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Keep the Faith
Hero
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The "Wu Word" Blog

Keep the Faith

Approximately a year ago on I am sure what was a cold and frigid day as today or these days, I was shocked to receive a letter and card from one of my long-lost penpal from Europe.  I had not heard from her in at least a year or more.  Since she became a mother herself and since I became officially biologically motherless from a medically necessary hysterectomy back in 2015, I could only imagine that our friendship would fade and fall away.  Through neither of our faults, but through life happening and having to lead and live life as it keeps on going.  This dear penpal of mine came into my life over ten years ago.  We fervently wrote long and lengthy letters on cute stationary heavily decked out in stickers and in scented strawberry pens.  We kept postal services alive and postal workers employed.  We even met face-to-face on freezing night in midtown Manhattan, chatting endlessly to match our lengthy letters. Somehow, we always connected in the cold in the warmth of our friendship. We kept our friendship going even when it was clear how vastly different we were when it came to our differences on romantic relationships, marriage, children, and, above all else, religion and faith. 
 
She was not religious out of choice, but out of upbringing.  Her mother was a seemingly devout Christian who believed in prayer, baptism, and church services and worship.  As for me and certainly due to my upbringing of a scientific father and overly religious biological mother, out of all the places in the world that I felt the most uncomfortable in, it was in any place of worship.   Growing up, the majority of my friends were Catholics.  They always welcomed me to Church services and particularly around Christmas time.  I felt immensely uncomfortable and like some traitor and sinner when I sat in the pews in Church.  I was told that I was a sinner if I did not go to Church and if I did not have Church friends, and there I was in the pews not knowing any of the prayers, scriptures, songs, psalms, and sermons.  I was a stranger in a strange land.  For the longest time when people asked me what my religion was, I said I was ‘Agnostic,’ not even truly knowing what that meant.  Then, I would switch it up and say: “Well, I’m spiritual and not religious.”  I was not an Atheist.  I always believe in God, religion, faith, miracles, and, above all else, hope.  There is always hope. 
 
Faith changed for me in 2015 when I was at one of lowest points and beckoned to go to Church to play music on an abandoned piano.  It was my time and my way of healing and helping myself.  Over time, my discomfort at going to Church slowly changed into a seeker and searcher to learn about all religions, faiths, and beliefs.   I began to go to all different types of Churches and read philosophical and spiritual works.  I even went on a couple spiritual and relaxation retreats.  I wanted to understand myself and others and what we all believed in or did not believe in and why or why not. 
 
In the letter from my long-lost penpal, it was clear that she was struggling with faith and hope because one of her children was born with a severe and rare genetic illness.  Due to the illness, her daughter could not eat on her own and her speech and physical capabilities were either non-existent or extremely delayed.  In my friend’s letter, she wrote: “I can tell you all of this because you know what it is like to struggle and fight for life, and that health is the greatest gift there is.  Some days are so hard and I am exhausted, but then I see that she has this light in her eyes.  She is so happy.”
 
Without expecting a response back because of the immense stress she was experiencing, I wrote her back.  I told her that there is always hope and do not give up.  I told her that I would pray for her daughter. 
 
A few months later, I received a letter response from her again.  She wrote to me: “I am surprised when you wrote that you would go to Church and pray for my daughter.  I was even more surprised that you now go to Church and these other places of worship to pray.  I do not even know if I believe in God anymore.  If there was a God then why would he let my daughter suffer?  How can God let a little baby suffer?” 
 
Reading her words brought me back to many painful and even life and death moments in my life when I was in my absolute lowest moments in my life and had questioned aloud and in writing: “Why me? Why do bad things happen to good people?  Did I do something in my past life to deserve this?  Why would you do this God?”  I never came up with a concrete answers.  I did not have the answer to give to my dear friend, but I told her this, “Life is full of pain and suffering to learn about gratitude, compassion, kindness, love, strength, hope, and so much beauty that comes out from ugly. Our faith is tested during these very dark times that we are all go through at some point in our lives that teach us about being grateful rather than resentful and to be better rather than bitter.  All I can say is to try to keep the faith, for if there is not hope and faith, then what is there?”    
 
