Saturday, December 8, 2018

Elaine’s Wisdom: Investing in The Soul

Copyright © Kim Roberts

December 7, 2018. Like an angel, Elaine lay still in bed. I held her hand and felt a lump in my throat. She opened her eyes, narrowed her vision, and looked at me. She was too weak to go out today. We both knew the time had come for Elaine to stop being brave and just being weak and vulnerable. I wasn’t ready for that. I was choked up. But her facial expression showed no fear, sadness, or regret. Instead, she radiated a spiritual energy that channeled from her to me as if nothing had changed except the deteriorated mortal body. Although in bed, she was neatly dressed and well groomed as if she was waiting to go out with me. I touched her hand and she sweetly said, “I am so sorry I play a lazy girl today. Just feel so lazy.”

I had planned to pick up Dan and Elaine for lunch today after my work. But Dan came to the living room and said she could not come down. I saw tears in his eyes. I couldn’t keep mine. I went to her bedroom. She was asleep but Dan said, “Go ahead and wake her up. She’s been sleeping all the time.” I did. Elaine blinked her eyes then, like a cloudy sky with some patches of cloud slowly pulling away allowing the sunrays shine through, her eyes sparkled and she appeared spirited again.

Looking at her, I saw a fragile body and a spiritual soul full of poise and vitality. At eighty-two years of age, she had spent her whole life preparing for the coming days ahead—to have an eternal life with her lord Jesus. And she did so by nurturing her immortal soul during her lifetime by her deeds to herself, her family, and others. She was my spiritual mother, healer, and teacher. I am sure she was that way to many others throughout her missionary years in Argentina and China. Her focus was showing people the way to take care of their souls. Forty years ago, I made a mistake by saying someone we saw that day had a horrible physical appearance. She corrected me by saying that God made everyone by the same material so no one looked better or worse if I could see the soul and not the biological substance. I always knew every human possesses both body and soul but I never separated the soul from the body, especially at the time of death. It was evident now that it would not matter what condition the body was in, the soul would elevate to a higher and higher level as the end drew near.

This analogy of the perfect soul vs. the imperfect body came about when my late husband passed away. Around that same time, our neighbor, Louk, was very sick and both men went into a coma on the same day, Sunday October 9. Louk was much younger than my husband. Naturally, they both suffered some degrees of physical or mental imperfection during the last part of their lives. But they died at the same time on October 11, 2005, and were removed from home at the same time as if by a perfect arrangement. For a while, I wondered if they still had their physical limitation, how the two men could arrange with each other so they could leave together that way as Louk’s wife and I later became good friends. I could only say that it was apparent that their intelligent and immortal souls were not constrained by physical illnesses and handicap of their biological bodies. Upon death, their souls were perfect, free, and speculatively, better than their physical manifestation in life. All my life, I had been in search of a perfect freedom, or as my sister Nhu Anh would call it a 100% free freedom. Perhaps the soul would have the power to accomplish that.
Sad Tomo
Back to my visit with Elaine today, I was in her room and I held back tears as I asked, “How are you feeling? Any pain?”

Although she wasn’t moving her body, her facial expression was as serene as ever. “I feel okay. Just the legs hurt. More discomfort than pain. And I feel lazy. I sleep all the time. When I am up, I have shortness of breath. But, let’s not talk about me. Tell me what you’ve been doing. Been sick? Been working? Been writing? You’ve always inspired me to get up, keep moving, but today, laziness has taken over,” said Elaine. She was coherent and focused. But I noticed she lay still and in the same position without turning her body.

I was reluctant to talk about myself but I knew she would not let me get away without telling her so I listed a few things I did, “After spending Thanksgiving here with you and the family, I had pneumonia. It took a lot out of me. Then I was treated. Feeling better, I went to work. Worked today, yesterday, and the day before. I am feeling all right except the wheezing and coughing spells. But the heel spur is healed. I can move better and faster.”

Elaine was still as sharp as ever. She did not let me get away with a question I had skipped by asking again, “But the book. Are you working on it? What’s the progress?” I pretended I was paying attention to Dan, who was talking to an Apple tech support, and answered her question haphazardly, “ Umm… ahhh… that project? Umm, it will take years. I am due to turn it over to an editor for a serious and detailed evaluation this month. Who knows what she will say.” Elaine smiled, “Yeah, but don’t stop. You must keep it moving forward. Like you always inspire me to do. Promise?”

