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The "Wu Word" Blog

August 2016


It was that time of the year again. 
As soon as I heard the crinkling plastic and the march of my father’s footsteps upstairs, I knew what was to come. 
Roughly every year when I was a little girl and maybe even a couple times more throughout the year just because of the junk I managed to collect, my father would come upstairs armed with hefty garbage bags and a determined expression that we would bond over throwing away and giving away items to the less fortunate that I no longer needed.  I cannot tell you what things I threw away.  I can only tell you about the things I kept because of the memories and moments attached to them.  I can especially tell you the times of being with my father when we surveyed my entire room with all these things that did not mean anything and only became something with sentimentality.  I also learned that nothing and no one lasts forever (things eventually break down and people get older), and to take care of my belongings and people as best as I could while I had them for limited time only.
I actually enjoyed this ritual with my father because I got to spend time with him to realize how much I had, how much I did not need, how much others did not have, and how much others needed.  I also learned that, in this grand and meandering journey of life, we do not need a lot of things in life and how sad that people treat their things better than other people.   At the very end of it all, people will remember how they felt in the company of who and not the what of things.      
This ritual came to an end when I tried to buy what I needed and not what I wanted.  In that process of deciphering what I needed and what I wanted, I came to grips that so much in life cannot be bought with money in the long-term and for genuine but can maybe be bought in the only for a short time based on superficiality: Health, Happiness, Love, People, Relationships, and Time just to name a few are all that cannot be bought.  Most of all, I realized over the years how incredibly ‘wealthy’ I am with the simple necessities that we take for granted until we no longer have them: the health of myself and my loved ones, my family, a few good and true friends who are there for me during my worst and best times, a roof over my head, food on the table, food to enjoy,  a car to get me from point A to point B without any accidents, and a job to make ends meet and to give me time to enjoy life and with the people I love.  There are many who want more money; I want more time.  There are many who want more thigns; I want more life experiences to enjoy and savor with the people I love.  In fact, I’m trying more and more to become a minimalist and get rid of things rather than take on new things—quite the challenging task. 
 ‘Wealth’ is different for everyone based on different priorities.  To me, my wealth lies in my health of myself and my loved ones, my family, a couple really true and loyal friends there for me in my worst and best times, freedom, time, and enjoying life.  Tangible money has always been at the very bottom of ‘wealth’ for me because I learned long ago that money is replaceable and refundable when life and with the people we love are non-refundable.  Time only goes.  No way and abilities to get it back no matter how much you want to.   Forever lost and no way to gain back.  

What ‘things’ mean so much to you and why so?  Do you want more money?  What is your ‘wealth’?  What is ‘wealthy’ to you?
Keep smilin’ until we meet again,

Mary ;-) 


