I miss the ignorance of our youth when we could actually feel and ride the highs and lows of emotions, both happiness and sadness thrown in opposite throngs towards joy or despair. As an adult, everything we experience has to be rationalized. Everything has to be logically worked through so much that we are never fully able to be in the moment with the sensations that make us feel human.
My rating: 4 of 5 stars
This book was a bit slow during the first half and the prose at times painfully grandiloquent to the point where it felt forced. I really had to will myself through the first half of the book, knowing it would take a turn at some point given the novel’s subject matter. Having just finished, I think the contrast between Raami’s flowery recount of life in the first half of the book was written intentionally to show the effects of war and genocide. The closer you get to the end of the story, the more grisly the depiction of life through her eyes. Despite the fact that the narration was that of a seven year old girl, I read the book as more of the author’s memoir and her retrospection. As a Cambodian with parents who also survived the Khmer Rouge Regime, I initially started this book with some reservations and prejudgment, but overall I actually really enjoyed it and felt it was authentic to the country and its people. I saw a lot of my mother in Aana, Raami’s mother. In the Shadow of the Banyan is a story that focuses more on the human spirit rather than a deep dive into the hellish nightmare that Cambodia endured. In this sense, it remains true to the experience because ultimately the human spirit and our tenacity to live is the only story that matters in the thick of devastation and persecution.
When we were younger, and our heart breaks, it felt like the end of the world–as if the ground would open up and swallow us whole in chaos.
When we are older, we know that the world will not end and that indeed, life goes on. But with age, so does our pain mature in that the feeling of hurt is rooted in reality. The reality is that as days pass, we are psychologically compelled to forget and mend ourselves.
In this sense, our heart heals but instead we are introduced to a new type of pain. This pain does not grab you in one fell swoop, but rather gnaws at you with numbing persistence. The sorrow in understanding that what once was beautiful no longer exists, and continues to fade. The disappointment in knowing with every morning, it will continue to become a distant memory, in knowing that it will be replaced. There is pain in wondering how something and someone who made us so happy could become nothing more than a faint imprint on our lives. The pain in not wanting to let it go, but having no other choice.
Love is our true destiny. We do not find the meaning of life by ourselves alone – we find it with another. – Thomas Merton, Love and Living
I spent the later part of my twenties watching my mother succumb to Alzheimer’s. If you’ve ever personally known (not just met) anyone who endured this disease, you will know that it is not just about memory loss. Alzheimer’s disease is like watching the process of the soul leaving the physical body, gradually, slowly and permanently.
During those years, I think something inside me broke. I used to approach life with so much optimism, and hope. I used to be able to experience the highs of happiness and the crashes of despair. I believed that everything had purpose and ultimately some divine construction. But now, I feel that all my feelings and emotions have been muted.
Both joy and sadness lack extremes, and my heart and head are often conflicted except I’m unsure which one, if either, is right. Whenever I experience good things or bad things, I often feel like my heart constricts, cutting it off before I am able to actually process. Though I am going through the experience, I am never able to truly feel it as it was meant to be felt.
If what one finds is made of pure matter, it will never spoil. And one can always come back. If what you had found was only a moment of light, like the explosion of a star, you would find nothing on your return. – Paul Coelho, The Alchemist
I took the bus into work yesterday and seeing how it was Friday, decided to skip filling my tumbler with coffee from home in lieu of a quick stop at a downtown Starbucks. The thrill of Friday was definitely in the air, paired with the uncharacteristic upbeat music playing in the coffee shop. Walking through the streets of Seattle with my iced latte in hand, I realized that since purposely avoiding the downtown scene for the past few years, the people of this city have become increasingly fashionable and trendy.
Watching the people bustling to work that morning made me also realize that for the first time in a while, I felt a small sense of joy. I’m not sure if it was because I was living vicariously through the strangers passing me on the street–each dressed to the nines, and undoubtedly ready to power through the work day in time for cocktails–but I felt and embraced the liveliness.
Being in a relationship made me a suburban homebody, and perhaps a part of me missed the exhilaration of that carefree, city life. I’m not sure if it was the joy that brought on the sadness, or whether it was standing in the shadows all along, but I suddenly felt an overwhelming wave of emotion as I got closer to work. I did not think it was possible to feel both joy and sadness at the same time.
For some reason, catching myself in a state of happiness after being miserable for the past few months brought on a catharsis. I found myself sad that I was happy. I was sad that I was able to finally see the good in a world without him. I was sad that in that moment, I did not care about where he was, or what he was doing. I was sad to realize that I could go on.
Deep down, however, I know that I have outgrown the fast-paced, mile-a-minute lifestyle filled with grande americanos in the morning and vodka sodas in the evening. I know that these had been replaced by something deeper and more meaningful. But on that Friday morning, I remembered what it was like to be happy, if only for a moment.