One year ago today, I flew to Texas for a wedding. It was right at the beginning of the transition, from our former reality to the current (sur)reality of life in pandemic. This special occasion had been on my radar for quite some time. I did not know the couple well, at all, but I was invited by one of the great loves of my life… the boss who loved me.
Travel plans had been arranged in January, at which time, I was certain the concerns being raised about Covid-19 were overstated. Surely our leadership would make every effort to keep us safe. But days before departure, with an indication that our world would be shutting down after that weekend, the decision NOT to cancel overpowered the anxiety that affected my breathing. That empathetic symptom would rise, but not stay, over the next few months, as I questioned: Is this Covid, or is this anxiety? Is this Covid, or is this my annual allergy to oak pollen? Is this Covid, or am I just afraid that I will be responsible for infecting and killing my parents?
I flew in on Thursday night, and no one was wearing masks, but some were wiping down seats with disinfectant wipes. By my return on Sunday, there were several people in surgical masks for the flight home. The stress of travel in numbers was palpable. Gratefully, I had become conscious of touching my face twenty years ago, when I had lasik surgery and was warned about rubbing my eyes. So, I knew to be mindful of the transfer of germs from hands to eyes and nose, as a culprit for illness. Many trips through the subways in New York, holding onto poles and railings for support, helped nurture hyper-vigilance.
I arrived in darkness, and drove my rental Prius to the AirB&B. This was my first adventure with renting a room inside a house, as opposed to renting a whole house. I pulled up to the house, and received instructions via text message with a code for entrance, and how to find my room. There was no one around, but motion lights activated as I progressed through the foyer and up the stairway. I was quite pleased with my room with en suite bathroom. Though I never did meet my hosts, I felt safe and kind of appreciated the solitary nature of my stay. It felt like pilgrimage to me.
Because I was in a different time zone, I woke before the sun. I did some writing, googled nearby restaurants, and walked through darkness a few blocks to reach the one I chose. I was taken by the overwhelming cacophony of birdsong. I’d never heard anything like it. My friend told me later that they were migrating north from Mexico. I guess we don’t get that in Florida on the same scale. It was a glorious noise. There was one bird call that sounded to me like a slide whistle. It was dark, and they were in the trees, so I couldn’t see them. Later in the weekend, I figured out that they were Great Tailed Grackles… my new favorite.
I wasn’t going to meet up with the family until the traditional Chinese rehearsal dinner, so I had a full day for exploring the area. I’d heard a great deal about the Riverwalk area of San Antonio, and I’d hoped to find some good art galleries to devour. So, I started toward one end of the walk, thinking I would meander for a while and hit several along the way. Since I had such an early start to my day, I was apparently out too early for the art community, so I grabbed a latte at Halcyon Southtown, then walked along the river until Blue Star Contemporary opened. It was a beautiful day. I passed a few people on the trail, but it was clear that the world was starting to grow quiet.
My favorite exhibit was called Common Threads by Candace Hicks. She hand stitched 18 journals on canvas, each filled with synchronicities from stories she’d read and conversations she’d had. I read every single one, wearing white gloves and laughing or gasping at the brilliance of each piece. By the time I was done, I was ready for a nap… and then I would be off to start the family celebration. As I slipped into my private suite in a stranger’s house, my thoughts were on the words and letters that are stitched into the sturdy, canvas pages of my life with the boss who loved me, and how her beloved son’s marriage would be the beginning of a new journal for them.
When I arrived at the restaurant, my heart was already reaching. The last time I had seen her, we dialed up the boss who needed me (who hired us both), and as we got caught up on each other’s lives, I shared that I was considering not returning to the corporate world. I remember worrying about what they might think of me, for considering such a choice, when they had both worked so hard and given up so much of their personal lives until they each retired near age 60. I don’t know why I would be surprised, there was no judgment, only love. As I am for them, they will always be delighted for my authentic happiness.
You will probably think this sounds goofy, but when I walked into the restaurant, and saw my tiny sacred being for the first time in two years, my whole body lit up. It was much like the moment in a movie, when two loved ones are reunited after multiple obstacles have kept them apart. My spirit released a heavy sigh, and said: “Finally… it’s you.” There might have been an orchestra playing, I can’t really say. It may have only been heard inside my head.
