Tuesday, September 17, 2013

Today this man reminded me...

There is a single ,particular group of people that I find nearly impossible to love unconditionally. The Chinese grandparent. I historically have seen them as demanding, critical, and inflexible. A few months ago I started having a "What Would Jesus Do?" moment. He would clearly not avoid old people. So I've started to take time to either ask them their stories or pause and remember that they have a story, even if I don't get to hear it. It's been in their stories that I've found a softening and appreciation for all they have been through.  

Pining through the suburbs of Shanghai where even the food smells rich, this man slowly shuffled down the uneven backstreets. Passing them I felt the heavy determination of his legs as he forsook his wheelchair, opting for independence instead. It seems as if a stroke kidnapped his dreams and mocked his future. Walking, I watched his history rolling passed him like a silent film.

A smokey room parts as the younger version of him blinks his watery eyes and spots his bride for the first time. She shifts in her chair and allows the right corner of her lips to fold gently into smile. She turns away but through the wisps of her dark tussled hair, peeks in his direction, willing him over to her. As they begin talking, words seem to be spilling into a river of comfort. As if somewhere before their lives had met and shared the same waters.

The conversation began to carve into the earth, permanently marking out a future. Contours of a marriage, banks of parenthood, currents of traveling the country together.  

As they married and started a family, they held onto dreams like a well-worn quilt. Tucked between the two of them at night, laid down to be forgotten as they drifted in and out of work each day. Their hopes became grey hairs and arthritic knees. At times forgotten. Maybe not forgotten as much as fictionalized. With age came a reality that needed to be attended to.

After his wife died, his mind surrendered. Actualizing dreams without the person who conjured them with you somehow made them seem child-like. Hoping seemed like something left for people with plenty of time left. He was running out. Future was no longer measured in years, but in moments.

As I watch him place his feeble arms onto the security of the wheelchair, he shifts his feet forward. For a brief moment he wants to feel his independence holding up his entire self. He wants to be reminded that his body is more than a shell. He has not forgotten how to hope, his hopes have just become a matter of the daily. See, he doesn’t’ have time to wait on ‘one day’. He is living in the now because there is no guarantee of a later. His stiffened arms and locked in grimace are a reminder that to wait is to squander. To wait is to let fear win. So he bears down on his weakened legs and tries to walk. It is slow. It is full of labor and pain. But aren’t all things worth hoping for full of those? Demanding hope to be pain-free and easy is minimalizing hope to a simple wish. Wishes don’t keep us alive.

  Hope does.
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