I had so much love for Elaine but that love had no place to go so it stayed in my heart making my heart heavy. I always believe that there’s a purpose for everything. I am grateful for the time I had with her and all the lessons I’ve learned. I am blessed to have this experience to see life and death through an extraordinary vision, above and beyond what an ordinary human eye can see. Unlike Elaine’s strong faith in God, I have been deeply influenced by major philosophies of life and death as it was in my early study. I believe more than ever before the Babylonian philosophy and that the end of life does not lead to an extinction, but instead, an emergence of life out of death, not by rebirth but through transitioning. The new life, like the force of nature, has its inherent spirit. Emotionally, I mourn the diminishing vitality of the body but intellectually, I believe there’s life in death. The bible says so in Genesis and other philosophers, especially, the Hindus, refer to this transition as “…only when we forget ourselves that we find ourselves.” Last but not least, my favorite Plato who refers to God’s work as a creator, by giving all objects in the world, from the highest angels in heavens to the lowest animal of the earth, a body full of imperfections and a perfect soul. With that, Plato considers death a transition between life the shadow and immortality, the substance. Over the millennia, philosophers have explored the subject of man’s eternal soul in a temporary body and when the mortal body is obliterated, the eternal flame of the soul moves on. My best friend and mentor for over 20 years, the late Dr. Andrew Jameson, who avowed to be a lifetime Platonian, told me his view on death, “Death is perfect. Death is beautiful. Death is pure. And through the intellect and divinity by the grace of god, one can recognize this reality in transitory appearances between life, the shadow, and death, the substance. To Plato, by leaving this temporary world, we’ll return to an eternal and ideal world, a world we had before this life.”

I also have concern for Elaine’s husband and caretaker, Dan. He and Elaine have been inseparable for over fifty years, I hope his faith will carry him through. Talking with him on the phone the day before and I could hear a crackle in his voice as he was laughing, “You work already? Really? Are you serious? You had pneumonia and you are working? Yesterday, today, and tomorrow?” I knew he anticipated that, as previous times, Elaine would be able to show her vitality and we would be going out, laughing, and poking fun as usual. I had my skepticism as I was there at Thanksgiving and she had shown lack of energy as she retired to bed early. But I always hoped for a miracle.

As for me, pneumonia couldn’t stop me from going to work. Why was I compelled to keep doing something, whether I was sick or well? Naturally, I am not a workaholics and I didn’t work because I needed an income. I consider the best way to work is having the freedom to choose and do what one loves. Like other retired folks who volunteer their time, my work benefits others. If I could make a difference, that’s a bonus. Each time I looked at a homeless, or an unemployed person, I thought of their sadness and desperation for not having jobs whereas I am blessed with opportunities so it’s a sin for me not to work. By work, I don’t mean just for making money, for example, by sitting behind a desk, speculating on stock market or investing in real estate. I wanted to interact with people, actually helping them, being challenged by the tasks, and finding meaning in providing services. That’s what Dan and Elaine had done until they retired lately. And that’s what President Jimmy Carter and his wife still do in building houses for Habitat for Humanity. I remember saying to my friend Linda Anton-Hayward years ago that, despite millions her husband left for her, she needed to be useful to others. She finally became a pastor in a church in Utah. For most of us, something is seriously lacking by living easy and comfortable lives. We need a calling. As for me, I make money so I can give. Today, I brought Dan and Elaine a check so they could give to their charities at Christmas time. Especially, I wanted for Elaine to be able to do so here and now.

Dan was emotional so I wished I could make him laugh. I told him about an evidence of the body’s imperfection. “The job yesterday paid me top dollar and all I needed to do was to be present and sit quietly for hours while my client was being interviewed. I made a mistake of thinking I had the easiest job on earth and forgot that I still had pneumonia-induced coughing spells. When the session began and recorder was on, I thought I could die from embarrassment, as I could not suppress a cough. All I could think of was a situation in the Opera House when the singing was at its best, one began to release a coughing spell and was under attack by a mustering mass of shh… shh…shush. But my ability to rise to the occasion at work prompted me to keep quiet by popping cough drops, sipping water, and using my inhaler. Amazingly, I was able to suppress my coughing spells during the following two hours.” Dan cracked up.
Before I left Elaine’s bedside, I asked if I could get some food and we would have lunch there, she responded, “I am not hungry. Don’t think I can eat anything. Kim, keep doing what you love to do. You have motivated me so maybe I can be like you, getting up and moving around. Next time we go out.”

“Of course! Let’s make it our goal. Before I leave, may I bring you a cup of hot water?” I offered.

“No, no, no. I am supposed to serve you, not you serving me. Just promise to keep the pages turning,” she looked at me fondly as I turned and walked out, “Yes, mum. Will do,” I said.

