Wednesday, November 7, 2018

Old Things Made New

Recently, China has become a part of my day-to-day life again. I started tutoring in Chinese (which happens to involve cooking Chinese food once a week), I'm reading a book about China, watched a very long show in Chinese, and I'm considering applying for work teaching Chinese students. Suddenly, I'm thinking in Chinese again.

It feels good in a way I'm not quite able to articulate. It's not exactly happy or exciting (though it's not not those things), nor is it purely nostalgic, because it's not a repetition of the past. New words, new books, new ideas, new insight, new faces. It's not exactly something that's always been there, because it's specific to this point in time. Maybe it's like a piece of clay that I carry with me. It's always there in a formless state, but it's not alive nor does it carry specific meaning unless I put my hand to it and shape it.

I like the way Chinese sounds. Familiar, but also with infinite unexplored corners. I like picking it out in a crowd, like a code that most people can't decipher. When we were out trick-or-treating last week, I heard a man on his cell phone, saying to his older relative on the other end, "how are your eyes?" These moments are like being brushed with the beam of a lighthouse, directed at me. I like being able to speak a second tongue without effort, even if I rarely use it. Like an old locket that's always around my neck, but hasn't been opened in a long time. It's like opening the door of your home after a long trip away, and recognizing its smell that you can't decipher when you've been living in the midst of it. The rooms are the same, but you have changed. You walk through the house and you open the windows. A fresh breeze shifts the scents, not unpleasantly.

(W.T. Benda)

I am wary of ever saying I've healed from something. Healing seems to be a key that unlocks new doors that held previously restricted areas in need of healing. I am wary of saying that reconnecting with part of me that wants to be steeped in a Chinese life is a turning point, rather than a blip.

Sometimes I think TCKs (Third Culture Kids) are afraid to be healed. What are we, without the special concoction of pain and lack-of-belonging and misunderstood-ness and identity crises that we all recognize and embrace as our Third Culture? It's a beloved culture and it's something that gives us a place with one another, so what will be left to feel if we whittle away the sharp edges of that community bond? The sharp edges that poke us into remembrance, even if the memories are painful? What is left to understand if not for being misunderstood? What is to be shared if not for a sense that no one can fully share with us?

The good parts of being a TCK are often specific to the cultures that make us up. The bad parts are universally understood by TCKs. So I'm stuck thinking that:
To heal is to let go.
To let go is to forget.
To forget is to lose my identity.

Therefore I must not heal entirely.

I know there are flaws in that progression, but it's my perception. I've gone through that process to a degree and simply built a new identity. I am rooted in America now. I don't always think of myself as American in the same way that non-TCK Americans are American, but America is my home now, none the less. That's why sudden immersion into Chinese customs and thoughts and entertainment and language has me...unable to define how I feel about it. It might be healing. But it might also be ripping off a scab. Re-breaking a bone that didn't set correctly. I don't want to break, but I do want to heal.

I've wanted my identity to be in the homeless, stateless, wandering community where I understand the terms, bitter as they are. But it's purgatory. It does not sustain full life. If I am a tree, I wanted my roots to suck life from both sides of the ocean, but I simply am not big enough to do both well. And to let one half of the roots thrive means letting the other half wither. And it's a dreadful thing to choose. For a tree to grow, it must allow its roots to run deep.

I don't know if I can do it, or if it's a one time decision at all, but maybe China is a place that can be a part of me going forward, not just always looking back. Maybe I can let go and grab on anew at the same time. I will inevitably forget things, but maybe also remember a few things, and make new memories that are informed by a foundation that is blurry now. Maybe I can identify myself in a realm that encompasses more than loss of things I've loved. 

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