Sunday, April 27, 2014

Two Minutes Away from Being a Gypsy's Daughter

I was two minutes away from being a gypsy's daughter.

Let me explain.

One cold Toronto winter, my mom sat huddled on the bus, her mind stumbling over the accounting concepts she had just barely learned, and noticed two shiny black tags. The tags were worn by two girls, young and bright eyed, as they animated Jesus Christ and salvation with their excited hands, deep in a conversation with an indulgent Indian woman.

My mom, who could never mask her facial expressions particularly well, simply stared. The girls must have noticed and smiled. They eagerly pulled out their notebooks and asked for her phone number. My mom, who had recently awakened to her blossoming yearning for higher meaning, started reciting her familiar digits. All of a sudden, the bus pulled to a violent screech and the girls got up to go. It was their stop. They hurried off the bus, while twisting behind to catch the last of my mom's number.

The door closed with a stubborn finality. My mom shrugged. She never did finish telling them the last two digits of her number.


Another frustrating accounting class. Another bus ride.

This time my mom plopped down tiredly beside a large woman. The woman looked at my mom intensely and asked her if her birthday was May XX. Spot on. My mom whipped her head around, frowned, and consciously checked to see if her ID was exposed.

The large woman with the fleshy hands and the exaggerated rings ('a really gypsy type' as my mom later explained) patted her and told her to stop checking. She nonchalantly explained that she had looked into the crystal ball that morning and foresaw that she would sit next to a person that day who was born on May XX.

For the next few stops, my mom sat, spellbound, by tales of stars and tea leaves. She promised that she would make it to their large convention on divination later that week.

And she tried. Through trains, buses, crowds, she made her way uptown after class one day, racing to catch the shuttle that took everybody to the convention. She arrived, panting, just to see the bus pull out of the parking lot. Through the blue-tinted window, the gypsy woman pursed her lips and gestured resigned acceptance with her large palms face up, shaking her head at my mother who was standing pathetically on the lawn.

Two minutes. She was two minutes late.

A little down, she retraced her steps back to the temporary house she was staying in. She had barely sat down when the tired old phone rang.

Hello? Hi, we're missionaries from the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Saints! Did you happen to meet some sister missionaries on a bus around a month ago and start giving them your number? Well they relocated to a different zone, but er, if you're this woman, we would love to teach you more about Jesus Christ.

There were 100 combinations of the phone numbers. There were endless number of scenarios where my mom could have missed that fateful call. There were two minutes that could have launched my mother, and our family, down a completely different path.

But God chose this particularly curious sequence of events. And that was how my mom became a Mormon.

Saturday, April 12, 2014

Vacation Philosophy

Once upon a time, a little sheepish with guilt, I asked my boss if he thought I was taking too many days off to go on random backpacking trips.

He smirked and scribbled a signature on my leave request form. His philosophy was that while it's good to be passionate about your work, it's even better to have a job that allowed you to enjoy other things that you were also drawn to. The only way to maintain the drive and the love for what you do was, ironically, to take time off from it once in a while.

He also believed that my trips were an investment back into the company because I always came back brimming with ideas for my team.

Clutching my form, I wasn't about to argue with him.

The next year when I got promoted, he added another two weeks to my annual paid holiday count.

I was so happy that I cried. Now even I have a hard time burning off my holidays.

I guess that is to be expected from a boss who graduated with an MBA before becoming a missionary at 19, while defying the nerd stereotype as a competitive skateboarder and mountain biker. Oh, and he's a sailor and certified pilot with his own "toys" (aka a plane or two).

So, a little concerned that I wasn't putting my vacation days to good use this year, sometime late last night/ early this morning, I simply decided that Nepal needed to be in my future.

Hopped online, called up a friend, grimaced at the tickets, and took the plunge.

See you in two weeks, Kathmandu.

Saturday, April 5, 2014

Don't Play the Victim

I once loved a boy.

People thought we were really cute together. We thought so too. We would both get so pumped about the same things, volleying our excitement back and forth with wild gestures, and yet get so incredibly mad at completely different things, scattering confusion and hurt in our wake.

Sometimes he would make an offhand comment that would sting in the tender and secret places. I loved him so I didn't make a big deal out of it. I knew he didn't mean it that way so what was the point of brining it up? Since I cared, I would brush it off.

But the comments would continue - not because he knew they hurt, but because he didn't know they hurt. He was just being funny.

Meanwhile, I swallowed one and another and another till I was ready to burst with resentment. Even though I knew that he didn't have bad intentions, I started to question why he wasn't sensitive enough to figure it out. I wondered if that's what he really thought of me. I instinctively flinched every time the topic came up because I was mentally expecting to be hurt. I started to doubt whether we were good together. And so we weren't so good together anymore.

A few years and some growing up later, I realized that I had purposefully played the victim, even though I didn't realize it.

Ironically, in the name of love, I jeopardized our relationship. I wasn't fair to him because I judged him more and more and he had absolutely no idea. When you play the victim, you are turning your loved ones into attackers. That is not fair to them or to you because they didn't even know they were in the arena in the first place.

Sometimes, being faithful to somebody you care about means not giving yourself an opportunity to be a victim. If you really want a meaningful relationship, whether with friends, family, boyfriends or colleagues, you have to be ready to teach others how to love you.

Take the time to carefully explain why a certain comment bothers you and how you prefer they rephrase it. Bring it up (lovingly) right when it happens so it's a low risk conversation. Here are some phrases I try to use:

'Hey, by the way, can you explain to me why you said that? Right now, it makes me feel X" 

"I don't think you mean it this way, but it makes me feel a little judged. Do you really feel that way about me?"

"That kind of hurts. I think it's because I'm having a hard time with ____ right now."

"Honestly, I need some time to process it alone and then I will love to discuss it with you. So can you not ask me about it in the mean time? I feel pressure when people ask me about it."

Hint: it helps when you're saying these things while smiling or touching them reassuringly (except when it's a colleague)

Most of the time, the other person will be genuinely surprised that her comment has that effect and if she cares, she will do her best to change her future approach.

And yes, it will be easier to brush it off this time. But how about the next time? You need to take a stand for your relationships and fight for them. Taking the initiative to have those tough and awkward conversations. Show how you want to be loved. Don't play the victim. You and your loved one deserve more than that.