He was the last person on my list that I had to call to register before his appointment to see the surgeon next week for a consultation. 
His case sounded familiar to me from 10 years ago when I started working at the cancer center on the surgical oncology floor where I entered the information for surgical oncology cases.  10 years ago, I was a naïve novice that shuddered in shock when I had reviewed and read the complex and crushing medical histories of people forced into the patient role.   Eventually, the shock wears off and you become immune to how life weaves and works in ugly and beauty, defeat and defiance, and struggle and strength. 
I was counting down the minutes, relieved that these past two weeks was finally going to be over. These past two weeks had been emotionally exhausting, mentally draining, and physically spent.  Suffice to say, these were probably one of the worst weeks I had endured professionally of being forced back into New York City again with days starting and finishing in the darkness of 6AM to after 8PM.  I’ve come to hate the commute to the city with such intensity that it is almost scary. 
The worst part is I felt a complete lack of support from my closest circle of friends who did not ask or did not understand that I was about to breakdown. The best part is I felt a complete shock and surprise of support from people from my past and a couple from my present who checked in on me not to say and only to listen on my brink of breakdown.  The profound part is the clarity that everyone has different gifts and experiences, which serve different purposes at different points in your life.  You cannot expect from others and you can only hope. 
He was 22-years-old.  His voice was deep and husky.  I’ve always been fascinated with voices.  I, for one, disliked my voice, but I do think my voice would be good as a cartoon character! ;-) A certain image begins to form in my mind from their intonations, sound qualities, and highs and lows of pitches.  Does this happen to you? 
Just before I got off the phone, I asked him if he had any questions.   “No,” he said slowly, “But, I do want to say something.”
Uh-oh.   I put on my extra professional voice, “OK, how can I help you?”
“I just want to say that you have a really lovely voice.  Thank you.” 
There have been few and far times that I was left speechless.  Usually when people give me compliments, I am at a loss for words, my face turns all hot and heated, desperation for a bucket of ice cold water to wash over me kicks in, and I turn all flustered and stumbled over my strangled response and behavior.  I often try to bounce compliments off myself on to others.  How do you do with compliments?  When have you been left wordless and flustered?  This time was just like all the others when I finally mustered, “Uhm…thanks.”
That’s when I realized that I had been “zapped.”  And, it felt good.  So good.   
Let me tell you what "ZAP" is.  It is a word I created.  It is a word I hope to implement.  “ZAP” is like an electric shock that jolts you into putting the routine, the mundane, the boring, the familiar into new and exciting perspectives of positivity and wanting and wishing to give good forward and make great. “ZAP” shakes up our life into something thrilling, joyful, and simply wonderful.  “ZAP” leaves you silent and then ready to soar.  One sentence.  A compliment.  Kind words.  Simple and succinct.  The little things that mean the most.  The actions and words that totally throw you off for the better.  The surprises of life and people in the best of ways.  The spontaneous of moments.  Anyone can ‘zap’ and you can ‘zap,’ too. When have you experienced “zap” by a stranger or familiar face and friend or family member?  Or, better yet, when have you “zapped” others?  "ZAP" is something that we need to do more often than not.
We were only voices on the phone.  Words were our power.  On my final day that wrapped up two weeks of complete chaos, crazy, and funny that was filled with the unexpected experiences and loads of learning of lessons, this one young man had ‘zapped’ me. He made my day and made the difference. He put me into new and needed perspectives that what we do (or do not do) and what we say (or do not say) have such ripple and life effects. 
I hope others ‘zap’ you.  I hope you ‘zap’ others.  Most of all, I hope you keep on ‘zapping’ as you go forth in life.

Keep smilin’ until we meet again,

Mary ;-) 


