Earthquakes

I’ve felt three of them in my lifetime. First, the 2011 Virginia earthquake: I had just returned from a summer in Korea and was staying with my family in the Maryland suburbs. My grandmother and I were the only ones home when the ground started shaking; it felt just like a passing train, so I didn’t really take note of it at first, until I remembered that there weren’t actually any train tracks nearby. I stumbled down the hall and asked my grandmother (in Croatian)–“is this an earthquake?” She nodded, not the least bit concerned–she’d been through many quakes in her long life and knew when to worry.

And then, last year, I was in Hiroshima on vacation when the 2016 Kyushu Earthquakes struck, waking me up two nights in a row in my hotel: first the largest foreshock, and then the 7.0 main quake, which to my inexperienced self felt massive (much bigger than the Virginia quake), but which still was weak enough where I was, more than a hundred miles away, to not do any damage.

(Nearer the epicenter, it was a different story, of course–damage in the Kumamoto area was fairly extensive, but Hiroshima was as close as I got.)

A few days later, I saw a solitary, elderly European tourist at Haneda Airport, carrying a gift bag from Kumamoto Castle. He must have had an unexpectedly interesting vacation.

The entire experience rendered the rest of my trip–stops in Yokohama and then Taipei–a little surreal; all the lost sleep left me in a near-fugue state. I need to get back to Taipei some day, in a better state of mind: I hardly remember what I did for my three days there.

I don’t have any particular motive for writing about this now, to be honest. I just couldn’t sleep last night, and the occasional rumble of passing trucks brought back memories.

Marija Tresnjak

My grandmother passed away yesterday, peacefully in her sleep. She spent the last few days of her life surrounded by her family and friends. A doctor once told her she’d never live past age 45; she lived to 88.

She saw a lot in those 88 years. She grew up on a barge on the Danube–born, by her own account, at a Romani village by the shore because her parents couldn’t make it to a hospital. As a young woman, fearless, she took up skydiving at a time when it was a brand new idea. She survived the horrors of the second world war, worked with the Yugoslav Partisans, and shared her first kiss with a Jewish stowaway her family smuggled to safety. Her beloved older brother fought with the Partisans, and survived the war only to be shot by his best friend in a dispute over a girl.

When her daughter married an American diplomat and moved to the United States, she and her son followed not long after; they were a tight-knit little family and couldn’t bear to be apart. With her lack of English she had trouble finding work here, so instead she helped raise me and my sister. I always told my friends she was more like a third parent to me than a grandparent.

Of all the people in my family, she was the one who always understood me the best–and the amazing thing is that every single one of us can probably say that. She was not only a grandparent to me, but also often a surrogate grandparent to my friends; she was endlessly generous with her patience, her kindness, and her (usually mischievous) sense of humor.

She was always trying to convince me to be healthier (while, in true Slavic grandmother style, also offering me enormous amounts of food at every opportunity). The next-to-last thing she said to me, lying on her deathbed, was: “You’re so beautiful. I love you so much. Have you lost weight?” She repeated it about ten times.

In the last few years, as her health declined, I’d often sit by her bedside showing her the latest pictures from space, and telling her about stars and exoplanets and black holes and distant galaxes. She never had much interest in science fiction, but was utterly fascinated by science fact. The very last time she spoke to me, she asked me–struggling to get each word out–whether their were any new pictures from Ceres. Curious to the very end.

Yesterday, the Supreme Court ruling came down making same-sex marriage the law of the land. My mother and uncle joyously told her. We don’t know if she heard, but if she did it would have made her incredibly happy. Just a couple hours later, she passed, according to my mother with a “not bad” expression on her face. She was wearing my rainbow bracelet from Pride.

She adamantly didn’t believe in God, but she often said she believed in reincarnation–although she always said so with such a mischievous twinkle in her eye that I’m still not sure whether she was just messing with me or not. If there’s a heaven, I’m sure she’s there now; if reincarnation is real, I’m sure she’s being born again as something totally amazing as we speak. Regardless, she lives on with all of us.

She was the best person I’ve ever known. Let’s all try to be a little better in her memory: a little kinder, a little braver, a little more generous and patient.

Polska_224

I’ll Be Right There

This passage from Kyung-sook Shin’s novel I’ll Be Right There has got me reflecting on my own life today; I’ve had these thoughts so many times over the past few years. (This paragraph is from near the end of the book, although it doesn’t really spoil anything, in case you care about that sort of thing.)

“I’ll never forget what I saw that day. I think that’s why I never married. The memory has faded, but it never goes away. That’s why I am not going to tell you two to get over the things you have gone through. You should think about them and think about them and think about them some more. Think about them until you can’t think anymore. Don’t stop questioning the unjust and puzzling. Maybe if I had gotten there by the date written in her letter, I could have saved her. But then again, maybe her death was already planned, and all she wanted was for me to find her. Human beings are imperfect. We are complicated, indefinable by any wise saying or moral. The guilt, wondering what I’d done wrong, will follow me my whole life like my own shadow. The more you love someone, the stronger that feeling is. But if we cannot despair over the things we’ve lost, then what does it all mean?”

 (Adding to the odd feelings, I and the person this reminded me of had both read Shin’s other novel available in English translation–Please Look After Mom, also wonderful–shortly before her passing.)