When I sent out my letter to her, I found myself dumbfounded at how far my faith and spiritual journey had come and is still coming along.  The me who was uncomfortable and even fearful of being at Church has now become the me who is the very first one to go to places of worship of all different faiths and say to others: “I go to anywhere and at anytime where there is any faith.”  Spirituality is a vital part of who we are, just as our mental, emotional, and physical parts are to make the whole of entire well-being. 
 
What is your faith?  Why is this your faith?  Is it because of your upbringing?  Is it because of life experiences or some life-altering experience?  Do you think your upbringing influenced your faith? What is the difference between faith, religion, and spiritual?    What is spiritual?  Are you a seeker and searcher and what is it that you are seeking or searching for?    
 
Keep the faith, my friends.
 
Keep smilin’ until we meet again,

Mary ;-) 

Hero

And, just like that, it is November.
 
The leaves blanket the grounds in their rich crimson and golden hues.  The air is cool and crisp.  It is my favorite time of the year—not only because of the beauty and glory all around us in Mother Nature’s pristine power, but because November is the month of gratitude.  For me, and I know you have  read it and heard it time and time again from me, everyday is a day to learn and be thankful for because as bad as it can be, it can be even worse and the best is always yet to come. 
 
Many know this little factoid about me receiving two kidney transplants, which taught me an abundance of lessons and gave me the greatest of gifts at a young age with #1 being that Life is a Gift.  Every single day, I have the privilege of opening up this gift by learning something new, getting to know the familiar, going into the unfamiliar, adventuring, and enjoying my simple routines that I savor and love the most.  Deep within this gift of life is a privilege of meeting with many organ donor families and living donors.  It is probably the best part of the gift.  I am like a star struck fan, all speechless or blubbering fool when I am around organ donor families and living donors.  I never know what to say.  I never know what to do.  I hedge on asking about their deceased loved one and take cues from them as to whether or not he or she will tell me their stories. 
 
I have had the honor to meet many organ donor families.  Some have adopted me.  Some sport photos of their loved ones that died and share their stories and memories with tears rolling down their faces.  I cried with them.  I hugged them as hard as I could.   When they share with me, I am humbled and put in a place of delicate vulnerability of thinking about my anonymous organ donor families even more.  Whenever I am blessed to meet a living organ donor or organ donor family, I feel full throttle deep within me that 1) I would not be alive if it were not for my two organ donors and their families and 2) Grief never ends and it goes in these waves—some waves crash and knock you over until you are just trying to keep your head above water and other waves are calm waters that gently wash up to tickle your toes on the shoreline. 
 
Out of all the organ donor families I have been extremely blessed to meet, there is one organ donor mother who I still think about.  I do not remember her name.  I remember her.  I met her in Houston, Texas at the 2014 Transplant Games of America.  She was of short stature and had dark cropped hair.  Her warm smile quivered at the edges that turned downward when she shared with me: “My daughter killed herself.”
 
I did not know what to say.  I did not say anything.  I think my face said it all and more than words can possibly express.
 
She continued, “She was 15-years-old.  She had bipolar nearly her whole life.  She heard voices.  She finally could not take the voices, so she killed herself.”
 
I still was speechless and wordless and could only muster: “I’m so sorry.  That’s horrible.  Can I give you a hug?”
 
I wrapped her in the tightest hug that my body could manage.  She continued, “When people hear that she committed suicide, they look at me with sadness and shame. They do not know what to say.  Most people do not know what to say when someone dies, but when someone commits suicide, it is on a whole other level.  People have no idea how your mind can play tricks on you and betray you.  You hear about cancer and, don’t get me wrong, cancer sucks and all illnesses suck, but there is still a stigmatism with mental illnesses that will never, ever really go away.  They have no idea that my daughter was suffering just like someone with cancer, but if she had cancer then she would’ve gained more sympathy than with what she suffered with.  I have nothing to be ashamed of.  Nothing can bring my daughter back, but my daughter saved lives, and this is what matters.” 
 