I met Buddy when I was finishing up my teens and about to embark on my 20’s.  Buddy was growing older.  I was growing up.  We were both at ‘lost and in trying to find’ places.  You know those places where you are at a crossroads—where you are or have lost and are trying to find your way and must hold on to faith and hope that the unexpected that happened and the choices you made will work out on the empty, long, and stretched road ahead that will eventually have the signs, meaning and reasoning yet again.
Buddy was middle-aged.  He had just been laid off after years of dedication, loyalty, stability, and hard work to his employer.  My Dad did not tell me the details, but he took on Buddy to help out at my Dad’s workplace after the lay-off.  The lay-off was resulting in unspoken aloud marital discord to feed Buddy and his family and make ends meet.  My Dad never said in words, but he always did in actions: “If you are in a better place than others, then your place is to try to help others better themselves.”   
As for me, I was at a phase of fear, anxiety, and worry over what others my age had already happily achieved and obtained: A Driver’s License.
Unlike the majority of my fellow peers who craved and pursued their driver’s license like a dog on the desperate hunt for food, I was a big cowering chicken when it came to independence and freedom.   This was an odd and fearful to feel this gripping hold of fear when it came to my driver’s license because I had always been rather bold in my pursuit of independence and freedom under my Dad’s single parenthood of raising me rather protected due to my health circumstances and being seen as ‘fragile’ by so many.  I wanted to be an adult, but I also wanted to just be a kid.  The hard part was knowing that I just could not have both.  The hardest part was knowing I had no choice but to be an adult.
I had just failed my first driver’s test and was stubbornly refusing to take the road test again.  My Dad gave Buddy a task: Teach me how to drive this second time around.  The catch: In reverse. 
My biggest problem when it came to driving was in reverse.  I was peachy just careening on the roads straight, putting on the blinkers, knew about neutral, brake and gas, and the list went on.  But, in reverse, I was downright confused when the car wouldn’t go in the direction I wanted to when I backed out from a parking spot or failed repeatedly in parallel parking.    I can still hear my father’s voice rising up to an octave of trepidation as soon as the gear was on reverse and I struggled to drive: “Turn your wheel straight!”
Buddy was quiet and calm with a soft-spoken and barely audible voice, which contradicted his wild and wiry gray hair and disheveled appearance.  He looked like a very skinny version of Albert Einstein.  In our second or third lesson, we sat in my car (aka: Perry) in the middle of a huge and empty parking lot.  I gulped and my palms sweat into the steering wheel.  My mouth suddenly felt like cotton and I could go for a whole gallon of water to guzzle down right then and there, but then I probably would have peed on myself. 
I knew what was to come.   I was going to have to drive in reverse.  God help me.  God help Buddy.
Perry purred gently as a way to encourage me that I was going to be okay.
Buddy instructed gently, “OK, check your car mirrors and rear view mirror again.”
I swallowed and adjusted myself yet again more so than the car and rear view mirrors.
“You are going to slowly put the gear in reverse while looking behind you and accelerate very, very gently.  We are just going to go in reverse straight back.” 
When I looked in the car’s mirrors and in the rear window as I shifted the gear in reverse, I was disoriented.  With my short stature that required me to sit on two pillows to see over the steering wheel, I had to depend more so on the car’s mirrors and especially my gut feeling rather than the rear window that made everything in the back appear distorted and discombobulated. 
By my side, Buddy said, “You have to trust me.  It’s going to be OK.”
The car was back in park.  I looked in his eyes and read understanding that we were both in somewhat the same situations of not knowing what would lie ahead with me trying to obtain my driver’s license that seemed like the biggest deal ever and with him not knowing what would lie ahead with his employment and, yet, you can’t help but retrospect and wonder how what happened in life played out to where you are now and if you could have done something differently in the past or if you did the best you could in that moment in time to change the chain of life events.  Isn’t this just like the mind to play tricks on you to helplessly rewind and remember something from the past and the images and memories are distorted, but the lingered feelings are raw and real to you?  When have you experienced this?

Sometimes, your best just isn’t good enough.  Always, you will never know how your life would have played out differently and if that ‘different’ would have been better based on the best choices you made at that particular time and place.  You need reverse to go forward.  All you can do is, indeed, go forward from reverse. 
Every decision results in consequences and retrospect, but regret is a deep pressing feeling that has no concrete and explainable reason.  I made a life rule for myself long ago to never live my life in regret or dwell on the past because the consequences and time tells me that I will live with them and find a way to go forward with those decisions that I had made in that place and time.  I do not regret, but I do retrospect and reflect an awfully lot.  It is easy to look back, but it is never easy to look ahead when we do not know if what we did in reverse was right.  When have you went into retrospect mode on your life and the choices being ‘right’ for going forwards?  When did you feel that the best that you gave in that moment in time was not good enough based on the consequences that resulted?  What have you questioned in your life as to why it had to happen to have forced your hand to make a choice?  What are your regrets? What do you wish you had known now then you had known then?  How would you have done things differently? 
I trusted Buddy.  I think he trusted me, too.  On that day and the days that followed with Buddy, we practiced reverse to go forward.  There was fear of driving, but there was also tons of laughter and smiles and a great camaraderie of friendship and trust that developed when we drove around and around the parking lot in forward and reverse as well as in the village towns near by.  I passed my second road test with flying colors.  To this day, I will reverse in a parking spot as my preference for parking.   As for Buddy, I do not know what happened to him, but, I know, he is okay and that wherever he is, he went in reverse to only go forward—and to keep on going. 

