, and need the reminder. This one comes at a particularly good time: the start of our last three weeks in Toronto. That is time enough to see, explore, write, paint, and also just breathe and stretch and be.

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