My older sister passed away almost 11 years ago.  She’d had multiple battles with cancer and finally it came back with a vengeance.

I was in Iraq when I got the call.  48 hrs later I was back home and had a chance to spend a week or so with her before she died.

My family is a weird one.  We grew up with mom giving us the silent treatment for weeks or months at a time with no explanation and my sisters inherited that behavior from her.  I did something to offend my older sister and we went almost ten years without speaking, so when I came home it was more to be with the rest of my family and support them than to be with my sister before she died.  I was hoping for some kind of reconciliation, but it never really happened.  We were cordial, and laughed and joked some but she died with us never really making peace or me ever finding out what I’d done to earn her anger.

I’d come to terms with us not speaking years in advance.  You can’t chose the family you’re born with, I’d chosen to start my family and at that time had a wife and son to focus on.

My Dad called me out of the blue at work today.  I was in the office doing some stuff but everyone else was working from home so I had the luxury of talking without having to worry about other people listening in.  He’d been driving and thinking.  My family is getting ready to go the south at the end of the month, where they’re naming a wing of the hospital after my sister.  With all of the upcoming “stuff” coming up, Dad was thinking of things that happened and felt the need to reach out and tell me thank you for coming home to be with them.  That was really, really weird for me, I mean what else was I going to do?  It’s family.

So over the course of the discussion, my Dad just casually mentioned that my mom was with my sister the night before she died.  My sister was on a lot of pain killers and wasn’t making a lot of sense in the end.  In a moment of lucidity, apparently my sister asked her to make sure that me and my little sister knew that she loved us and forgave us for everything and hoped that we forgave her.

“Uh.  Dad?  That kind of would’ve been nice to hear ten or eleven years ago.”

I get it.  Emotions were high, my mom told my Dad and my sister about it, and just thought she told me.  But still.  I’ve spent all this time thinking she was still mad at me when she died.  I don’t know, for ten or 15 minutes I was stunned.  I remember thinking I didn’t know whether to laugh or be mad about it.

As the day went on, I realized it didn’t really change anything.  I gave up trying to understand years and years ago.  Sure, at random times I’ll get a little mad about it, that she gave me the silent treatment without telling me why.  That she missed so many opportunities for us to have fun and be close together, especially when we lived less than two hours together.  That she missed the opportunity to get to know her nephew.

But that’s all passed now.  It’s nice to know that she still loved me when she died, but in the grand scheme of things, but I don’t really see how it changes much.  She’s still gone, I’m still here and life is still goes on.  Her passing was so long ago now, the memories of her have faded so much.  Not just by her death, but also by the distance she put between herself and us.  Not just by the silent treatment, but even when we were all talking, she still separated herself from the family.  Locking herself in her room to listen to music instead of watching tv with the family, partying with friends at every possible opportunity, staying on the East Coast when we moved west.  Sure, she’s been dead over a decade, but it was almost another decade on top of that since we’d spoken, and probably another decade before that before we had more than a serious talk or two a year.

Quick Little Story

I haven’t written in a bit, crazy couple of weeks with some drama and some travel.  So just wanted to jot down a quick little story to a) stay in practice and b) get some stuff out of my head.

So.  Interesting sermon series at church lately, about relationships.  Called “The Fairy Tale and the Fall”.  This past week the focus was on one word, “shame”.  The pastor said that he believes most “stuff” that goes on in a relationship can be traced back to shame.  Either someone is motivated by something they did, or some personal attribute they have/think they have/don’t have that they’re ashamed about, or by some event that happened where they were shamed.

He gave an example of trying out for the track team in the 7th grade.  He was a chubby kid, and knew it was going to end badly, but did it anyways to be able to hang out with a girl he was crushing on.  At that school, if you didn’t qualify for any of the events, they had a “fun run” that wasn’t timed, didn’t earn points and was kind of like a consolation prize.  It was the equivalent of being cut from the team.  When the coach was calling off the various people and their events, the pastor was just sitting there on the edge of his seat, and when they announced that he’d be running the fun run, he said everyone started laughing at him, including the crush.  It was a traumatizing moment for him, and motivated his actions for years.

I was born in Thailand during/shortly after the Vietnam war and when the war was over and US contractors were forced to return home, my family first went to Arkansas so my father could finish college, then we returned to Iowa, which was home for him.  Eventually we ended up in a small town there where I started school.  Because it was a small town, I already knew a lot of my classmates, either from the neighborhood, or from church or because our parents were friends.  If you’ve grown up in the same place, you know what that’s like.  You don’t really notice differences back then, you’re just kids.  But as a half-asian, my sisters and me WERE the minorities in this little white-bread town.  We just didn’t know it.