Keep smilin’ until we meet again,

Mary ;-) 


This had to be heaven. 
Or, so I thought when I was a tiny tyke no more than 8-years-old when the stars, moons, and comets lit up the ceiling of my bedroom.  I was scared of the dark, but those glow-in-the-dark cosmic stickers made me unafraid and convinced that this was my first glimpse and interpretation of heaven: Heaven was high up where I could not touch or reach it, but I could certainly dream and imagine.  Heaven was where the pearly white gates shone, angels flew, and sweet music played. 
I wanted to touch heaven.  I wondered if there was more than one heaven.   ‘Tian’ is the word for ‘Heaven’ in Chinese.  The Chinese believe there are many heavens and Gods.  No matter if there were one or multiple heavens, I wanted to be up there among the skies, the birds, Mother Nature, and, essentially, God’s natural wonders and works of art. 
I tried so hard to touch heaven.  I attempted to climb trees when I was a little girl—a complete failed feat.  I flew on airplanes thousands of feet high.  I sweated up steep and ancient steps in the highest towers in foreign countries.  Being short and closer to gravity made it even more frustrating that I could not reach heaven.  Someday, I was convinced, it would happen.   
It was finally in 2012 when I stared up into the open, vast, and limitless sky after being blessed as a Donate Life Float Rider at the Rose Bowl Parade that I saw balloons fly up and disappear into the sky that it dawned on me that the only way I could touch heaven was if I was a balloon.  My best bet was flying in a hot air balloon, and, so this was created as my #1 Live List item. 
It took from 2012 to 2016 to finally touch heaven because of medical procedures and, especially, no one wanted to accompany me.  People spouted off that I was “crazy,” “bonkers,” and: “I would never do that!”  Many have said and probably will continue to say that I am crazy with how I live my life with my “Live List” at hand.   And, I don’t care.  There comes a point you cannot and do not care what others think and say about you and how you live your life when the only choice is to live your life.  No one is going to live it for you except for you.  I spent so much of my youth overly caring and worrying what others thought, anxious, and serious that I missed out on life and living it.  I do not have regrets, but I certainly am making up for lost time and all the things I did not say and was physically limited to do as a child to now I saying and doing.
My long-time brave soul of a friend for over 20 years finally stepped up and said that she would accompany me.  Irony is that she is scared of heights.  I did not remind her of her fears as I wanted her to be about life, and she was all about life when she proclaimed: “I want to say that I went on a hot air balloon ride!” 
My Dad has always said that his greatest worry about me throughout 34 years of my life is how bold and fearless I am, but now accepts and concludes: “Well, you are going to do whatever you want anyway so just do it.  Live it up!” 
Those were my last words from my father on the phone on the day before I gunned the engine to drive over an hour to New Jersey with my friend while we listened to 1950’s rock n’ roll and contemporary pop music.  This was our first road trip.  We wanted to savor it.  We oohed and ahhed on our travels about our friendship as fast food joints and “Wendys” and “White Castle” popped up.
We both squealed that we have never been to a “White Castle” before and then I said: “Oh, I’ve never been to a Wendys!”
“Yes, you have, Mary!  We went together!”
I could always depend on her to remember my memories.  That’s what happens when you’ve been friends with someone for so long—it’s the kind of friendship where you finish each other’s sentences, you remember for each other, you stick up for one another, and, most of all, you are there for one another when you are going to board a basket to fly up to who knows where. 
My friend and I completely understood the significance and meaning of this combined road trip and hot air balloon ride being about the experience, the ride, and the companionship to really LIVE LIFE.  We were making up for the lost time of our youth when we overly studied, cared, and believed that if we studied hard, worked even harder, and partied less that we would be successes.  Now, over 20 years later, our successes were not in money, a corporate high-end job, or in advanced schooling, but our successes lay in our times together, memories made, and moments lived and savored.  Now, as I get older and as my Live List continues to grow longer, I realize that I no longer wish for ‘things’ in my life, but just wish for experiences with the people I love and care for the most. 
