Yesterday, my woman and I and a few friends and family celebrated a milestone: her 50th birthday. Since she was born in China, the party was Chinese-American and so was the food. Her best friend from China, who has known her since she was 17, said a few words. Then it was my turn to speak. This is what I said—
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Today is February 2. In the US, that is the traditional Groundhog Day. That’s when a fat rodent comes out of his burrow, looks around, and, if he sees his shadow, there will be six more weeks of winter; if not, then there will be an early spring.
But today is L—’s birthday and Groundhog Day is just a coincidence. As it happened, Groundhog Day in 1963, 50 years ago, was also on a Saturday (and, in case you were wondering, the groundhog saw his shadow – but he saw no shadow today). So you might say that today, after 50 winters, L— has cycled from Saturday to Saturday. But 9 years ago she met a man and changed his life.
In fact, when I think of L—, I sometimes think of the number 9, because that number keeps popping up in our past and present in unexpected ways.
I guess you can say L— and I met the modern way. It wasn’t at a bar, or at a dance or through mutual friends. Both of us are computer-savvy, and we found each other through online “personals” postings. I don’t think there is any shame in that; otherwise, I might never have found this exotic, intelligent beauty who was born 50 years ago and 10,000 miles away, but who lived at the time less than 50 miles away.
It was shortly after L—’s 41st birthday, on February 9, 2004, that we first made contact by e-mail. She told me she had been in the US for six years and that what she wants “to do most is to write a book or make a TV show about [her] understanding of America and the difference in culture and many areas between China and the US.” At the time, I was a technical writer for the government, so I thought we might collaborate.
We met in person on Valentine’s Day. After eating and talking at length, L— mentioned that she needed housewares for a townhouse she had just bought. Although I typically enjoy shopping just slightly less than having my wisdom teeth pulled out, I agreed to go shopping with her!
I met her son C—n, which quickly became shortened to C—, when he was 9. My most vivid memory of that meeting was introducing him to my cat in my suburban DC apartment: my cat, who had never hissed at anybody before, hissed loudly at him!
We saw the Cherry Blossoms in Washington, DC, that spring. And it wasn’t long before we knew that we would stay together. L— did have some reservations about the difference in our ages: we were born 9 years apart. She told me I would die first. I told her I have no plans to check out anytime soon and miss even one minute of her company. And you know what? I don’t think we have been apart for more than about 9 days at a time since 2004!
Over the past 9 years, L— and I have gone on 9 cruises and other vacations together: to the Caribbean (in 2005), to Xi’an and Beijing, China, to Bermuda and to the Caribbean again (in 2006), to London, Paris and Rome (in 2007), to the Bahamas (in 2009), to the Western Caribbean (in 2010), to Shanghai, China, and to the Bahamas again (in 2011). Along the way, we learned to call each other “Honey,” in part because I have difficulty pronouncing her Chinese name and she doesn’t quite articulate “Ron.”
Over the past 9 years, along with giving me lots of practice with chopsticks, or kuàizi (筷子), L— has introduced me to the concept of really working for a living by being your own boss: first in her home construction business, and later in the assisted living business. The only difference I find with salaried employment is that the line between your life and your living gets really blurred. That’s not a bad thing: L— and I have a better life together, I believe, than either of us had apart.
This is not to say that there have been no strains in the relationship. We don’t always agree on everything. It was the chewing gum industrialist William Wrigley Jr, who said (and I’m paraphrasing), “When two [people] in business always agree, one of them is unnecessary.”
On the other hand, there is a basic compatibility in our character and in our politics and in our philosophies of life that, while not identical, seems to complement the other. We are Yin and Yang (阴阳). How appropriate that L—’s ancestors are Chinese and mine are American! We put the lie to the Rudyard Kipling ballad which says,
East is East and West is West, and never the twain shall meet.
In fact, if you read a little further in Kipling’s ballad, you find the truth for L— and me:
But there is neither East nor West, Border, nor Breed, nor Birth,
When two strong [souls] stand face to face, though they come from the ends of the earth!
That, I think is the strength of our relationship. And 9 years is not a bad start. Indeed, 9 is not a bad number. In Chinese culture, so I am told, 9 (九 pinyin jiǔ) is considered a good number because it sounds the same as the word for "longlasting" (久 pinyin jiǔ). If you will allow me to be serious a moment, I have four quotes to prove it:
• Love is composed of a single soul inhabiting two bodies.
~Aristotle (Ἀριστοτέλης), 384BCE–322BCE
• Being deeply loved by someone gives you strength, while loving someone deeply gives you courage.
~Laozi (老子), 500s BCE
• Love is like a friendship caught on fire. In the beginning a flame, very pretty, often hot and fierce, but still only light and flickering. As love grows older, our hearts mature and our love becomes as coals, deep-burning and unquenchable.
~Bruce Lee (李小龍), 1940–1973
• I love you without knowing how, or when, or from where. I love you straightforwardly, without complexities or pride; I love you because I know no other way that this: where I do not exist, nor you, so close that your hand on my chest is my hand, so close that your eyes close as I fall asleep.
~Pablo Neruda, 1904–1973
Those are other people’s words. Here are my own: Spring will come, whether or not the groundhog sees his shadow for the 9th time since we’ve been together. You saw me through my 50th birthday and, 9 years later, you look even better to me on your 50th birthday than on the day we met! Is there an end in sight? Let me offer you another homophone, another sound-alike word: the German word for “no” is nein!
Happy 50th birthday, honey. I love you and I’ll see you to 100!
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Hitchens says, "I'm an atheist. I'm not neutral about religion, I'm hostile to it. I think it is a positively bad idea, not just a false one. And I mean not just organized religion, but religious belief itself."