Her offer came while I was in the middle of finding a space for the company-owned computer and scanner in my already cramped workspace at home. The answer to my need presented itself before our doorstep, and I was truly elated.
Robert picked up the computer stand. During assembly in the open space by our TV area, he broke a melancholic news.
Our neighbor’s good husband would be coming back home next month after seeking treatments in the mainland for a terminal illness.
“She said he just wanted to say goodbye. He has only three months to live.”
I grappled with some feel-good statements. You know, when something unwelcomed happens, our persistent brain resorts to what I call at-least perspective. In our efforts to see the good in everything, we automatically highlight the good side of a devastating event and reason out with lines that either start or end with “at least...”
Not that there is something inherently wrong with the practice. In silence while moving some books underneath the computer stand, I just realized how it was defensive by nature. The approach seemed to camouflage the core of humanity – that anyone who has been born will die sooner or later. That we don’t really have to justify it, only accept it. In grief, we find our true selves. And there is always strength in that process.
Our neighbors are in retirement age. They are living independently and enjoying life. You can tell that they do by just looking at their faces. Their infectious laugh and expressive eyes remind me about the joy in wisdom and fulfillment in old age. And though, they are in their later years, I haven’t thought of saying goodbye to any of them this soon.
It dawned on me that the at-least perspective blankets our inner selves. It creates cushion from the hard place – that place where in the sorrow of others hits home and makes you vulnerable. That place where in you are suddenly inundated with raging emotions and life questions you don’t want to answer. Just not yet.
I asked Robert to buy some sticky rice. I happened to take the elevator with our neighbor the other day. She heaped praises on the rice porridge I gave her on New Year’s Eve and related how she loved it. I promised to save a bowl for her when I get the chance to make the soup again. She was very thankful. We exchanged some kind words and parted ways. We didn’t talk about her husband.
“When is he coming back? I’ll make them some soup. For the last time.”
Our neighbor plans to vacate their place in three months’ time. Together with her brother, they have been moving things since yesterday. She would be in an exodus once her husband leaves for good. Her kids are all in the mainland.
While I was looking for a big pot to make some chicken stock, I remembered my own father who was thousands of miles away. He was also on his own, living independently just like our neighbors. In my heart, the soup was also for him.
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