On the night of our hot air balloon ride, we ate cheesy and gooey “grown up” grilled cheese dipped in piping hot tomato bisque soup and stuffed our faces with pizza and burgers.  Lying in bed  in a fancy hotel, we read our “Live Lists” and how we would make them happen.  At 4AM before the sun even rose and when we were wired and tired, we scrambled to get up and did the most important thing before we closed the hotel door to drive in the dark to the 34 annual QuickChek Hot Air Balloon Ride Festival: Pray.  Pray before we were about the live the list item.  Pray before we got to a glimpse of heaven. 
A blast of stifling humidity suffocated us.  It was complete chaos, crowds, and craze when we arrived with no signs and ongoing questions of where we were supposed to go.  I was scared that we would miss the hot air balloon ride and my ride to heaven would not happen.  I held in my bladder out of fear of missing our names to meet our pilot that I had learned about over a year ago.  He was pretty much the only pilot who had hot air balloon baskets with open doors.  I knew my limitation lied in climbing over the basket and a door would be the way to go.  He was friendly, jovial, and I could see the spark and lights in his eyes as the hues of hazy purples and pinks of the sun was rising.  This was the pilot who was going to steer us to heaven.
I wish I could tell you detail for detail what it was like to see all these beautiful, colorful, brilliant, and vibrant balloons lift off and up in the air.  I wish I could tell you word for word and second for second what it was like to step into a basket with a group of complete strangers, my one dearest and long-time friend to accompany me, and a pilot who you could tell absolutely loved his job.  But, this is the thing about moments—they fly and fleet just as fast as they happen as they make their way into memories that you just want to hold on, last, and keep forever.  As the hot air balloon went up, up and away, all my nerves and thrilling exhilaration fell to the wayside.    I did not feel the balloon take off.  I did not feel the balloon move.  I did not feel the balloon land.  All I felt the entire time of this experience as I was floating high above the world below of lush green trees, tiny and perfectly manicured houses, and kidney-bean shaped swimming pools that I was finally as close to heaven as I could possibly be.  Even as we hit 1100 feet and the balloon continued to glide easily in the air, I was quiet and calm, smaller and bigger, shorter and taller than ever before in my life.    It is very humbling and an honor to be with the higher heavens, Mother Nature, and God.
 The descend back to earth and solid ground happened quicker than the ascend to the skies and heaven.  We landed in a stranger’s backyard.  With all the hot air balloon riders and pilot, our plastic cups filled with fruity and tangy lemonade and champagne touched and we rang out a exuberant: “CHEERS!” Cheers to our safe and spectacular experience. Cheers to life. 
It has been more than a week since my hot air balloon ride. The #1 item has been crossed off my list.  The greatest treasures of this hot air balloon ride is  what has happened to my life that led me to board a basket and take flight in the companionship of a valued friend and priceless friendship who ‘got’ the significance of this experience.  The greatest value that has no price at all is my friend and her companionship from the time we scrambled into my car to road trip, flew on the balloon, and landed safely on ground.  A ride in the company of one good friend means the world than a ride by oneself.  It seems like a dream now when I look back.  I suppose, in a sense, the most magical moments feel like a surreal dream.  
Yet, it was not a dream.  I finally did touch heaven.
What is on your Live List?  What have you ALWAYS wanted to do but did not do it because of fear, of what people thought of you, of what people said about you?  Do you feel like you are living YOUR life?  What is your heaven?
Keep smilin’ until we meet again,

Mary ;-) 
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