As far as the East…

April 24, 2010

“I thought if I could touch this place or feel it, the brokenness inside me might start healing. Out here it’s like I’m someone else.  I thought that maybe I could find myself…”

Shanghai was always the city on this 4 continent world-tour MBA that I’ve been looking forward to the most.  And now I’m packing up to leave.  It feels a little strange.

China holds an almost nuanced connection to my past.  Twice that I can remember, but maybe three times when I was little my grandfather travelled here.  I’m sure he went to Beijing too and maybe Hong Kong – but details aren’t too concerning when you’re a kid.  I just knew he went to China and came back with gifts.  I knew he went alone and I knew it was far away.

My grandfather was larger than life.  6 foot something – broad shoulders – and a hug that swalled you whole.  I was 3 months shy of my 13th birthday when he died; which is probably why I remember him being so big.  I was little.  Life was uncomplicated.  My world was small & controlled.  Predictable.

He was an explorer, a thinker, a hard worker.  He made money – lots of it.  He was Omaha stock – midwestern to the core.  After jumping in a shallow lake and breaking his leg, the insurance money paid for a year of college.  Becuase of that, he got a white collar job in insurance and later when on to run the company – Prudential to be exact. He never went back to school but made sure we would.  Of his six grandchildren, two hold PhDs, two have Bachelor’s and when I finish my MBA, it’ll even out the count with two holding master’s as well.

I’m the youngest of the cousins…and when I was born I think it changed him a little.  My mother always told him I was full of personality – life.  She told me he’d ask how that could be known when I was so little – but before I was even a  year old he said he saw it.  This kid is special.  This kid has “it” whatever “it” is…

true or  not, he was only man I ever remember making me feel special.  I’d follow him around the garden. We picked dollar weeds.  Life, he told me, was like dollar weeds.  You can’t just address a problem at the surface, but you have to follow it to the root – and pluck it out from there…and watch, he’d say – pulling out a line of those things that seemed to go on forever – there are always other things connected to the root.  But just keep digging and your garden will be healthy.

We talked a lot actually.  As the reality of his cancer and death began to take its toll on my mom life and parents marriage, I started to industriously take on the stress of myself.  Where would I go to school, what would I do, who would I marry?  I was young and burdened by a future decades away.  He saw it.  He saw my little personality and psyche being shaped.  He pulled me into his office once.  Cherrywood walls, a huge desk, and more books than a library – I loved that office – and he sat on his couch with me and said “I’m so sorry.”  Sorry for what? I wondered.  This guy had given me a great life.  A name.  Status.  Roots.  Identity.  He told me I was here on purpose and for one.  He lit up when I walked into a room.  He made everything feel safe.  His presence alone silenced almost all my fears.  But he was sorry.

“Options” he said…”I’ve given you too many options.  When I was young I had one option – did I want to eat or not to eat? So I got a job and I worked hard.  And I ate. Then I married your grandmother and had your mom and aunts.  And they had to eat.  So I knew my options.” He’d made peace with his choices but the evidence of the struggle was still there – who had he become?  who had he wanted to be?  what trade-offs did he make to get there?

China always represented that.  It represented him.  Life.  There’s a person you could be but a person you also must be.  You’ve been given much so live up to it.  And you have dreams and desires but they wait until you’ve done all the “right” things that by virtue of this last name you’ve been given you must do.

No wonder I’ve been slow to take on a new last name…or allow one choice to define so many others.  Rob Bell said “one yes means a thousand nos” so I’m careful with my yes.  Ironically, the weight of the tension between dreams and responsiblities has all but crushed me in the past few months leading up to this trip.

So here I am, in China with my MBA program at one of the world’s most prestigious schools – no doubt because of the sum of my choices and the options he gave me.  How could I not look for him here – feel him here – wonder what he’d say or think.  Am I still special?  Did I make you proud? Would you still love me if you knew me now?  Would the safe small world that fell into chaos and shattered overnight when you died have taken its toll on me the way it did if you had just lived longer? Did you tell me everything I needed to know?  Am I going to be OK?

I walked through this city the other day, looked and listening and wrestling with those questions.  he is here somehow; and I needed him.

I came here looking for something, answers, insight, I don’t now what exactly – and now I’m packing up to leave.  I’m not sure I can explain them now, but I have things I didn’t have when I came – I have answers I couldn’t have gotten without being here, feeling this place.  A broken part of my soul healed a little.  I shorted the distance between who I am and who I have in my heart to long to become…

So I’m grateful for China and grandfather.


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