Skip to Content, Navigation, or Footer.
Sunday, June 23, 2024
The Observer

Going home

A land, my land, sits quietly across the ocean. Its scent, my scent, permeated the air, the air in the Chicago airport, far away from my vast land. I watched planes landing and taking off and felt summer dying and fall growing. I was about to set off for a place where a piece of home exists.

Does one see more when she is up in the air? I remembered that foggy morning 15 years ago when my mom brought me to see the sunrise on Mountain Thai. That was my first time seeing a sea of clouds below my feet, and for a minute, I seriously thought I was dead and that I was in that place they called heaven. And I clearly remembered that I told my mom that I sensed God’s presence. For some reason, I finally saw the possibility that there could be gods above me because there’s space for them. How good and peaceful it all was. Being above others persuaded me of the existence of the supernatural, and at times I wondered if those lofty gods in Chinese legends also realized their existence that way.

When our plane finally reached the same level as the moon, I saw her developing a glowing shade of orange. The city was sleeping peacefully below us. What a pity, I thought, maybe one day the moon would, as the old Chinese legends went, become a beautiful lady and come down to where we live, to the sleeping neighborhoods and noisy city centers, and lose herself in the sounds of partying pubs. She could get drunk and maybe even black out among the jobless people, and they would find her one of them. Then, in those Chinese legends, the God of Two Young Men would say, “Moon, you shall be punished and never return to the sky, for you have voluntarily debased yourself to the lower kind.”

Nobody owned a Samsung Notebook 7. The plane landed. The lower kinds were all so safe, God of Two Young Men, do not worry about us. I walked into one of my favorite places in the world — the grand airport arrival hall. It is a strange place full of reunions, with people and with land. I saw college freshmen coming home with their parents holding a “YOU MADE IT” sign, businessmen dressed in suits, eyes fixed on their phones, walking tiredly into airport hotels, pilots talking about the sky, eyes forward, secretly enjoying passengers’ admiring glances. However, I think nothing illustrates the definition of reunion better than a couple does. I saw a woman running into the arms of her boyfriend and he lifted her up in the air, their faces touching and hands clenched. Such is the true meaning of reunion, I thought. It has weight attached to it, like lifting a woman up, feeling her breathing and imagining all her lonely nights spent without you.

Then I saw a homeless man. He wore a wool coat. In the warm waiting room, that wool coat was his label, his sole identity. He stood out as he was. He did not smell good either. I watched people getting intentionally close to him to show their empathy. If the homeless man liked that forced closeness — I was not sure. I could have asked him. But I did not. Then I thought to myself, “Oh my god I was ugly inside,” and at that moment, I could have gone up and asked him, but again I didn’t. Instead, I kept reading my book — “A Moveable Feast” by Hemingway — while waiting for my friend to pick me up. Then I thought about how poor Hemingway and Hadley were in Paris, but how they never thought themselves as poor because they simply did not accept it. Then I comforted myself that maybe Hemingway was alive in that homeless man and he would be all right, and I changed my name to Hypocrite.

Then I saw him in a black leather jacket, my friend, carrying that small piece of home, running towards me. I could smell the leather in the wind, the wind his running stirred. There was suddenly the echo of a familiar Chinese poem in my head — 远在远方的风比远方更远. Indeed, the wind in a faraway land was farther than the faraway land itself. Then I hoped that monkey monk in Chinese legends, “Sun Wukong,” whose name meant “finding his heart in emptiness,” was real so that he could make time stop at that moment, that exact moment when our eyes met and joy started burning in his, that exact moment when I could vaguely smell his leather jacket, that exact moment when words were still faraway and the night was still young. I hoped I would never welcome that small piece of home, but learn to long for it and treat such longing as life.

Then there were warm greetings, and hugs, and the rest of the evening.

The views expressed in this column are those of the author and not necessarily those of The Observer.