In a feeble voice that sounded probably even more pathetic, I said: “Well, your daughter is a hero.” 
 
She tipped her head slightly and said softly, “I meet many transplant recipients.  They want to live forever.  They will fight for life.  My daughter could not because of her illness.  She wanted to die.  Maybe there is another mother now who has their daughter alive from my daughter.  To me, it is not about heroism.  It is about doing the right thing.”
 
Recently, a donor son and donor sister both said the same thing to me that he never gave their kidneys to their mother and brother, respectively, to be recognized or to be a hero, but, as they said:  “I did not think twice. I knew it would be me.  If someone you loved needed help and you could help then you would do it.  No recognition or heroism.  It’s not rocket science.  It’s the right thing to do.” 
 
I have been thinking a lot about this organ donor mom and what she said to me.  I have been thinking about these other organ donor families and living donors I have met and about heroism and what really makes a hero.  We can know the right thing to do, but to do it can be immensely difficult and takes a courage that maybe we never knew we had within us.  I have been thinking about how the place people are in, the frame of mind, the situations, the emotions, and even more and beyond would push people to be the perpetrator and the victim all in one.  This organ donor mother is right—I could not ever imagine and cannot ever fully grasp not wanting to live and wanting to end it all because, to me and because of my organ donors and their families, life is such a gift and from this gift is hope and a fight and deep passion to live. 
 
This is my tribute to all the organ donor families and living donors I have had the absolute privilege and honor or meeting.   This is my mere attempt at gratitude in November but in every single day.  Meeting them and thinking of my organ donor families daily makes me want to be the best of me and makes me realize just how powerful love, kindness, and giving really are.  Meeting them also brings me to place of vulnerability of the struggles that each of us deal with day in and day out and to the point that a person may not want to live anymore.  As for ‘Hero,’ what does this actually mean?  How far will you go for the person you love the most?  Or for someone you do not even know?  A complete stranger?  Who do you identify as a hero?  Have you known the right thing to do but could or could not do it? 
 
Keep smilin’ until we meet again,

Mary ;-) 

The Perfect Place

According to my father, my first trip outside of the USA was when I was Mexico and not even 1-years-old.  My muddled memories flood me that my very first trip outside of the USA was to Hong Kong to celebrate my 9th birthday with relatives that I met for the very first time in my life.  Hong Kong always holds a special spot as overseas trip for me; It was the first place I traveled alone to when I was 15-years-old, met my grandparents for the first time, attended and participated in a wedding for the first time, and paid tribute to my grandfather for my first experience in death of a loved one.  I still feel the oppressive humid heat of Hong Kong that can knock you over with dripping sweat and then the blast of arctic air from the air conditioners cranked up in public places.  I remember all my visits to Hong Kong at 10-years-old when my uncle was getting married and I was the flower girl in a puffy pink dress, 15-years-old when my sister was living there for her very first job, my grandfather’s passing away and thrown into culture shock at his Buddhist funeral ceremony services. 
 
I spent one summer with my aunt in Canada after my parents’ messy divorce.  The area she lived in was predominantly Asians and Cantonese-speaking.  I discovered and devoured new foods and tastes that I never had before: fleshy pink salmon encased in crispy skin, spicy hot Asian-styled spaghetti, and bitter fresh vegetables.  I learned how to used chopsticks at 11-years-old.  My aunt taught and told me: “You never know until and unless you try.” 
 
