As I step into Year 41 of life; more than ever, I’m humbly certain that there resides a bigger and cyclical purpose.
At 25, I experienced a painful heartbreak, often finding myself sitting on the steps of the fire escape outside of my apartment in San Francisco and stared soullessly into lights that wrapped around the Embarcadero buildings. With the most nostalgic yet coveted view of the alluring San Francisco Bay, I couldn’t indulge in its beauty as I sank into an excruciating ache at the pit of my heart, brewing evermore haunting every night. During the day, I was a walking zombie who wandered into work and somehow made it through endless meetings that comprised of a career-defining job. The Bay Area was yet to experience its technology boom, at the time I was yet to realize a peculiar core that would eventually fulfill my spirit.
Every night, I’d pray and attempt to meditate. I failed miserably but the prayers somehow transcended in enlightenment. On my knees, the Buddhist scriptures I’d chant in repetition only irked my body graveling further, buried in the whispers of a higher power. At some point, I heard my mother’s voice: to give is to gain. The next day, I signed up to volunteer at California Pacific Medical Center – this was going to be my refuge, it was going to be the beacon to the light of my heartbreak. Little did I know at the time, CPMC would change the course of my life…or better yet, my personal mission.
At the time, I had a glamorous job. While my college girlfriends were on their accomplished roads to attain additional degrees to become doctors and lawyers, I was managing a music label and socializing with some of the biggest names in music from L.A., Las Vegas, Atlanta, to New York City. But I felt empty, worse than a walking zombie, I was throwing my body away as if it was disassociated from my soul and drowning my spirit with alcohol. A LOT of alcohol and more meaningless socializing. CPMC became my sanctuary, my zen. Two nights out of a week, I drove to Pacific Heights in San Francisco and entered sliding doors to encounter sick children who would eventually alter the way I viewed life.
The very first patient I met was Valerie, an eight-year-old girl dying from cancer. Every week, we played games and braided each other’s hair as she lived on her ventilator. Except for days when she was too sick to speak, I’d watch her thinning hair through glass windows until I was assigned to another child while I detested that I had such a short time with her. Moving away from her to another kid meant that my heart had to quickly shift its attention onto another ailing child, and I hated the swiftness. I grew angry at the force of detachment, until I met the next angel.
He was Chinese who didn’t speak much English, so I played the role of a translator and a playdate. Chung was thirteen years old, whose mother was always by his side but she only spoke Cantonese while I spoke Mandarin, so we motioned and communicated in charades. A LOT of charades. She often came to the room with delicious goodies from Chinatown, but Chung couldn’t eat so I refused to bite into steaming dim sum or aromatic soup noodles in front of him. Chung was dying of cancer and was losing his hair, but we chatted like old friends and mocked each other for hours. The nurses were delighted every time I stepped onto the hospital grounds, they’d tell me that he had been waiting for me. I couldn’t break hospital rules, or I would’ve spent everyday with him because he lit up whenever I was there. Little did he know, he was healing my heart as his time from the world was wistfully ticking away.
A few blocks down from my apartment in Nob Hill was a Buddhist temple where I serendipitously discovered during a random walk in Chinatown. Whenever I kneeled and prayed in front of massively gold Buddha statues, I hoped that Chung would live, so that he could thrive just as most teenagers would. There was always a guard at the temple, he was an old Chinese man who spoke Mandarin and gave me treats during every visit. Whenever I kneeled down, tears unwillingly rolled down. I became that crazy woman in a shrine, weeping at nothing but everything. Uncertain of whether it was from my heartbreak for Chung or for a disappeared love that I was continuing to mend from, the gentle guard always tried to cheer me up with the latest musings in Chinatown or a history lesson about the temple. Both of which I profoundly appreciated, because any story outside of my misery was a mental hideaway from the cage that I was slowly trying to break through.
Chung left imprints in my heart that forever sliced open a will I never knew was ingrained inside of my being. Within a year, I quit my glitzy job and left for a family trip to India where my soul was further opened by witnessing extreme poverty in one of the most desolate parts of the world. From San Francisco to India then back to Taiwan, I found myself volunteering in an ER at the hospital where my grandmother passed away. Somehow, through delivering blood samples, pushing gurneys, and surrounded by corpses; I felt wildly alive. I was once again on the hunt, for the next best place where I could thrive and live in my most authentic self. Without heartbreaks, without brokenness.
As I embark on another birthday this month, I can reflect upon the state of my fragility and utter weakness when I walked through the doors of CPMC. But it began a whole new chapter which would flourish on a personal journey of giving. Never mind the lostness of living in Tokyo or the glory of being a Parisian, the mission of my life – let alone the platform of Jetset Times – has been embedded with immense heart. That is, the heart of giving back. Here we are, since the world works in circular ways, I’m bringing back #GivingTuesday, so that we can always inspire others to see outside of themselves, in a world that is not confined to simply us.
Let’s blow out the candles,