I wasn’t in a particularly good mood that evening. I don’t remember what it was exactly, just that being back at my parents’ house was getting to me. I am independent and fully capable of being on my own, but I don’t think they got the memo.
I sat in my room, trying to cool off. I was rummaging through a desk drawer when I stumbled upon an old collection of photos. I shuffled through the pile, until I landed on a nugget. I examined it for minutes. Then I just sat there, smiling.
Before I knew it I had forgotten why I was even bothered at all.
This is not my mom and dad. I am familiar with those characters, but they don’t exist here. This picture tells me a different story.
Instead, I am met with the handsome faces of two wide-eyed adults. Bill and May were madly in love. Their wedding brought them to a backyard pool. I suppose love has led many a fool to sillier places. It doesn’t matter where they are, only that they belong to each other. The bride is beautiful–the groom, proud, and perhaps in quiet disbelief. “She really is mine.” Young, innocent. Their smiles are fixed with unbridled joy. This is the day that will mark another beginning.
Mind you, they had a past. Jie Mei Tong was a brilliant student, at the top of her class. Her father was a doctor, her mother an accountant at the nearby hospital. Man Piu Yan was a headstrong, blue-collar hustler surviving the streets. His father made a living in photography, back when cameras were boxes that stood on wooden legs. They were getting by in life; I suppose they weren’t too different from you and me.
Then the Communists came. They came to oppress them, erase them–turn them into another number. The government sought to take away their right to have a say for themselves. This was the future in Communist China. Become puppets for rice or march to the beat of your own requiem? Slavery was not an option. Freedom wasn’t everything–it was the only thing.
Now it is “Bill” and “May.” Individuals that came from another part of the world, thousands of miles away. Somehow they met, somewhere in the middle, in the divine compromise of the Big Apple. To some, New York is just another dot on a map. But this is where they met and fell in love. To them it means the world.
And now it’s got me thinking. Maybe this is the story I have missed. I am quite familiar with the other story, the one about nagging parents. But this story reminds me that before acting as parents, they were husband and wife. And before living as husband and wife, they were beautiful young adults full of promise and hope. This was their script before Mom and Dad replaced them.
Years would pass and the children grow up. Did my sister and I belittle their love? Are we just two selfish little monsters, as babes demanding their constant attention to now wanting them out of our hair as grown-ups? When I get frustrated or impatient with them, I tell myself to remember their story. We are not perfect, but I hope we have made their sacrifice worth it.
Wrinkles now trace the tracks of their smiles. I wonder how would they react if they saw this picture. Would it speak of irony or of a promise fulfilled? After twenty-seven years and counting, I would like to think the latter.
Maybe I won’t ever understand or appreciate this, living and growing up in America. But if Freedom is the trophy, Love makes for one hell of a consolation prize.
Pictures have the power to speak truth into your life. Sometimes they can even breathe life back into your years, and remind you how precious is the time you’ve been given. In those moments, when you listen close enough, they whisper, not to say that you should be counting your minutes, but to make every one of your minutes count.