Friday, December 16, 2005

Freshman break is coming soon, and dealing with tragedy

Everything is winding down here and amping up at the same time. It feels very much like the end of the first semester of college freshman year. Last week, some friends of ours had an end of semester party for all freshman families. We actually had to skip it because Jay was here and we went out for dinner downtown at the Beijing Grand Hotel, a very nice place with a great Szechuan restaurant in the shadows of the Forbidden City. Come visit and we’ll take you there.

Anyhow, the invitation led off with this:

College:
New environment, New living accommodations, new people, new challenges, new experiences, new freedoms intermingled with homesickness, looking forward to breaks and trips home, long distance phone calls, different food, new friends…..

Beijing:
New environment, New living accommodations, new people, new challenges, new experiences, new freedoms intermingled with homesickness, looking forward to breaks and trips home, long distance phone calls, different food, new friends…..

Same feelings …
Different age, different place!


And that is right on. So now we’re in that weird, exhausting, “I can’t believe the semester is over” phase. The kids had their school plays this week and they were quite the productions.

There were two separate shows. Eli’s was Key Stage One, basically kindergarten and first grade. Jacob’s was key Stager Two and three, second grade through eighth. Each year did something different and it was all quite impressive. The 8th graders did this great modern interpretive dance based around “indigenous people’s conception of earth, creation and the relationship between man and all creatures.” I think it says a lot about the teachers and staff if they could get these 13 and 14 year olds to wear tight black costumes and dance like crazy to aboriginal music in front of maybe 1,000 people. Like all the younger kids, they looked they were having a blast.

It was all quite impressive. Jacob and Eli were really into their shows, and both have been very stage shy before and frozen during even routine assemblies. So it seemed significant. Eli’s class did Chanukah and seeing and hearing him and all his friends, two thirds of them Asian, sing “Shalom aleiynu” was beyond priceless. Jacob and his class did a bunch of songs and recited ‘Twas the Night Before Christmas. He had several reading lines solo and he really performed with panache. I was really proud.

Of course, this situation with Tom and his wife is really fucking up my head and has me twisted in knots. I’m not sure of a precise prognosis b t it is clearly not good. It is just unbelievable and I can’t stop thinking about it. Becky and I were sitting there watching Jacob’s show and I was feeling so proud and happy and thinking, “All the vacations, jobs, money, concerts, whatever... nothing makes you feel better than watching your kid sing ‘Santa Claus is coming to Town.’’

Then I thought of Tom and Kathy and how they likely would not get the chance to sit together and watch something like that, how ever such event forever will probably fill him with sadness and loneliness and I started crying.

Obviously it makes me really sad, but it also makes me angry. Things like this just wipe out any concept of fairness or cosmic justice. I also feel a little guilty for thinking like this because frankly I have not had confirmation that the situation is as dire as I am making it out to be, but I am fairly certain.

I also feel a little guilty when I think of my own loss because Tom was by far my best buddy around here, someone I really enjoyed hanging out with and talking about any and everything with. He’s even a Steelers fan. Wednesday I had my first Chinese lesson without Tom and it was hard. I hadn’t studied because of all the activity, between helping him leave, Jay arriving, and all these performances and end-of-year activities. So I was struggling more than usual and it just felt so lonely and empty without him and I couldn’t stop thinking about the reason he was gone.

Ok, I just hung up with Tom and things are more or less as bad as I feared. Kathy has lung cancer of a particularly virulent nature that has spread throughout her body. And no she never smoked. She played basketball and volleyball in college and until two months ago ran 30 miles a week. She is receiving heavy treatment and there is hope that it can be brought under control, the spread can be halted and remission achieved. There is no cure, but there is hope for some stability and 3-5 years of fairly normal life. I don’t know what the likelihood is, but anyone who prays, please include them in your prayers.

To get back to the freshman year in college theme, it is like getting to the end of a really great first semester, feeling all puffed up and sure of yourself and excited to go home a conquering hero in your own mind and finding out some tragedy has befallen your roommate, his life is irreparably changed and you may well never see him again.

I’m just writing off the top of my head here, trying to put all these conflicting thoughts and emotions into perspective. I really have never been as affected by anyone’s illness. The whole thing keeps reminding me of John Rummler, Art’s brother, who passed away of pancreatic cancer, leaving a wife and three young kids. You could spend the rest of your life trying to come to grips with these things and never do so and that’s no different in China than it would be in Maplewood, Pittsburgh or Seattle.