My Birthday Month
Until last week, I had logged in the inbox of my laptop over 4,000 emails, half of which were marked unread. They were there mainly because my desktop PC failed at some point or other and because I carried my laptop with me during my travels. Most if not all of the unread emails had actually been read elsewhere or somehow, but I was too lazy to purge them.
Then one morning last week, I got up in the wee hours wanting to do something to these files. I began managing these emails which dated back to August 2009. I should point out that these were not all the emails I received since then, but rather they represented the emails received on the laptop. I decided to file the ones that I might find useful when I could not access my desktop PC and the ones to which I felt attached. The process took longer, much longer than I had thought. By the time I had cleared the inbox, I was thoroughly exhausted, physically and mentally; and I slept for the rest of the day. Such is how attachment can waste a person, even one who professes that he has had some mindfulness training.
I was re-living periods of my life in the last 20 months or so, which were marked by untimely departures of close friends or relatives of friends, by agonizing periods of reporting on service projects, by managing meetings from abroad, by apologies for inability to attend events in Hong Kong, and most recently, by birthday messages, mostly through Facebook. I would save you going through with me most of the scenes in this period, but I cannot resist paraphrasing an email I wrote to my HKU classmates of the late Sixties.
It was November 2009. We had had a reunion dinner in Hong Kong. It was rather well attended, with quite a few from North America, but two classmates were conspicuously absent. A classmate who came from Canada took many pictures at the Reunion and put them up on the Internet. This was my response.
“…. I finally got round to looking at these pictures in the small hours of Monday. Co-incidentally, I went to a dinner party Sunday night held to mark the 50th anniversary of Fr. Deignan”s ordination as a priest. Many of you would know Fr. Deignan, who is 82, who survived at least one major operation about ten years ago and who outlived his surgeon. During the dinner, someone circulated two photos which had yellowed and were in faded colour. They must have been taken in the mid-70s. I found myself in one of them. We then had a game of guessing who is who in the photos. It was great fun and it brought tears and laughter and so on; for quite a few were in the party. I mention the two photos because most people have great difficulties recognizing faces in old photos, unlike the pictures now being circulated, which captured the present, so that I can recognize everyone in the photos readily and easily. All of a sudden, it seems that we all haven”t changed that much. I believe it has to do with relativity. As we all change at similar rates, we won”t be able to recognize the changes in each other. Besides, the changes are all good changes. All of us have become mellower, gentler and kinder-looking; and it would not be an over-statement to say that we all exude charm. Indeed, I would not like to go back and re-live all those years even if it could be done. Once upon a time, we were best at making fun of each other and we enjoyed pulling each other”s legs and even rejoiced at other”s miseries. I”d like to believe that we are now too busy enjoying each other”s presence and discovering each other”s strengths so that we all seem flawless. I have thoroughly enjoyed the party and I am happy that all of you like Su. She loves you all, because she loves me. We must not wait too long for another party. We certainly can do this more often…”
Father Deignan has recently celebrated his 84th birthday, having recently undertaken a heart bypass surgery during which the doctor planted a pacemaker in his heart. Sadly, the two classmates who did not turn up at the November 2009 Reunion passed away, one in August 2010 while I was travelling and the other, in December 2010.
Back to the present, I celebrated my traditional birthday recently. I am happy that I received some 100 messages within that week, thanks to Facebook. Facebook is indeed conducive to social networking. It is simply great. I am sure I wouldn’t have received so many birthday messages without the network. I received messages from friends of all ages, old and new, classmates of a number of institutions, people whom I haven’t seen or communicated with for quite sometime, and even from friends of friends. I treasure them all. At some point, I put out a note to thank everyone under the sun, but then thought that I could do better. I began to reply to every message; at least I tried. Soon I learnt that I could improve on my Facebook skills, for quite a few of the messages I thought I sent out might not have reached their recipients. Maybe I would facebook them later.
I said earlier that I celebrated my traditional birthday: let me explain. Now, I was born in China and without a birth certificate. My mother told me that I was born on the seventh day of the third lunar month in Canton. At school, however, we were asked to fill forms with the date of birth by western reckoning, so I added a month to make my official date of birth fall on seventh of April, which date later found its way into my identity card and all official documents. In the days when reading horoscope was in vogue, I always identified myself as an Arian and enjoyed assuming a fiery personality traditionally associated with individuals born under the sign and influenced by the Planet Mars.
Then one day I received a letter through the post. The calligraphy on the cover was distinctly my mother’s, and indeed my mother had sent me the cover. It was at a time she was diagnosed with some difficult health conditions and she was sort of preparing for her exit. Nevertheless, my mother had not written me a letter, but had instead sent me a very ancient document, apparently written at the time of my birth or shortly after that. There was my exact date and time of birth, represented by eight Chinese characters in the traditional manner, together with a forecast on the major events of my life, apparently written by a geomancer, in neat Chinese traditional brush calligraphy, on a rather large piece of neatly folded paper, red on one side, but with colours fading on the edges.
To cut the long story short, I consulted some conversion tables and learnt that my date of birth was towards the end of April rather than in the first week of that month, which would mean that I was born under the sign of Taurus rather than Aries.
Well, at least I have got the month of my date of birth right more than half a century ago when I coined my date of birth. And after so many years, it is nice to know. It would be too late and too troublesome to change past records. Besides, it won’t be too practical. Moreover, I have no proof that that piece of paper is authentic, highly persuasive though its appearance is. So now I have turned to celebrate my birthday month instead; and I am ready to have more celebrations when the conditions are ready or conducive.
Talk to you later.