I came to China with very different expectations.

It was vacation (OK, so I did two boards meetings, two business proposal, four business meetings and one financing proposal and a time to find some of my past. Instead, what I found was deep mourning, then anger then perplexity.) Woke up thinking about two people who are gone forever from everyone’s life, someone else who tried and another dear friend who is gone forever from mine.

Now I’ve lost people to cancer, to accidents, to drownings, to dishonesty, etc. But for me, suicides I understand in terms of the depression, but the loss somehow is so much greater to me. My mom says, “time heals all wounds” and “just don’t think about it.” I have thought about it. That doesn’t work for me.

I remember vividly,  25 years ago, when a friend called and in a 10 second conversation said, “Sumi committed suicide last week.” I said OK and in complete shock hung up. I have never asked anyone about the details, but I think about it. I remember meeting her in freshman year–vivacious, eager and hard working. I remember her coming in from class, soaking wet, saying brightly, “I don’t know what the big deal is, it is just water.” We didn’t stay in touch after that first year. But I often wonder why did she give up? What was going on? I’ve never asked anyone about it. I’ve never even told anyone that I still think about it. But somehow I know I’ll not give up on her. I’ll get to it because that is my nature.

If things are real and genuine, then for me there is just this drive to keep going. To never give up. To never give in. I have always said I will never lay down in the dirt. Even in the lowest times. I think people have an incredible strength underneath. I’m sure that many have been tested in the dark days of October 2008 and have had the same feeling. Someone dear told me just be strong enough to follow your heart. That’s so true. Don’t bury it. Don’t forget it.

I woke this morning at 5AM thinking, why do people give up? Once a commitment is made, the only things that have stopped me are when the other person stops. Even when they have passed to the next world, it seems like I make it there eventually.

Sometimes it takes a while to get there. It has taken me four decades plus to get here.

Growing up Chinese in America was not easy. The shame of not being of either culture. Of not fitting in. But, I spent today visiting the last of three important stops–to pay my respects to the grandparents I met once or twice but never knew. To honor the culture I wanted to be a part of, but could never quite be in. This day was done completely in China and in Chinese. No need for word dictionaries. No need for practicing phrases. Now I’m actually at home in Shanghai and it does feel like a real home. Not the only home, but a real one.

My brother says, there is this show on NPR called American Moxie and there should be a version called Tong Moxie 🙂 He’s probably right. I’m glad he still has a sense of humor.

I made a commitment to be here this week and I kept it expecting to mourn and grieve. Arriving in China on 6 December 2008 had one kind of deep meaning. A mourning really for not being to be a part of this culture and losing part of myself here.

However, by 8 December, something thing happened: I realized I was angry with people who have given up. Not just sad, but furious. On this day,  12 December, I had thought it would mark another high point of mourning, but while that is true, it is also a day of completion. While I truly wanted to know my ancestors but never did, what matters is that I finally got here. I saw where they lived. I saw where they are laid to rest. It was a journey, but I realize that as long as other don’t give up, we together can make it. Even after death, I truly feel that my partnership with those grandparents has been honored and commitments met.

But I can’t make people be strong. They will do what they do. And they can do incredibly manipulative things. Incredibly kind things. Incredibly stupid things. All at the same time.

In the end, I can only wonder about and be sad for those people who did give up. Some like Sumi gave up so completely, they left this world. Others gave up because they found it too hard to do anything but run away. Some, and this makes me truly sad, gave up because the day-to-day living was too hard and it was important to be practical rather than to follow their heart and dreams.

For me, the road is a hard one. I can’t meet expectations of others. But I’m finding that there are my true friends already knew that.  So there are no need to be more than I am. To pose. To someone you are not. Maybe that is why people give up. They can’t sustain it.

One of my favorite movies is Ordinary People. It is old as heck, made in 1980. It is a movie so powerful to me I only could watch it once way back then. But, it is still totally fresh 28 years later. It is about a family who has just lost their oldest son in a boating accident. The youngest son played by Timothy Hutton is so guilty about he tries to commit suicide. The sailboat had tipped over and the two brothers were hanging on to each other across the capsized boat. And in the end, the older favorite brother looks at Timothy Hutton and lets go. In a session with his therapist, Timothy finally screams, “I’m just so angry at him, why did he let go, why didn’t he hold on, it was tough and hard, but we could have made it together. I am so mad at him because he gave up. It is in those dark hours before the dawn that I feel the same anger. It doesn’t make any sense. I should just feel sad, but today the first thought I had was, “gosh darn it, why did you give up, the life you gave up would have been beautiful.” So to everyone on this great day…here are the words to my favorite song when I’m mourning, just find it somewhere deep. I just love the lines, “you make up the lies to make up for all that you lack, get in the arms of an angel” I think that is what finally can kill you when the lies, the postures, the I’m a good person, finally stack up so high they take your soul away:

Spend all your time waiting
for that second chance
For the break that will make it OK
There´s always some reason
to feel not good enough

And it´s hard at the end of the day
I need some distraction
or a beautiful release
Memories seep from my veins

Let me be empty
and weightless and maybe
I´ll find some peace tonight
In the arms of the Angel
far away from here

From this dark, cold hotel room,
and the endlessness that you feel
You are pulled from the wreckage
of your silent reverie

You´re in the arms of the Angel;
may you find some comfort here
So tired of the straight line,
and everywhere you turn
There´s vultures and thieves at your back
The storm keeps on twisting,
you keep on building the lies
That make up for all that you lack

It don´t make no difference,
escape one last time
It´s easier to believe
In this sweet madness,

oh this glorious sadness
That brings me to my knees
In the arms of the Angel
far away from here
From this dark, cold hotel room,
and the endlessness that you feel
You are pulled from the wreckage
of your silent reverie

You´re in the arms of the Angel;
may you find
some comfort here
In the arms of the Angel;
may you find
some comfort here

Thank goodness for YouTube which has Sarah live and in concert playing Angel

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