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.
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
Who can move on the fastest? Who is more miserable? Who is better at pretending they are okay and well-adjusted? Which one of us can still look at the world with the same refreshing optimism?
Off the heels of a break-up, I feel like this is the unspoken competition that couples embark on. Which one of us can sweep our relationship under the rug best? It is a sad commentary on the way people view emotions and the depth of our time with someone. A series of beautiful memories are reduced to a thing we should quickly get rid of, because who wants to be the last one wallowing?
When I was younger, I felt no shame in being transparent with my feelings–elation, sadness, joy. When I was sad, I spoke brazenly about how much my heart hurt on whatever form of social media was available at the time (ie: Xanga, facebook before it was widely used). I posted lyrics or quotes that un-subtly hinted at my pain, or shared songs that outlined my heartbreak. I was unafraid of how I would be perceived and relieved to let out my emotions. I was young and naive.
Then I grew up, as did the avenues of social media, and I realized how pouring out your hurt is perceived as weakness and pitiful. I realized that in today’s swipe-left, swipe-right, attention deficit society, dwelling on our emotional injuries is seen as abnormal and irrational. Moving on is seen as a positive, self-affirming action. It means you know your worth, and recognize your value.
So I did what most people did: hid all remnants of me and you and never once hinted at the pain I was going through. No sad lyrics, or provocative quotes, no mention of you, or us. Everything calculated to ensure that no one could construe that anything was wrong, that I gave you a second thought, or that you still lingered in my dreams. And it sucks.
But here is the thing that no body knows…Our relationship is something I never wanted to pretend didn’t happen, to be swept under the rug, to be forgotten. It happened, it was the happiest I’d ever been in my life and it makes me sick to my stomach to act otherwise. My love for you was never some flippant decision, and my heart was never something freely distributed.
The key to everything in life, I’ve realized, is to accept that it is arbitrary. No matter how we wish to romanticize it with talks of fate, destiny and meant-to-be’s, the only truth is that for every reason, there are even more unexplainable’s. There is no invisible guiding hand that pushes us down one path or the other. We just retrospectively justify that we are supposed to be where we are.
It gives us an ignorant solace, because it is too difficult to accept that every string of events is nothing more than orderly chaos or chance. I believe in the opposite. It is easier to accept the most destitute situations by realizing that there is no “greater plan.” Things happen just because, so stop weaving together a fantasy to pacify our fears and insecurities.
There is no point in obsessing over what could have been or what was. There are no signs from the universe, clairvoyant premonitions or foretelling dreams–just random incidences that we piece together in hopes of giving life meaning.
There comes a point where you stop crying, not because it hurts less, but because it has become exhausting. The thought of shedding tears makes you feel physically tired and know that it doesn’t change a damn thing. There comes a point of no return, when it is easier to keep walking than to turn around and remember the devastation.
We are here now because choices were made, things were said, and they cannot be taken back. In fact, these decisions and words have overrun my mind, and it becomes increasingly difficult for me to remember why I was so heartbroken. There comes a point where I cannot subject myself to feeling miserable anymore.
I keep walking, and the further away I get, the harder it is to come back. I don’t believe there is any turning back, even though the pain is still tender. I’ve decided to bury that pain into the depths of the past, so that every time it tries to surface, I redirect.
This is the way life goes, and I was foolish to believe things would have turned out any differently. I was foolish to believe in positive outcomes, that for once in my life, I could have it all. Even in the thick of happiness, I was unable to fully experience it or accept it because it all felt like a dream, too good to be reality.
I have learned that though some things, like the tranquility of a summer hike or the vastness of the Grand Canyons, can be enjoyed alone; most experiences are more fulfilling with the person I love. Sunny days make me miss him the most, but so do drizzly days nestled indoors watching the television, or things as mundane as going to the grocery store.
It’s funny how something as boring and tedious as grocery shopping became little adventures; it was never just a chore. Everyday felt special with him, even if it was just coming home after a day of work, popping a frozen pizza in the oven and watching the latest Marvel series on Netflix together. Waiting to hear his footsteps on the steps outside my apartment never became ordinary.
I always question whether people who believe they are better off alone truly mean it. Some people are perfectly content living out their lives solo with perhaps a dog or cat as companionship. But I wonder, as humans, do any of us actually believe that happiness can be found in a life not shared?