Two very different, life-altering pieces of family news made me really think about the meaning of giving thanks this weekend.
Thanksgiving has always been a huge affair for our clan. A lot of my dad’s side of the family lives in the bay area, so we always find ourselves with 30-40 people under one roof during the holidays.
When I got to the house this year, Beverly, one of my cousins among the clan, was sharing pictures… the sonogram pictures of the baby living in her expanding belly. Bev and I were the only two girls among us eight cousins who grew up together. This year she, the 26-year old, got married in May. This meant that I, the 30-year old, heard it all from the ajummas (Korean aunts who are the Asian version of the women in My Big Fat Greek Wedding) at my cousin’s wedding. “Jennipah-ya, how old are you now? When are YOU getting married?”
And now, she’s expecting. I’m happy for her, don’t get me wrong. Beverly was actually quite sweet about it all, glumly saying “sorry” to me as soon as I congratulated her, and trying to shield me from the hordes of the in-your-face aunts who attacked me with, “Jennipah, look at Beburee! When are YOU getting married and having babies?” I told Bev that there was no reason to be sorry. This was such happy news for her; I could handle the other stuff.
I just smiled and escaped under the guise of wanting to get more food. We have turkey and all the traditional fixings of stuffing and mashed potatoes; and then on the other side of the table, we also have a Korean feast of meat, seafood, veggies and kimchee. I can never quite fit everything on one plate. I had an especially overflowing plate to deal with this year.
We found out that my other cousin, Alan, had been diagnosed with throat cancer.
Alan, the oldest among the eight cousins, was our proud leader, orchestrating our games of hide and seek, Monopoly or whatever else he made up for our entertainment. One year, he directed us all in our “show” for the adults, where the boys performed their best breakdance moves, and I sang to Madonna’s Dress You Up with a bow in my hair and gloves sans fingers on my hands. He is my oppa, my older brother. He’s only 33 now; he has a three-year old daughter. This can’t be real.
Alan oppa was hanging out upstairs, away from the pitying eyes and his mother’s tears. I joined him, trying to chat about life as normally as possible.
“Hey, Jenn, how’s it going? How’s work?”
“Everything’s good. I still love my job. I can’t complain.”
“Are you still with that boyfriend?”
“Yes, I am. I love him, but our parents still don’t approve. My dad keeps threatening to disown me.”
“Jenn, let me tell you something. The truth is, I could die soon. That's made me evaluate life from a different perspective. I’ve been thinking about what Lance Armstrong’s motto Live Strong means. You have to live each and every day to the fullest, and you have to live freely.
“My parents didn't approve of my relationship either. I was 26 years old, one of the youngest in the family to get married. My bride was 22. It’s been seven years and, I have not regretted one day of it all. I think of what I do regret: the smoking, the missed vacations because I was trying to make too much money too fast.
“If you love him and he loves you, you have to be with him. Don’t waste any more time. Your father holds very high standards for you, as high as I would hold for my own daughter. He is idealistic, and he puts you up on a pedestal.
“But you are not a statue; you're a person.
“I’ve asked all the uncles how to succeed. Your father made it all on his own. He passed the students’ exam to enter the country. Do you know how few people got in that way? He’s a very smart man. He didn’t get a helping hand like a lot of our other relatives did. You should be very proud of him.You know what he said when I asked him how to succeed? He said, ‘Moderation.’
“You did the whole law school and lawyer thing without complaining to them. You were being a dutiful daughter, which is great, but that was never you. That is not moderation. If you keep living for them, you won’t be happy. You know what will make you happy, who will make you happy. Don’t waste any more time. Live. Just live."