Memories and Happiness

Fourteen years ago this week, I stopped holding down the only full time job I had ever had; or in short I retired officially. A lot happened that week which also happened to be the beginning of SARS. I recall a friend coming to my retirement party at Pacific Place donning a face mask; and I also remember having to return to the office to clear my personal effects the following week. I would never forget the dinner I organized at Park Lane Hotel to mark my retirement and 55th birthday. It was a dinner for 12 between very close friends; and Rosita was more pensive than usual, even though she put on a broad smile throughout dinner. We had planned to stay for the night at the hotel – it was part of the dinner package – but that was about the only plan I had when I retired. She asked me whether I had any plans for the following morning, for she would like me to accompany her somewhere, at which point I sensed something unusual.

After dinner and when we were in the hotel room by ourselves, Rosita told me for the first time that her doctor would like to see us both the following morning to discuss her treatment plan: she had a relapse. The rest is history. Her conditions had ups and downs for a year during which we were able to travel together until July the following year. I kept day by day notes of what happened for that last two months or so – lest I forget – which ran to more than 20,000 words, in the computer which had since crashed. I had since crashed two or more computers and I thought I would never see the notes again. In any case, I was loathed to go back to the notes and I have so far only shared them with one friend who now stays in Toronto. The other day, I was searching my current computer and accidentally bumped into the notes amongst some old records which my IT friend had retrieved from the old machines. I scanned through them which brought back a lot of memories, of course.

Memories are what would be left as one gets on, good or bad; but at my age, there are no good or bad memories, or for that matter, there is no good or bad. The impermanence of life and the perpetual practices for non-attachment remind me to live for the present moment, that is, if I can remember that.  Nevertheless, no one I know of have succeeded in actively trashing memories permanently unless he or she suffers from some medical conditions. Nor do I think it necessary to do so.

Today is Ching Ming and a public holiday, and a traditional day for Chinese to remember the near and dear to us that have passed before us. At morning Mass, the priest said the Mass would be dedicated to all our dear and departed friends and relatives. We are just over ten days to Good Friday and Easter. The scripture readings from St John is full of the last days of Christ talking to the Jews who refused to accept Him as the Messiah. Jesus told them that they were from the Earth or beneath, while He was from Heaven and above. It was not that the Jews were ignorant of the scriptures; they were all very knowledgeable; it was because they closed their hearts and refused to listen to God.

Aren’t we all like that a lot of the time? Many of us, particular in our youths, would believe that we know all and would not listen to those who tried to make us better persons, until they were gone, very often, forever. Many of these people – my parents, Rosita and her parents, and some others – have often walked into my dreams; and they appeared so vivid at times. Sometimes, I woke up halfway, but was able to fall asleep again and get back into the remaining part of the dreams; or had I been dreaming when I was awake.

Still on Ching Ming, I received from at least two sources today the same lengthy piece on the origin of the festival, citing the story of Jin Cong’er during his exile and before he became Duke Wen of Jin and reigned in the Summer and Autumn Period between 636 and 638 BC, in particular his relationship with his personal friend Jie Zhitui. I would not digress on the details which I am sure you can read from any link on the computer or maybe you have already had that from WhatsApp. Suffice it to say that I first heard of the story from my Primary School Master some 60 years ago; and I still remember the teacher’s face and his name. I was reading at a Primary School in Shau Ki Wan newly opened then by the Tung Wah Group of Hospitals.

And this is what memories are all about. I received many other WhatsApp messages today too. Among them was one attributed to the Pope who said something at a Mass about never giving up being happy. Let me paraphrase a bit, “Being happy is not only valuing the smile, but also reflecting on sadness. It is not just to commemorate success, but to learn lessons in failures. It is not just to have joy with applause, but to have joy in anonymity…..  Being happy is not being afraid of your own feelings. It is knowing how to talk about yourself……”

I hope you stay happy.

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