Sadly, the boss who needed me was advised not to travel, so upon arrival, I only knew two people gathered for the wedding weekend, having met the groom and the sister of the groom only once or twice over the years. The parents of the groom, I knew well. I was seated at a large round table with other loved ones… and despite my difference (the only white girl at the table), I felt accepted and embraced by the people who had gone to college with the boss who loved me, or who had been treasured neighbors where she lived before she started the last phase of her career.
The neat thing about a destination wedding, is that there are multiple gatherings over the weekend, which allows one time to get to know the other important people in the lives of those for whom you are standing witness. The weekend included a traditional Chinese rehearsal dinner with 12 courses on the first night, including a roasted suckling pig – a symbol of the purity of the relationship being honored. The second day brought the blessings of not only a wedding, but also, a traditional Tea Ceremony honoring both sets of parents and the newlywed couple, before the reception. The final event was a brunch at the same Chinese restaurant, to send-off the guests departing for home.
Each event offered a series of traditions that were honored. Always the teacher, the boss who loved me and her husband explained every step… in English and in Cantonese. I wish I had taken notes. After the extensive meal, there was a comb ceremony, where the bride’s hair and the groom’s hair was combed by their parents. Again, the traditional blessings were spoken in two languages by the Groom’s parents:
May your marriage last a lifetime
May you be blessed with a happy and harmonious marriage until old age
May you be blessed with an abundance of children and grandchildren
May you be blessed with longevity
The wedding ceremony was a ‘marriage’ of Western and Eastern traditions. The happy couple walked down the aisle in tuxedo and white dress, then changed briefly into traditional dress for the tea ceremony, then reappeared as before. The symbolism of the tea ceremony was of the children honoring the parents and their elders, while the parents and elders / ancestors offered blessings to the children. And then… there was food, wine, and dancing.
It was a pleasure to get to know the couple through their own eyes, as they spoke of their own love story, and to see in the groom the influence of his loving parents, whom I know so well.
Gathering for Sunday brunch before heading home was bitter sweet. These were now my people… those who threw the party and those who joined me in attendance. I felt accepted and embraced in this sacred collection of souls, and I was painfully aware that this kind of gathering would be the last, for a while.
I could have floated home, after a bookend afternoon alone on the Riverwalk, but for the heaviness in my heart. With a racist in the White House, xenophobia was already on the rise. I knew that my privilege was to travel while pasty white, while the person in the highest position in government was referring to Covid-19 as the China Virus.
I would be enormously cautious on my way home, and I would wear a mask for two weeks afterwards to ensure my parents’ safety (seems silly now that I didn’t do it the other way around, and wear a mask while traveling… the world was different in that moment). But I knew there was a very real concern for the safety of those from whom I had just parted. I worried for them, and I still do, as xenophobic attacks on Asians continue to rise. Those who enflamed, enacted, and enabled these actions are unforgivable and complicit in the harm that has come to our Asian American community, either physically or emotionally.
I would like to declare to the universe that LOVE, not hate, is viral. Let it be known throughout the world and for all time that we are all the same. We are all worthy of respect and caring, love and devotion, equity and fairness. We have all we need and plenty to share, so lets spread that love around. No one can be a threat to the love you have when you are inviting love to grow within and sharing it freely.
Finally, at this one year mark, many of us have or will soon receive a vaccine for our individual and communal protection. May the lessons we’ve learned stay with us long after the world has reopened. May we take not for granted the sheer joy of gathering in celebrations of love – new love, long love, family love, community love, earth love, lost love (especially poignant, as funerals and memorials have been delayed for so many), and every incarnation of love made manifest. May we hold onto what has been found in silence and solitude, as we have gathered up the beauty of our true selves formerly hidden in perpetual activity and distraction. May we find more ways to live fully, as we are no longer defined by the work we do, but by the love we give. And may all of the inequities and disparities revealed by this pandemic be permanently brought to light and find healing and grace for the change that is long overdue.
Happy Anniversary to the Happy Couple, and to those of us who made it safely through an extraordinary year. There is hope on the horizon and love lights our way. Thank you for walking this path with me. I love knowing you are here.
MAY YOU BE BLESSED WITH LONGEVITY.