Wednesday, August 24, 2011

Ho Chi Minh City and Thoughts on Letting Go

At the moment I'm taking it a bit easy while awaiting a friend's arrival.  Yesterday I went out twice to take photos.  The two hours in the morning were very productive.  The afternoon would have been had the thunder not started along with a few drops.  I was about 15 minutes from the house.  As it turned out I could have stayed out about 45 minutes longer but then the skies opened up with thunder, lighting, and pouring driving rain.  The storm continued for hours.  As one of the men explained.  The north of Vietnam has four seasons.  The south has two: rainy and not. We are in rainy.  

Today, 24 August is my 14th anniversary of entering the Society.  A few thoughts below before the photos which will include an illustrated guide to crossing the streets during morning rush hour in Ho Chi Minh City.

Letting Go.

How do any of us make transitions through the course of our lives?  How often has anyone who has reached 45 or 60 or older had to let go of the familiar in order to change, in order to move forward or to cope with a new reality that may be determined by illness, disability, or the death of someone, a job promotion requiring a long distance move, or even the birth of a child, a joyous event that entails both gain and loss, the latter of which is only discussed in whispers?  

In the glow of being one week out of tertianship and on the 14th anniversary of entering religious life, my morning meditation turned to the image of the trapeze artist, an image suggested in Henri Nouwen’s book Turn My Mourning Into Dancing where he considers trapeze artists in the circus.  As I was reading it hit me that fourteen years ago I did the biggest release maneuver of my life by walking into the Arrupe House novitiate in Jamaica Plane, MA at 3:00 PM that afternoon. Everything that was familiar and easy was gone:  practice, house on ten acres, Ford Bronco (still miss it), my sense of who I was and what I did.  In retrospect it seems that one of the most difficult aspects of novitiate was not having a job description, a role with which to identify.  Novice is an amorphous job description at best, especially since until 7 August I was professor and physician.   

I was caught in very strong hands but the arc of the release, the time suspended in mid-air with nothing but gravity below me, was measured not in the few seconds of the trapeze artist’s release at the circus but in terms of years.  At times it feels as is I am still repeating that release despite God’s firm grasp on my wrists, a grasp that has never weakened. 

I think St. Ignatius would understand the feeling.  In the Principle and Foundation he wrote about the release as indifference.  Indifference to health vs. sickness, a long life vs. a short life, wealth vs. poverty and so on.  For most of us, life is a combination of all of the above and then “some”, “some” being unique to us, known only to us and to God.  The secret fears and anger, the indescribable joys, the moments of secure repose and those of agitated anguish.  Though none of us is confronted with release moves on a daily basis they do recur during life.  Choosing to marry.  Realizing that one must leave a relationship.  Making a big career change.  Retiring.  Finally getting serious about quitting smoking.  Choosing to end chemotherapy.  And the final release when we move from life to eternal life.  That is the only one over which we have no control, the only one when we can't say, 'just a second'.

Fourteen years and counting. 
The following are mostly street scenes from yesterday morning in District 3 which is the location of the Jesuit house.   The first shows the steady stream of motor cycles and scooters coming into the courtyard.  No, it is not free parking.  They are picking up their parking tickets at the gate.  Pay at the end of the day. 

I won't even try to give the street name as I don't have a Vietnamese keyboard.  Or any knowledge of Vietnamese for that matter.  

The next two show two scenes along a canal about 1/2 mile from the house.  The man fascinated me.  I was looking out and noticed him walking when he stopped and reached into his pocket for what looked like a cell phone.  The other is the scene from the same bridge on the opposite side of the street.

Moon festival decorations.  I cannot wait to get to Taipei to eat some moon cakes.  A small piece goes a long way as they are dense.  The festival is similar to U.S. Thanksgiving.  It too is marked by travel and huge traffic jams. 
Here is a street vendor setting up for her work. 
A man repairing a wheel on the sidewalk. 
A woman pushing her fruit cart in the middle of traffic (more on traffic in a moment). 
There were multiple markets on the narrow side streets jutting off the main drag.  The motor cycles came down those too.  This vendor is sitting hear her produce. 


Find and older woman who looks experienced but isn't on a walker or crutches.  If she is carrying something so much the better.  Look casual.  Try not to whimper as the traffic whizzes by.

Pretend you are with her but just behind.  Try not to look like a stalker or potential mugger.  Remember, you are a guest here, a foreigner who may have serious trouble communicating.  Your passport is back in your room.  Your driver's license has just expired.  Follow cautiously.  Let her do the looking.  Fix your gaze on her hat. 

You are standing in the middle of traffic which is zooming around you on both sides and doesn't care.  Stay close to grandma.  Do not panic.  Do not scream MOMMMMMMY! and grab her hand.  Keep walking at a steady pace gaze fixed on her hat.  The cyclists see you.  They will adjust.  Keep telling yourself that.  And begin "O my God, I am heartily sorry . . 

I have actually waited on street corners until someone else was crossing so I could, in Tour de France terminology, sit in their draft.  They are the experts I am merely a foreigner who has no clue.  Humility comes in many varieties. 

Thanks Grandma.  You got me across again. 

+Fr. Jack, SJ

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