I traveled around the world from home by writing to people in other countries, or penpalling. In the day of the digital, I still love nothing more by to curl up on my couch and travel to another country when I receive and read a letter from a dear friend across the oceans and continents and decorate stationary sheets to my dear friend overseas.   Starting in roughly 2006, I started traveling alone to my “penpals” or people I never met face to face, but felt like I knew from our long, personal, and in-depth hand-written letters.  I went to England and Holland where I finally met and spent time with my penpals, only for them to crash and burn.  I also traveled to Germany and Portugal and Spain where friendships only strengthened as more than merely “penpals.”  In all these trips, I made it a point to go to places where I could climb to the very highest to see and soak up all the beauty of a country from the very top while also feeling every step on the ground I was walking on that held history at my feet.  From these solo adventurous travels, I learned that there is still NOTHING more important than spending and meeting with someone face to face and in person.  I also made it a point to travel around the USA in east coast to west coast, north, and south, overseas, and declared whenever our wicked wintry weather hit New York: “That’s it!  I’m moving to sunny California!”   
 
For as long as I could remember, I traveled.  I think I traveled because my father traveled and told me, “There are some people who have NEVER traveled and do not even have a passport.  It is a lot of work, money, time, and energy to travel and even more so now than before, but so well worth it to see the world and understand more about others and yourself.”  I wanted to see and taste the world and inhale any and all customs, cultures, languages, and life of the unknown and what seemed as “odd.”  In all my travels, I wondered about this world and where was the perfect place for me.  Although I was fearless to travel around the world, I had never moved to anywhere else different and new in my life.  I was born, grew up, and am still living in the same small suburban county that is a mere dot on the map of the entire state of New York.  I had thought about and even spoke about moving somewhere and anywhere because the mere thought of just packing up my crap and leaving everyone and everything behind to start anew where no one knew me and where I could “find myself” was invigorating and thrilling.  What does “find yourself” actually mean, though?  Do people find themselves by leaving and traveling or by committing themselves to where they are and with who they are with? 
 
I once asked my aunt who took care of me in Canada and who now lives in Hong Kong: “Where is the perfect place?  Do you like Canada or Hong Kong better?”  She responded, “It is never about the perfect place.  It is never about the place.  It is about the people.  You can travel and see the world and it is important to do this, but being a traveler and visitor is different from where you eventually live and commit to.   You will live with the people who mean the most to you, and the where will not matter.”  My mere conclusion then is: “You live where love is” and the ‘loves’ or ‘love’ in your life differs from person to person and in the places and periods you are in your life.  I traveled to see the world BUT I never moved because the perfect place was about the people and NOT the place. 
 
How important is it to travel and see the world versus not?   Have you moved around to different places and, if yes, what led you to pick up and start a new life in a new place?  Do you think you have to travel far and even around the world and different places to find yourself and understand yourself better? Or maybe as a way to escape? Can you find and understand yourself if you grew up in the same place all your life?    Where is your perfect place?

Keep smilin’ until we meet again,

Mary ;-) 

Dirty Work

I was half asleep on a weeknight at around 10PM getting ready to go to sleep.  My usual nightly ritual is tidying up and getting ready for the next work grind morning so I am not rushing like a chicken with my head cut off the next day.  My garbage happened to be overflowing that night.  I figured that I could bring it out the morning and so I put my hand right on top of the garbage to push as much of it down. 
 
Big Mistake. 
 
Suddenly, I felt something sharp slice and break through my skin.  I let out a feeble yelp.  The next thing I knew, bright red crimson blood was bubbling from my top right ring finger and spilling over on to the kitchen floor.  It turned out the one of kitty cat can lids had sliced right through my finger.  Immediately, I washed my hands with soap to try to disinfect and then grabbed paper towels and lifted my arm straight up like Lady Liberty to try to stop the blood flow.  But the blood would not stop.   Paper towels soaked through.  Droplets of my blood had made a trail from the kitchen to the bathroom in my panicked attempt to stop the bleeding.  Worst of all, I was all alone.
 
I kept muttering to myself as I tried to take deep breaths, “Do not freak out.  You can stop the bleeding.  It is just a small cut.”
 
I do not know if it was panic or being all alone with what was quickly looking like a crime scene or I really had cut myself too deep, but I started to break out in a cold sweat and feel extremely dizzy and nauseous like I was going to pass out.  I could see the headlines now: “Woman passed out and bled  herself to death from a kitty cat can lid.”  I chuckled to myself at the thought!   As the blood kept flowing, though, I knew I needed help.  I never ask for help unless I truly and really need it. 
 
