On twilight of election eve, I went to a friend’s wake. I did not know her so well. She was an active member of the organ donation/transplant community, her own community as a soccer coach to children, and beyond her inner circle to reach and affect the lives of so many others. Long and thick cascades of honey brown hair and twinkling brown eyes, she was a picture of beauty. You would never guess that she was so ill and had her first heart transplant at 17-years-old. Now, she was dead at 27-years-old.
The last time I saw her was when we went to Albany to speak with legislators about specific agenda items to help the organ donation/transplant community. We bumped into each other in the restroom and she looked at me in her mirrored reflection, “I bought your book. I’ve been meaning to get your autograph.”
I was surprised, humbled, and extremely flattered that all I could stupidly muster was, “Wow, thank you.”
She giggled and smiled brightly, “I’ll get your autograph next time for sure. Let’s go out there now!”
I flashbacked to her last words she said to me and that the last time I saw her was the last time when I drove in unfamiliar and uncharted territory to the funeral home. I did not even know who her parents were and what they looked like. What would I say to them about their daughter who I barely knew? What do you say when it comes to death? You would think now that I knew what to say and do with death as many of my friends have died waiting for a transplant or due to complications after a transplant as well as working at a cancer center. All I knew was all that I could and would do is reach up and hug them as hard as could, as there are times there are no words and silence and an enveloped hug will speak volumes.
Along the way to the funeral home on a narrowed dirt and pebbled path that my car Perry was struggling on, I stumbled across an old-fashioned farmhouse. Something told me to stop and so I did. As soon as I stepped foot in this farmhouse, I was intoxicated by the delicious and divine scents of berry pies and cider donuts, awed by pleasantly plump apples, and grinned at the bright orange pumpkins and root vegetables that greeted me. Somehow, I felt my friend’s presence in there. I also felt very ‘American’ in there.
I wish I could explain what “American” feels like, especially since most people identify me as Asian when they immediately see my outer appearance. My father said if I was born in China with all the health problems I’ve had then I would be dead by now. He rarely speaks of his times during communist China, but speaks of ‘The American Dream’ of working hard to reap the rewards rather than given any free favors. He only briefly shares that imprisonment or killings would have happened in China if anyone dared to speak anything against the government.
I can’t explain how ‘American’ feels, but the first word that always touches my tongue is “Freedom.” Freedom to speak your view without getting ostracized, attacked, or even killed. Freedom and free to be a woman where I can show my face and not cover it out of shame or fear. Freedom is a very precious gift, but comes at extremely high and heavy costs. Lives lost and sacrifices made when fighting for freedom for themselves and others. Responsibility and ownership of that freedom. Is anyone ever really free? What does freedom or free actually mean? Maybe, nothing really is free and a price cannot be put on freedom then. What is the price of freedom? What does ‘American’ mean to you?
That night, I knew my friend who laid peacefully in her casket and fought a good fight in life to be free of her health struggles had led me there to this farmhouse. All I know is my father and his sacrifices and courage to leave a country with what he knew would harm and maybe even kill him and his future led me to this country. And, that election eve night, I was led to Church to pray for peace, hope, and unity for this country.
When I left the Church that night, the last glimpse I saw was the American flag tucked protectively and proudly near the crucifix that. I am still proud and embrace that red, white, and blue flag that forever reminds me of my father’s sacrifices and so many sacrifices that many have made for this country and how lucky I am to live in a place that is as free as it can be.
I am still proud to be an American-Born Chinese.
Keep smilin’ until we meet again,