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.

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  1. Naming your kid after a prophet is all right, I guess, but I think you should drop the first “a” and let him follow in the footsteps of the greatest pure point guard of all time.

    And about your friend (who, if he is the same person I am thinking of, also used to be a point guard back in the day) — hopefully his loved ones can take some comfort in the knowledge that he has changed a lot of lives for the better.


  2. because i know you’d appreciate it … isaiah is ????? and the root (???) means deliverance

    ???? ???! ????


  3. Eddie — we actually thought about that, but I forgot that he doesn’t spell it the same way. Bummer.

    And Bry — thanks! “Deliverance” also means “salvation” and “healing,” and after the root is “-iah” which is short of “Yahweh.” So the range of possible meanings for Isaiah is “deliverance/salvation/healing of the Lord.” But I haven’t seen it in Hebrew — looks great!


  4. Ice is the coolest nickname I’ve ever heard. That right there will make you the ultimate cool dad.

    Fleeting and temporary. The more time passes, the more painfully aware of this I become. Jobs change. People come and go. Friends are lost to long-distance moves, tension, time, or death. And that last one, you never want to believe even when you know it’s coming.


  5. My dear friend passed away yesterday on June 27. Please pray for his wife and parents.


  6. Interesting how birth and death bring us close to the reality of things even though most of our existence is in between those two as you say.


  7. I’m caught! You are so right that I inwardly laugh in glee whenever a friend will soon suffer the joys of parenthood.


  8. challenging questions and challenging realities… life doesn’t stop and there is a bitter yet sweet reality of the passing of time. Makes me think of ecclesiastes.

    as for the name… Isaiah is close to my own name… so that is to the good.


  9. james, sorry to hear about your friend, and congrats on having a baby soon! at first, i was like, “ice-man?”…then it slowly came to me. ;)


  10. Shilpa Hattangadi November 18, 2007 at 4:33 pm

    I am so glad to have found you again, James.
    Congrats on the gorgeous baby boy!
    I will try to find your email and email you!



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