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  • Lijing Cobb

A moment in time

Normally in the morning when my 10yo is ready for the bus, either I or my son walk her down the driveway with one of our dogs. This morning, seeing that my son was all dressed and ready to go with his sister, I started to put my jacket down, when both children insisted that I was in fact going with them as well. “There’s no need…” I started to protest, but their mind was made up, and I had to give in.


So we all got out, and the two kids and our 3yo lab were walking in front of me. As we took the bend in our driveway, I looked up. Time and space froze in that moment. My boy in his maroon checkered jacket, and my girl with her huge pink backpack on her shoulders, chatting, with our brown dog leading the way, looking back to check on them, all against the woods turning fresh green in the chilly spring morning.

A moment like this in the memory. To realize that this world is here, and the spirits inside those bodies are sharing a moment of togetherness, a moment that they might not remember but is etched in my brain. A moment that is so clear and free of noise and distraction. A moment that makes it all worth it. A moment that means nothing and everything at the same time. A moment that makes everything all right.


There are such moments in the past. Sometimes when I look out my office window and see the tall trees on the hillside quietly standing, my mind would play me a picture from way past when I was perched on top of a big slab of rock in front of my grandparents’ house. In front of and below me about 3 feet down was the bank of a small river, to the left the bank extends about 30 yards and meets a bridge. The river is only about 10 feet in width, and directly on the other side there are houses built on top of the bank. There is a tree about 2 yards to my left. One spring a caterpillar dropped out of the tree and onto my bare arm, and as it crawled off my arm the powder it left behind stung and brought me to tears immediately. Sometimes there are bicycles resting against the tree. Sometimes the bicycle is mine. I’m alone, just watching the water in the river flowing towards the bridge and out of sight. The slabs of stones on the bank are uneven, but they look so sturdy. None of these things exist anymore except in my mind’s eye. But the memory will stay with me until I can no longer recall it.


When my mind plays pictures in the past for me, it puts everything into perspective for me. Many times a day I ask myself, what am I doing? Why am I here? What is it all for? Why can’t I be nice? Why do they piss me off? Then something like this happen, and it pauses my day and brings everything into focus. What’s constant in life? Nothing. How many chances are we given in this life to be a good human being? Infinite. Does it matter whether we choose to be good or bad? Not really. Does that mean we should just do whatever?


No. When we are given the gift of life and time, we are also given a lot of opportunities to learn about who we are and what makes us feel good as human beings. The longer we get to live, the more we know. When I look back into these time capsules in my mind, the things I see sit quietly, just like the trees outside my windows today do, not casting any judgment. All I feel is peace. Nothing is out of place. Everything belongs. As soon as I populate it with memories of people and events, the things fall into the background. Against the same background I can see my father dismounting from his bicycle to join us for a meal at my grandparents’ house. He’s tightlipped, and his smile is reserved and contrived. His body language is stiff, because he’s on guard at every turn. He thinks that my grandparents and all the relatives present are there to judge his every move and word. He’s exhausted from having to put up a front and sit with these people who misunderstand and misinterpret him from the moment he steps into the door. He’s looking for an excuse to let loose the gasket so he can ease up on the pressure that’s building up inside him. He finds one easily, and goes off. Against the same background my mom, my sister, and I leave after my father storms off. We walk the whole way, about 10 minutes, home, dreading what is waiting for us when we arrive…


Time has given me perspective, a privilege that I discovered all too late. My father has passed on for almost 10 years now, and I never understood why he was always so volatile, so violent, so pissed off. Now, that peaceful background gives him back to me again after so many years, and I can see the hurt on his face and the scars in his heart. I can feel his dread when he was about to step foot into a door where everyone saw him through colored glasses. He was expected to be unreasonable. He was supposed to be mean. He couldn’t be anything else other than what everyone else pigeonholed him to be. So he didn’t try to be otherwise.


I wish time could give me another chance to meet my father again, in the epicenter of the dread he was famed to create for us, and just feel his anguish. Whatever pain he caused us, he suffered as well, and more. I wish I could in some ways let him know that I never meant to join the committee of persecution. I wish for a second chance.


But life is a river that flows forward, and only in the bank of memory do we get to relive the past and gain that perspective that once eluded us in youth and inexperience. We don’t get a second chance for what’s already passed. And this is precisely the reason why we can’t just do whatever now and in the future. One day my children will sit by themselves and conjure up a picture of the place they spent their entire childhood in and feel peace. When they populate that image with people and events, I would love for them to have a smile on their face. I love for them to be able to say, see, that was mom, and she was able to find peace.


Top row, left to right: Mom, dad, former brother-in-law, my sister, I

Bottom row, left to right: grandma, niece, grandpa

My dad had one of his tightlipped smiles on, not even looking into the camera. He was never at ease with my mom's side of family.

Taken around 1998.


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