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Universal Connections - Part Three
It's amazing how...
It’s amazing how your life gets tangled up in the lives of others. You think you’re devoting your time to figuring out who you are, and all of a sudden, you know someone else better than you know yourself.
My wife, Hyun Ki, was leaning over the porcelain sink washing a pot and looking out the window. Her hands moved in a slow rhythmic movement, almost as if she was dreaming. Her hair shown like black ink, cascading down her small shoulders, and pooling in the middle of her back. I leaned back in my chair, taking the sight of her.
From the other room, a rustling drifted to my ears making me turn. I had grown used to listening intently to small, easily missed sounds. Before long, a slow wailing filled the room and brought me to my feet. Hyun made to turn and wipe her hands on a towel but I looked at her and said, “I got her this time.” She returned my gaze and chuckled before returning to the sink.
I crossed the room, hardly making a sound on the thick floor boards, and strode into the room where my baby daughter lay squirming in her crib. “Shhhh, shhhh. Sun, be still.” I cooed, reaching into the quilted nest. I lifted her out and cradled her close as her cries subsided. I looked her over, from top to bottom, taking in her every feature that was exposed above her soft blanket. Her black hair, soft and short, clung to her tender head, her round face was slightly red from crying, and her little arms waved in the air before she gripped my sweater. Her eyes opened and she gazed up at me, as if telling me a story that couldn’t be put into words. I felt compelled to tell her everything about myself; from my unorthodox upbringing, to my renegade youth, to the moment I first saw her mother. I wanted to be as close to my daughter as I could be.
“You know Sun, I don’t think I can ever let you go.”
Behind me, soft footsteps arose and within seconds long arms wrapped around my broad shoulders. I turned, reluctant though I was to share my daughter with my wife, and let Hyun take her out of my arms. She smiled and moved across the room to an old rocking chair draped in a colorful quilt. I watched them both, cloaked in the dim sunlight seeping through the translucent window shade.
“Can I tell her a story?” I asked coming up next to her so I could look at Sun.
“Of course Becket, I think she would like that.”
“Once upon a time there was a fish who lived with his family in the great depths of a cool lake…”
Living in water is a unique experience. The sun fills the cold depths with flickering light that moves with the stems and leaves of plant life as it sways with the current. Aquatic creatures go about their lives moving about, guided by nature’s hand.
In a lake located in Northern Sumatra, there lived a red-tailed, golden arowana fish. He swam among the other fish in a stable and calm fashion, as if guiding strangers through life. His life was simple and solitary until he met another of his kind and chose her to be his mate. Together they created a future fit for any fish. When her eggs came along, he collected them and carried them in his mouth, determined to protect them with his life. Their love flourished as their babies grew. He continued to cradle them in his mouth and only let them out for short periods of time. Eventually, the children grew tiresome of their father’s overprotectiveness. They loved him, but they felt his relentless worrying didn’t do any good. His mate tried again and again to convince him that the children needed space and freedom to find their own way. He tried to overcome his fears, but couldn’t let his children go.
One day, one of his sons strayed further than he had ever had before. The others were busy learning how to catch bugs and shrimp and this wild little fish seized his chance to explore. He swam too far however, because when he looked back, he could no longer see his parents or siblings. He was frightened and lonely but could not find his way back home.
The father, after realizing the disappearance of one of his sons, became frantic. Both parents searched feverishly, but never found their little fish. The others remained close by after that day and didn’t argue when their father called them to him at the end of the day.
At some point, every child leaves their parents. The question is whether or not they come back.
The fry had grown and was now ready to leave the security of their family. Each had a path they planned to follow and their parting of ways was a melancholy event. One little fish remained, and wished to tell her parents something.
“I want you to trust me.”
“We do!” they said sadly.
“I want you to live your lives and to let us live ours.”
“We will.” they said reluctantly.
“Most of all, I want you to know how much your love has meant to me. I will never truly leave you.”’
“We know.” they said thickly.
Filled with emotion, they watched her swim away. The father felt a great sense of loss as he watched his children leave. He knew he was overprotective, but in the end, he was immensely proud of the fish he raised. Secretly, the fry appreciated their parents more than they will ever know.
The face that looked back at me...
The face that looked back at me was growing more foreign every day. Gray hairs now flecked the edges of my hairline and the freckles splattered across my face were more deeply ingrained than ever. “Hyun, I’m getting old.” I called from bathroom.
“No, you’re just more distinguished!”
Always the optimist. I hung up my towel on the back of the door and emerged to find my wife sprawled out on the covers of our bed. She looked like a leaf that had fallen from a tree out in the backyard. I chuckled and she peered up at me through one eye.
“What are you laughing at Mr. Boxer Shorts?” she asked, smiling in spite of herself.
“Fair enough, love.”
She rose from the bed and grabbed a sweater from the dresser. Pulling it on, she left me standing there half naked. Such a tease, I thought to myself as I put on my own clothes.
Distractedly buttoning my shirt, I walked down the hall. I heard the sounds of breakfast emanating through the house. The kids were expectantly waiting for pancakes as I entered the kitchen. I sat at the round wooden table and opened the Portland Times while the chattering continued. I looked back at them and just as I realized Sun was missing, she came striding into the room looking pleased.
“Good morning Father.” She smiled and took a seat next to me.
“You look happy.” I said, inviting her to tell me why.
“Well I have reason to be, I got a letter from Willamette University.”
“Oh, and what did it say?”
“It said, ‘We would love for you to attend our school this fall.’”
“Sweetie, that’s amazing. I’m so proud of you! Go tell your mom.”
Smiling, Sun rose and skipped over to her mother flipping pancakes. I watched and saw as a look of pure joy lit up Hyun’s face while a disregarded pancake was flipped onto the floor. Quickly, ranger, our wolfhound puppy, scarfed up the treat and sat patiently waiting for another morsel.
My wife and daughter embraced and my gaze fell out the window. The trees were budding in the crisp spring air as birds flew in and out of the branches bringing worms to their chicks. The inevitable moment was looming closer than ever; by fall, I would have to figure out how to say goodbye to my daughter. Her life was just starting. She still had so many adventures to go on, and I wished I could be there with her. Before she leaves, I want to take her on a trip.
Before long, we were strapped into vinyl seats on our way to Mexico; a destination I had let her choose. Sun listened to music as I scrolled through the pictures still lingering on my camera. The animals becoming more and more tame as time worn on the film. The most recent snapshot in the list was of the shaggy gray puppy we had left at home.
It’s amazing how we don’t even notice when life starts to change.
We stayed at a small cottage in the sandy countryside. Many locals came and welcomed us and offered to show us around. We accepted and found ourselves combing cliffs and jungles.
One afternoon, after going out alone, my daughter and I sat down on a rocky ledge and I saw her looking out on the canyon. A river flowed below, clear and blue against the dull reds and browns of the canyon walls. Intently she watched the distant rapids and listened to reverberating cries.
“Father,” she said, “I won’t let you down. I’m going to succeed and I want to thank you for giving me the confidence to try. I couldn’t have asked for a better dad.”
My heart swelled in that moment and I reached out to her. We hugged and turned as a large, shimmering bird soared through the canyon, sending a cry through the air like arrows…