I no longer go to my parents as my first source of an emergency or help.  In fact, as I have gotten older and fiercer about my sense of independence, my parents have become my last resort or even no resort at all.  Also, I reasoned, they lived 20 minutes away, and I needed someone right here and right now.  I did not have time for 20 minutes.  I started frantically calling all my neighbors.  Finally, on the last call, one of my neighbors immediately said, “I’m coming over right now.”
 
My neighbor tried to distract me and calm me down with stories of her children while we struggled  and then waited to try to stop the bleeding.  She was convinced that I did not need to go to the emergency room and I probably bled so easily and so quickly because I was on immunosuppressant medications.   It took at least ten minutes (but it felt so much longer) for the bleeding to stop. I had a restless sleep from my finger throbbing in pain.  The next morning, my finger was experiencing such pulsing pain that I went to the emergency room all on my own.   When I moved out almost ten years ago, my father said one of the most important places for me to live near was the hospital because of my health.  He wasn't joking.  My finger was cut deeply, but not deep enough that it needed stitches.  It was not until I left the emergency room that I started to share with my parents and a couple others what had happened.  For two days, my right hand was bandaged up and then it took almost a month for my finger to fully heal.
 
I always thrived and truly love living alone, but this incident suddenly put a thought and even worries and fear in my head that still stays and has made its own room and place in the back of my mind:  What would have happened if my neighbor had not picked up or if I had fainted?  Who would have found me?  What would I do in the event of an emergency with me living all alone and my parents eventually gone?  Who would I go to?  Who would actually do the dirty work and be there for me to DO something when I really needed help?
 
One of my earliest life lessons I learned after my second kidney transplant was that people are there for you when it is fun and easy and when there are lots of laughs, but people rarely stick around when it is really hard and really tough with lots of tears.  It is even rarer to find those who quietly and without complaining do the “dirty work” to actually DO something to really help rather than SAY something.  It is easy to say anything just like it is easy to be there when it is easy, but it hard to do something just like it hard to be there when it is really hard.  And, yes, life is hard and it gets even harder as we get older.  People provide their sympathies and maybe even listen for a short time to your woes, but that is it—no offer to really help.  In my life, with the exception of my parents, my circle has shrunk to the number of people I can really turn to for help and especially in an emergency.  I find more and more people are less and less able to help.  I think people genuinely do want to help, but people are increasingly limited and struggling/fighting with our own problems and issues.  After all, how can we help others when we cannot help others?  We are all limited in a limitless hurried and harried world.  We can only do the very best that we can. 
 
 
It is easy to be there when it is easy, but it is hard to be there when it is really hard.  Who is there for you when you are down and out?  Do you have someone or some people you can go to in the event of an emergency?  Who will actually DO the “dirty work” for you and not just say or speak?  Are you perhaps the one who does the “dirty work” more so for others than vice versa?    
 
Keep smilin’ until we meet again,

Mary ;-) 

Less

“Do you want this bottle of wine?  I can’t drink two bottles of wine.” 
 
I looked up from the Seattle, Washington map that I was studying. 
 
A petite girl with long dark hair was directing this question to the guy next to me and not to me.  Good thing she was not asking me because my idea of alcohol to get me tipsy was a wine cooler.  The guy next to me looked up at her and said, “No, I do not drink alcohol because my father was an alcoholic.”
 
The girl’s eyes and mine met.  Clearly, our eye gaze read the same thought: We were both bewildered that this guy was so open about sharing his personal business about his father.  The girl then asked me and I played the game as the guy next to me of revealing all to complete strangers, “No, I do not really drink alcohol.  I do not like the taste of it and, plus, I have had two kidney transplants and just want to keep healthy.”
 
