To laugh and mourn

To laugh and mourn
My thoughts waver between birth and death these days. Sure, that would seem obvious: every thought we have happens in that in-between space, right? But that’s not what I’m talking about. I’m not in the middle, but at the ends. And it’s a weird place to be: at both times thinking of death and birth, the already and not-yet, of what has come and what is to come.

On one end, I’m thinking a lot about my future son these days: Isaiah Choung. Yes, the Ice-man cometh. We still need a Korean middle name, but in a few weeks or so, a crying, wrinkled pink lump of flesh will arrive in our tired, weary arms. Our friends say stuff like, “Get all the sleep you can now!” or “Go to nice restaurants and movies, because you won’t be able to later!” and I have to wonder if they’re being helpful or inwardly grinning with glee that someone else will suffer the same tortures they’ve been through.

I can only think about my son in the future tense. But that’s exciting: the best is yet to come. I want him to be a man full of hope. Yes, in tune with reality, but even in the middle of the junk, I hope he fiercely clings onto to the idea that a better world is possible. My prayer these days is: Please, Lord, let him do more good than harm. My hope is that he’ll be an agent of the Kingdom Come, that he’ll do justice, love mercy and walk humbly with God. Is that too much to ask? See, I’m already becoming an Asian parent, loading him down with dreams he can’t possibly fulfill on his own. Should his middle name be “Harvard” instead?

I wonder what kind of Dad I’ll be. Disciplinarian? Hippie-friend with few boundaries? “Here, Ice, take these shot glasses and Hennessey’s and drink in the basement. If you’re going to drink with your buddies, you might as well do it here under our roof.” And his friends will think I’m cool, though I’m sure he’ll still be embarrassed. Will I micro-manage? Or will I sit him down and train him on how to prepare a mission statement for his life: “Here’s a great book by Stephen Covey, Ice. Think about what you’ll want written on your tombstone”? And he’ll say, “But dad, I’m only three.” I have no idea what kind of dad I’ll be, or what kind of son he’ll be. What will we do if he’s a reclusive introvert that thinks his parents talk too much? Is that genetically possible?

Yet, on the other end, I have a dear friend who’s only 32, and has been confined to a hospital bed for over two years. He’s not doing well. I think of the past, and of memories. And as I scroll through old pictures saved on my computer, my hand instinctively reaches out to him. He always had this goofy, cheesy smile. And it doesn’t even feel right using the past tense.

Life just throws us too much change. I wish we could just hit the pause button on life, and let it freeze on the best parts. Relatives wouldn’t leave, friends wouldn’t move away. It would be just like the pictures, and that’s good because some of the best smiles are captured in stills — even if that day was full of quarrels. I guess we all wish for that. One day, that Kingdom will come.

But for now, I’m caught between two worlds: new life and death, joy and mourning. A wise man once said there is a time to laugh and a time to mourn, but he didn’t say I’d be doing both at the same time.

And I have no control over either of these events. I wish I did. I’d try to make things better. And I wonder why it takes God so long to make things better. And why are things here so temporary, so fleeting? I wish it were more permanent, like Teflon or Twinkies. But things here are only shadows, hints of what’s to come. What’s interesting is that shadows are cast from a real object when it crashes into a great light. So shadows, however fleeting, are connected to something real. So I’ll do my best to hope, and wait for the greater light.