P.S.: As usual, I drafted quickly then post. This emotional subject is way too much to sit there and go over the punctuation...

END. Copyright © Kim Roberts or

Tuesday, November 20, 2018

Thanksgiving 2018: Elaine, a “Freedom From Suffering” Fighter

Copyright Kim Roberts

November 19, 2018. I picked up Dan and Elaine at noon and we went to Doug’s Place for lunch. It was Elaine’s choice as they had been going to that place over the decades and it was dear to her. Elaine looked pale and was a little shaky. I noticed the change in her slow movements and hazy verbal expressions. Dan mentioned that her doctor had decided to stop checking the level of her kidney function as there was nothing they could do for her. But Dan found it comforting to believe that Jesus was waiting for her and she was at peace. Spirited Elaine commented on her condition with a subtle laughter in her voice, “This is so weird. I am not supposed to be here. But I am still here.”
My Thanksgiving pumpkins
I teased her, “You’re here to entertain us. I need you to make me laugh. So just hang in there.” Dan had written me the day before that the medical professionals did not believe that she would last that long. Her kidney function had dropped below 10% in July when she was in stage 5 CKD. Then it was below 5% the following month. Now it’s November and she was still around. She kept going and her body and mind refused to give in. I felt a camaraderie spirit with her as I was near death so many times but managed to hang on then reinvented myself again and again. I mentioned how my three sisters died of heart attack, my father died of cancer at fifty-two. But fortunately, unlike them, I found cures, a beautiful artificial heart valve would give me fifteen years or more. And nothing else I cannot handle. 

“And you went to work last week with that foot and its spurs and gout?” Dan inquired. I laughed, “Hey, what else did you expect me to do? Look at Elaine, she is as busy as a bee, going out, meeting people daily. I have to keep up with her.”

It wasn’t funny but we decided that what the heck, why not having fun. I then elaborated on other weird things that had happened to me that made a discovery of gout on top of two painful spurs look pale. Among my stories, years ago, a Yale MD injected my finger with a wrong drug causing me to suffer a heart attack with lingering psoriasis for over a year. I’ve learned from that experience that life is a miracle so I don’t have time to waste.
Our lunch yesterday at Doug's
“Dan, do you remember Phil Harris’ song, The Thing? Nothing and no one wants us to leave this earth. Not even St. Peter. We may live forever…” I asked Dan. He nodded, laughed, and we all laughed. Instead of being dramatic, we made it light because there was no other way to handle this delicate situation. And however dreadful dying is, suffering can be as bad if not worse. Suffering imprisons the soul and spirit and takes away one’s freedom to feel at peace, relaxed, and happy. And Elaine has done enough to free people from these conditions by changing their attitudes, finding escape, and building hope.

A freedom fighter does not have to be a warrior in a resistance movement who violently struggles to free a country or a government from oppression. True freedom can range from an absence of restraint to a state of not being mentally and emotionally hampered or dispirited by suffering. There are many forms of freedom and they all have great values. However, the majority of people tend to focus on “freedom to” as in freedom of speech, of exercising religious and non-religious beliefs, or freedom of association. To others, “freedom from suffering," as in freedom from fear, is as valuable as “freedom to.”  Freedom from is an obliteration of certain conditions that affect the quality of life and to certain extent, make life not worth living.

Realistically, no money, prestige, and fame in the world can free a person from fear, anxiety, emotional pain, and hopelessness. Suffering may be visible as it can manifest itself through painful physical reactions. It can also be a hurtful mental state of being trapped within invisible walls. When someone like Elaine who makes it her life’s goal to help free others from negative or traumatized conditions, she is a spiritual fighter and she, as subtle and modest as she is, fights for other humans’ freedom from suffering. All her life, she has assisted others by praying for them, by changing their attitude toward these invisible, abstract conditions, so they could find freedom from within. She had done that for me. She has done what Jesus, Buddha, other religious leaders, and non-religious, humanitarian groups and individuals strive to achieve—freeing the sufferers from their misery.

When Elaine, Dan, and I last met on November 1, 2018, I casually mentioned a relative whose basic needs were well met but she always lives in fear and with anger, hatred, and concern for money. What upset me most was her decision not to spend any money of her husband’s hundreds of thousands in saving to care for his last stage thus to make him suffer and she did not give him a decent burial service to honor him with dignity. Elaine, who is in hospice care and in her dying stage, was attentive to every detail I mentioned. Sitting across from me, she leaned forward with eyes sparkled and a strong and decisive voice, she said, “Your relative needs help. She needs to lighten the load and be free from that fear, greed, and negativity.” I always knew of her strong Christian faith. But I knew first and foremost, she cared about those who suffered, whether or not they would become Christians.