That is when the girl and the guy next to me both stared at me.  That is when I realized that this is how you get with strangers.  You just start sharing your stories with strangers because you will probably never see each other again so you have nothing to lose.  In a hot, stuffy, and sweltering common room in a hostel in the heart of Seattle, Washington with the fan blowing on high blast but not doing anything, these strangers and I ended up chatting about our lives.  The guy who shared about his alcoholic father was from Ohio; He went on to tell us his marital woes with his wife who left him after finishing up her chemotherapy treatment.  The girl was actually with her boyfriend, and they were from northern California and were here for the Pearl Jam concert.    As for me, I was there in Seattle, Washington all by myself in a bare necessities hostel and in a dormitory room with three female strangers that would save me over $200 in the heart of Pike Place Market to fulfill a two-for-the-price-of-one Live List item that crept up on me about six months ago when I was making travel arrangements to go to Salt Lake City, Utah for the Transplant Games of America:  Live on less and little to realize how much I truly have in my life.
 
Six months ago, I tried to recruit people to come travel with me, but no one could commit or no one had the financial or time off from work abilities.  If there is one thing I learned long ago and I know it sounds terribly selfish, but I do not put my life on hold or wait for anyone.  If I wait around or depend on someone to travel with or to do something with me, I will probably end up waiting forever.  And, ‘forever’ is not something myself or any of us have.   If I want to do something, I will do it—with or without anyone. 
 
My friends and even the transplant center somewhat scolded me for traveling all alone and in not the most hygienic of places with strangers.  Hostels do not get the best of reputations—especially dormitory hostels. I had stayed at hostels before, but they were either alone in the room or with a good friend.  This was the first time I would stay in a dormitory setting.  In fact, it was the first time ever in my life I was going to be in a dormitory setting because I did not experience that in college.  Granted, hostels are not 4-star luxury hotels or even a motel, but they get the job done as a place for me to sleep, go to the bathroom, and even eat breakfast.  I was going to sacrifice comfort to save money and gain life experiences.
 
The three strangers ended up inviting me out for weed and cannabis.  Marijuana is legal in Seattle.  I learned that the hard way when I arrived.  I was already having a hard time breathing and was all congested in the mornings in the stuffy hostel from lack of air circulation/no air conditioner and from the scent of weed.  I kindly declined.  They looked disappointed.  I joked, “You have extra fun whiffs for me!” 
 
For the two nights I was in the hostel, I was sweaty and craving the comfort of my air conditioner.  I was the only one to put the small fan attached to my bunk bed on full blast.  Not having fresh air in the room made me all the more grateful for the somewhat fresh air when I would go out to walk in Seattle at breaking dawn.  I walked more than I had walked than when I was at home.  The aches and pains in my feet made me all the more thankful for now having a hip replacement so I could actually walk now more than I ever could growing up.  I happened to meet a girl from Italy on a food tour who was also traveling alone.  We bonded over people questioning us single women: “Oh…why are you traveling all alone?  That is sad.”  I am sure that if I was a guy, I would not be asked this or receive a piteous reaction. 
 
On the contrary, traveling all alone brings you to place of such freedom.  I highly recommend it to everyone.  You see things, people, places, and experiences in a whole different enlightening and eye-opening light that you do not get to experience when you travel with the familiar.  You talk to people you would not normally talk to.  Your senses are heightened and on more of an alert than if you were with someone else.  Your natural instincts kick in of who you can talk to and who you cannot and where you can go to and where you cannot where safety is put first.  It is purposefully putting yourself in a vulnerable place to come out stronger and much more open to adventures and experiences.  It is unfamiliar, uncomfortable, thrilling, and exhilarating.  It is life on less and you gain all the more. 
 
It is when we have little or less that we realize how much more we really have.  Have you ever purposefully put yourself in a place of hardships and challenges to test your strength and abilities?  Have you ever hit rock bottom only to realize how much you really have and how truly fortunate and blessed you are?  When have you had ‘less’ to see how much you really have?  

Keep smilin' until we meet again,
Mary ;-) 
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