How do you organize your past? Some like the clean breaks of the Gregorian Calendar. Some categorize by city. However you choose to do it I’ll try to lay it out nicely for you-
It was November 2011 in Wuxi, China. I had found great enjoyment in all of my jobs up to that point. Working the slow Easter Sunday register at Burger King saw me and the cooks playing UNO. My time at Dave & Buster’s allowed me to channel the Matrix’s Mr. Smith with my suit and collar microphone. I was a happy worker and was never happier than in October of 2011. I have just moved to a city I’d never heard of before. I was in a country vilified by my homeland. I didn’t speak the language and maybe I had no business being so happy there but I was. My colleagues had become my best friends and I felt true partnership for the first time.
It all started crumbling with a shoelace. A certain shoelace that wouldn’t stay tied. Day after day in late October I had to bend over and retie it. Small frustrations were compounded by my measuring of other details that were creeping into my vision seemingly at every opportunity. The elevator door took too long to open. The plastic chopsticks weren’t as good as the wooden ones I couldn’t now find. Then my best friend was transferred to another branch office. He left matter-of-factly. As the Chinese inhabitants of Wuxi went on as they had for thousands of years, I stood still. My honeymoon period with China was over. I found things less amusing and more upsetting as time wore on. I couldn’t take the long lines, the lack of imagination. Did I want to tie my future to this society? Where are all the GOOD people like the ones I’d left behind?
As a November night descended over this growing metropolis I found myself lacking the money it required to take a taxi home. I’d spent too much at the laowai bar three miles from my apartment. So I began a slow march in the darkness. My mind and my body now strolled calmly through the black. My body headed home, but my mind was a mystery.
Before making big decisions I’ve always felt the same wave of tension come over me. Maybe tension isn’t the right word but there exists almost a palatable force inside me at these moments. As I navigated through the downtown area well past 2 a.m. I felt this tension again. And as the rain began to fall the questions returned. Was it time to quit my job, leave China, and start over again? I was sick of the person I’d become… always starting over. When was I going to stick something out? How could I ever get what I wanted in life if I wasn’t willing to suffer through the bad spells every once and a while? The feeling grew. I reached for my iPod thinking that music would be the best distraction to these negative thoughts. As my hands came back empty I remembered the iPod had been stolen by my roommate’s house guests two days earlier. Just great. More disdain on my plate. I step in a puddle as I was venting about the iPod. As my sock slowing soaks in the cold puddle water I hear a bicycle coming up from behind me. Just what I needed, traffic at 2 a.m.
The man riding the bike maneuvers to avoid me. He seems to be slowing down. Unlike the Chinese I’ve been choosing to focus on, this man is taking an interest in my presence. Maybe because there is no one else out and about at this hour. With his wet workman’s clothes it’s hard to tell if he’s on his way home after a late shift or just a peasant out getting some exercise. He smiles at me. The shabby umbrella he is holding wobbles each time he shifts his weight to pedal. It’s not doing much to keep him dry. More of a symbol I guess. And then it happens…
he extends his arm as he passes me, still smiling, and temporarily covers me with his umbrella.
My legs continued on in stride but I couldn’t feel the wetness in my sock anymore. The tension inside me was gone. The iPod forgotten. An image of my reassigned friend doing well in his new post led to other lighter feelings. Being wet allows you to feel more connected to nature that we may be. But it’s a great chance to take advantage of that relationship. As the waters fall, flow and evaporate so too do our emotions. We get pushed around and we push back. We feel vengeance, love, fear and right at this moment I was feeling hope. The anonymous man with his old clothes holding out an umbrella over a man already soaked not just with rain but with sorrow. His actions did nothing for the cotton shirt I was wearing but he washed away my old life in an instant.
I arrived home determined to make things work. And they did.
Thank you to the man who saved my China.