I bought a home in Sarasota, Florida. I wish you could see it. There is a small bamboo forest in the back yard, along with tall palms and other trees, fauna, and many birds and other animals. It is very peaceful, especially in the early morning or late night. When the sun is high, the pool glistens, and sometimes there is a breeze with the smell of warm salt air. I can see you sitting on one of the lounge chairs, listening to the music of nature, drinking tea, and dreaming.
The first Christmas, I did not have a fir tree. I bought a six foot artificial tree that has small flowers on the branches all alit, and I placed it in the corner of my living room where it stands today. I hung ribbons and wish tags that I had made. I wrote, “I wish my parents could be here with me in my beautiful home.” I never felt I could really make you happy. But I thought, if you knew I finally owned a home, you would feel very proud for me.
Of course, life is never as easy as we would like. I had difficulties with depression since I was young, and moving here, although initially exciting with moments of surprise and euphoria, soon gave way to many anxieties. I could not find a job where I could easily utilize my skills. So many years in Wall Street, wasted. You were proud that I could make decent money in New York, although you lamented that I never got a law degree to further my career and, in many ways, blamed my lack of foresight for my inability to find more stable employ. Perhaps you were right.
Now, I think you were right about so many things. One of your last pieces of advice to me was to learn to be more humble. As Mom told me, I was so bright as a child, you and she were worried that I would become arrogant in nature, and so you both took measures to try to prevent what you both perceived as a potential terrible flaw in your Confucianist worlds. The truth is, no extra criticism was needed. You were so often alone in your thoughts and far away; a hungry dog cannot find a morsel of attention from an empty cupboard. Your silent presence was enough chastisement. Your closed office door was enough of a statement.
Still, when I did find time with you (I tried so hard to get your attention!), you counseled me on wisdom and challenged me. We spoke often of religion, philosophy, history and literature, and these moments were like blue prize ribbons that I hung on a tree in my mind. You often laughed at my foolishness, but I, too, laughed at yours. No one could get you so excited or mad. Our debates would sometimes bring you to a point of almost physical threat and action. In reality, I had done nothing wrong but question your opinions or give you mine, and we were both as stubborn as the sun and moon that circle around each other.
In Xi An, China, the terra cotta soldiers stand proudly. Thousands of years have not changed their expressions. Stern, sometimes threatening, each one singularly determined in their swords and military garb. They stand in rows, it seems, a thousand miles long –
You often expressed deep regret, after Mom passed away, that you did not take that trip with our family to China. You chose to focus on your work instead. We were treated like queens and kings with exotic meals and a private tour guide in every province we visited. We stayed at the best places. But it was the the pure poetry of the landscape, natural or man made, that made me better. I remember riding on the boat through the misty rivers and mountains in Gui Lin, where the ancient poets came to life, drinking in the moonlight as they sang their verses. I remember how wonderfully small and free I felt, in awe of the large and looming, majestic mountains so that I suddenly understood in some way the smallness of human figures in Chinese paintings. How the fisherman intimately and exquisitely in the dark night caught fish with a lantern at the head of the boat, and witnessing the loom and weave of the richest brocade I have ever seen, silken cloth, being made by two men on a wooden contraption resembling a bicycle combined with a piano, their feet and fingers seemingly effortlessly moving as in a masterful dance. My sweat as I climbed the steep steps of the Great Wall. The thousand steps of the Forbidden Palace. The giant lilies and the koi fish of the summer palace, and so on and so forth. When I told you of our stories, you quietly drank in every word.
No, I could not convince you that there was no need for regret in your last years. Ironically, you found peace in the fact that you would always regret lost opportunities with respect to Mom and your children.
On the day you died, I took pictures of your living space in Taiwan. Your glasses, your small room, your books, a few clothes. A few calligraphy paintings in your walls which you cherished. Those pictures, to me, represented your life. A simple scholar who needed little and wanted less.
Ba, I keep searching for you. I am not what you may have expected or live the life that you desired, but I continue to try to reconcile different truths, knowing there is not one truth but many. To find my own has truly proved difficult. I stand by one equation. That is, what is beautiful to me must certainly be true. That is not to say that what is true is most certainly beautiful. This is where I am stuck, I’m afraid. To find a singular perspective is, I feel, a luxury. How does one choose a path when there are so many? I always wished I could believe in God, whether a Christian one or any other, but I cannot. What I can see is that every religion or philosophy has beauty in vision, in words, rhyme and rhythm and in action, where one cares to look. Nature, I feel, is the greatest teacher of all.
I have a dog and a cat. I never tire of watching them. You loved my two dogs in New York. Every time I called you in Taiwan, you would ask about them. I think you would be so happy to meet Zach and Heidi today, and they would give you much joy.
What the future brings is uncertain, but I follow my heart as you always counseled. I have failed much in life.
Today, as I sit in the beautiful weather after several weeks of rain and cold, I think of you as I do every day and hope you know that, although I may be arrogant, I am not uncourageous nor impatient. This must attest to something good in character, I hope. I remember you saying, It is Fate. What is Fate? I asked. You answered, “It is like throwing dice in a bowl. Some fall inside the bowl and some outside. Why is that?”
With great love,
Your daughter, Judy