Then we moved to Georgia while I was still in grade school, and started at the public schools there.  My classes were slightly >black, then the white kids, then me, the lone asian.  This time, everyone noticed.  I don’t want to get into a big discussion on racism in America, now or then.  I’m just sharing my experiences, and my take on it.  But I think even at that young age, some of the black kids were already aware of racism, and had probably already taken some shit and weren’t happy about it.  And when someone new popped up, a lone person, that wasn’t black and wasn’t white?  That new person ended up on the totem pole lower than them and they were happy to pass on what they’d been taking for awhile.

I got my ass beat for no reason other than I was me and I was there.  I got made fun of and messed with in the halls.  A lot of it I was able to laugh off.  A lot of it stunned me.  I’d never experienced anything like this before.  I’d never realized I was different.  And it wasn’t consistent.  Some kids were mean, some were totally nice.  I remember having to ask my dad what “Chink” meant.

Partway through the time there, I developed a crush on one little girl.  In my memories she’s always wearing pink overalls, a white turtleneck with some design printed on it and pigtails.  And, being a kid with no understanding of crushes and feelings, of course I tugged those pigtails.

One day, for whatever reason, the teacher was out of the classroom.  Those were the days of mimeograph machines.  So she might’ve been out running copies of something.  Or maybe she was smoking in the teacher’s lounge.  Who knows.  All I remember is that it happened from time to time, and sometimes when it did, the classroom quickly devolved into something out of Lord of the Flies.  This was one of those days.  I remember someone trying to pick on me, and me ignoring them.  I used to like to make little star wars bases in my desk.  And little spaceships out of rubber bands and pens or pencils, or if I was really lucky, binder clips.  They were almost perfect.  So I think to ignore it I just started focusing on my spaceship and I got out of my seat and squatted on the floor next to the opening under the seat where school books went.  Then out of nowhere a banana hit me.  And someone screamed “Dance monkey boy!”  In seconds it seemed like everyone was chanting that, and some of the kids were hopping from one foot to the other, scratching their armpits and making the “ooh-oooh” monkey sound.  And everyone was laughing, including the crush.

My parents tried to help, but they didn’t really understand what was going on.  My dad grew up going to a one-room school house.  There wasn’t racism there.  He’d seen it in the Navy as an adult, but that was different.  That wasn’t school bullying.  When he was growing up, if something got big enough, two guys went out to the playground and fought it out.  He never had some black kid he’d never talked to come up and punch him on the back of the head while he was unchaining his bike, just because.  Or had a group of kids push him down in the bathroom and kick him while he laid there in the fetal position.  And how do you explain it to your parents?  My dad didn’t talk about things like fear, he was old-school.  I didn’t want to disappoint him.

So much for a short story.

Anyways.  A lot of other stuff happened in my youth to reinforce my feelings.  But that was probably the start of some of my “shame”.  That was the first time I felt different, ugly, mockable.  That was the first time I noticed the difference between me and the blonde haired, blue-eyed hearth throbs.  Nowadays, intellectually, I understand that there’s someone for everyone, that we all have different tastes and different things we find attractive.  That there’s someone out there who would find me handsome.  But emotionally?  It’s still hard to believe.  And yeah, the preacher-man was right.  That shame impacts every relationship I’ve ever had.

Say “Yes”

A couple of years ago I was driving along with someone on the way to a karaoke party.  I was trying to decide whether or not to go up on stage and embarrass myself.  It was something I really didn’t want to do.  But it was something I’d never done, and wasn’t 100% positive I would hate or suck at.  I was 99.99999% sure, but not having done it…

Part way there, the words “Why not?” just popped into my head.  It wouldn’t kill me.  I might suck, I might get embarrassed, but why not?  Then I took it a step further, why not say “Why not?” to everything, just make the conscious decision to say “Yes” to almost every opportunity to try something new that presents itself to me.

There’s some exceptions that I’ve pre-programmed into the equation.  I’ve already jumped out of airplanes.  I know I don’t like heights.  No need to go bungee jumping anytime soon.  Don’t need to break laws or hurt anybody.  Goofy stuff like that.

It’s been good for me.  I’ve gotten past a lot of my fears and insecurities.  And built up this catalog of experiences that give me strength and confidence to draw upon when I’m feeling nervous.

A couple of months ago my son came home with a hickey.  He’s got his first girlfriend.  We’ve had numerous talks about sex, protection, love and dating.  We’ve had talks that probably seem old fashioned today, about his responsibilities to protect the girls who go on dates with him.  But we hadn’t had a discussion about protecting their reputations yet.  So we had one.

I was telling a friend about it a couple days later and she said something about how I should do a TED talk about it.  I can’t say that I’d ever considered something like that before, and I kind of laughed it off and promptly forgot about it.  Yesterday, I was screwing around on facebook and an ad popped up in my feed to apply to audition for the TEDx Mile High talks.  So I did.