note: a little warning – some nauseating sentimentality included!
My parents and grandmother will be moving to Atlanta in less than ten days, and this weekend, I found myself in Edison, throwing out and packing up all of the clothes, papers, and books in my room. It’s very difficult not to get sentimental or even nostalgic in these sort of situations. Although I have spent the greater part of the past five years in New York, I’ve always gone “back home” to Edison to visit my family and to get away from the city. Going through all of the things that reminded me of my past – the journals from childhood, the graded papers from high school and college, the photos and trophies from football, the overambitious plans to build my own mini media empire – I was struck by how quickly time has passed and how a memory of over five or ten years ago can be vividly recalled and yet also seem so distant. Reading through birthday cards from friends and letters from past sweethearts, I stopped to think of all the friendships and romances that have come and gone, and how in the face of such transience, my existing relationships seem that much more fragile and precious. It’s easy to get emotional when you begin to see familiar things disappear. The loss of a physical space, where I ate and laughed with my family, where we watched Korean dramas, and where we found comfort and quiet in our individual spaces — it’s the start of something new for me and a realization of my immaturity in such circumstances. Having been close to home during college and blessed with a stable, healthy family, I took everything for granted and hardly guessed that such a day would come. And though something as benign as a family’s relocation may seem trivial to those who have suffered worse tragedies, I can’t say that I won’t be affected or that I won’t be longing for the days when I could take the New Jersey Transit to Metropark and be at the dining table in five minutes, waiting for my mother to deliver the plate of meat and my father bringing out the bottle of beer.
My grandmother, ripe and energetic at seventy-six, sat next to me while I cleaned out my room. She wondered if we would ever again have the opportunity to sit next to each other alone for an extended time. “This is probably it,” she said to me. She told me how she had lived too long and was very much ready to die. “I wish God would take me away before I become older and sick and a burden to everyone,” she said. “I pray for it every day.” I could only tell her that she was so healthy and that she would have a good time in Atlanta. She told me that she was often bored and tired of living. “I had my fun raising you and Dawn. It was such a wonderful time, and look how well you two turned out. I can’t ask for anything for than that,” she told me. As the self-absorbed individual that I am, observing such selfless acts of devotion and caring makes me question what it really means to have lived a fulfilling and meaningful life. Individual accomplishments and recognition can seem so petty and weightless. Ambition and achievement, it seems, can only bring so much happiness and satisfaction – maybe that’s why we seek what we seek in our families, our significant others, and our friends. The conventions of society, deeply engraved and inescapable, have me feeling guilty, sad, and regretful. But as selfishly and childishly as I may have acted my entire life, I feel close to my family more than ever.
As I loaded up a rented car with the last of my possessions, along with a few of my sister’s belongings to store in my apartment, my grandmother finally convinced me to take a look at her many plants and to take them with me. A large 14 year-old tree sits in the front yard, potted in a big plastic cylinder with its sinewy trunk and many green leaves. It is a plant that my grandmother has cared for and revived many times from the brink of death. My father says it will be impossible to transport it to Atlanta. “Give it to someone you know,” he says. My grandmother talks about how a kkah wuh it is, an expression of regretfulness at having to give away something so valuable. She thinks she might ask a church friend or maybe the reverend to take it. I eventually take with me the majority of her plants, later figuring out where in the apartment they might look best. I asked my grandmother how often I should water these plants, and she doesn’t give me a straight answer. Her method of tending plants is by touch – she feels the leaves or the soil and waters the plants until she feels that they are nourished. “Not too often,” she says, “Just when you think they need it.” I will miss her garden, her nursery of plants, and the way she hoped for rain on stretches of dry days.
As I looked through my old tests and projects, I came across a folder of papers from my seventh grade English class, taught by a Mr. Stazko. He was an eccentric man – tall, thick-framed glasses, a prominent wart or two on the face, and a slick comb-over. He wore suspenders and colorful suits, and he hunched over slightly, sometimes giving his frame a slightly smaller presence. The year he taught our class was his last year as a teacher. He retired quietly at the end of the year with many of us having no idea of his retirement until much later. I did well in his class, scoring high marks and really wanting to push myself to read and write effectively. I was proud when I received the highest scores on some tests and was praised by Mr. Stazko as “Top Gun” to the rest of the class. He was supportive even when I foolishly chose a Herman Hesse novel to use for my book report essay, a book that was way beyond my scope of understanding at that point. I’d say that he was an influential and impactful figure in my development as a student. He helped to instill the confidence that would later guide me in my academic pursuits. And to wonder where he might be now – maybe enjoying retirement, maybe senile, or maybe no longer alive – more meditations on time and its movements. With every new gain, there’s always something else that’s bound to be lost. And with every new loss, we have all that we’ve gained to cherish.