I was in tears. This dying lady hadn’t stopped thinking of others All she wanted was to help others to ameliorate the suffering. I have learned that from Elaine and have made myself available to my relative without being intrusive or judgmental. I appreciate what Elaine has been doing for Dan, her children, grandchildren, and me by giving us the freedom from guilt, anxiety, and distress because she has always acted with calmness, grace, ease, and peace. Being sick and dying is a terrible process to go through. It takes courage, wisdom, and an incredible faith for her to give us, those who love her, this freedom from having the usual human emotion under the circumstance.
Ballena Bay at autumn sunset with birds on water
As we spoke, I remembered a wonderful lady who had worked for me when my husband was alive. She called the night before to say hello. Dinh and I reminisced the days before my husband died. She recalled my torment when my attorney Ray Levy wanted to alleviate the care burden for me by suggesting that I’d put E. B. in one of the best homes we could find. It tore me apart when my husband called the state of being there as an “incarceration” and that frightened him. What he wanted were my little garden and our water view—a sight of freedom. Dinh and I concluded that I hired a nursing staff and cared for him at home, not only because of him but because I valued freedom and I needed a clear conscience. I always wanted my freedom from affliction and restriction and I can’t ignore someone else’s need to be free. I did it for love and I did it because there was no better gift to someone than giving him/her freedom from fear, hurt, loneliness, and other suffering. Now we have something to look back and be proud.

I then mentioned to Elaine about my husband’s last stage in life. He made me so happy that I could give him comfort and happiness by giving him simple things I always took for granted. He had a beautiful baritone voice and he loved to sing “Amazing Grace” at dinner, especially the part of “… I once was lost, but now am found. T’was blind but now I see….” We always loved sunsets but those moments before his death, it was beautifully moving to contemplate the sunset while listening to classical music. He was on several medications, then one day the doctor gave him one he never had before, he was able to express himself in a clear and sweetest way, “Whatever I was taking before it caged my brain slowly to the point I no longer found what I had inside in an orderly fashion. Like being petrified. I was frustrated and panicked. I was scared. Then this new drug opened my brain up slowly as if my frozen brain was being thawed. Now I feel so free. I’ve never valued freedom this much.” Dr. Miller and I were amazed how he could be that clear. I tested his condition by taking him to a black tie dinner. He was able to get up and speak shortly in front of an audience. Then I took him to his private club, the Bohemian Club, with some assistance, he was on stage singing along with his club mates. I gave credit of the achievement to the drug but Dr. Miller attributed it to love and motivation that freed his spirit then he used his own soldiering nature to overcome the mental difficulty and soared. 
Our favorite view of the Bay sky at sunset while listening to classical music
Of course that clarity did not last long. But for a short time it was amazing how he was so aware of his mental condition and his fear of losing it because that also meant losing his freedom. I realized that freedom is precious whether it's about a nation's or a person's independence. Through the learning process, I knew I could not give him the ultimate freedom, I could ease his pain of losing it with his love for music. It was marvelous whenever I found E. B. singing along with joy some German or Italian arias. He never forgot music even in another language. That was so sweet.

E. B. and I were non-conformists. We loved freedom and we perceived it in ways that not many people could understand. He was a soldier in the business of fighting for other people’s freedom. But when big wartime mistakes were made, I sensed his torment in dealing with draftees whose freedom and right to live were taken away as they did not find a good cause to fight in a war, such as in Vietnam. Nowadays, after his death, I found on line declassified confidential reports he made to the Pentagon in which he praised the soldiers with flowery words and deep, moving appreciation, such words as “…(their) indomitable will, the raw courage, the dedication to purpose…to be a good soldier.” I also realize that I had underestimated his empathy with soldiers who served and those who refused to do so. In J. D. Coleman’s book, Incursion, J. D. reported that E. B. considered every soldier in Vietnam to be a volunteer. But a staff officer protested that most of them were draftees. However, E. B. argued, and I quote, “… most of them had a choice. They could have run to Canada or Sweden, or they could have wriggled out of the draft by being clever or getting some kind of deferment.” With that, I knew E. B. honored and respected draftees who served and wanted to do all he could to show them his appreciation. At the same time he considered it was understandable that others ran away from the draft. And, still according to author J. D., he liberalized award and decorations programs as his way of showing the soldiers his care of their dilemmas.

During wartime, “freedom from” one’s duty to serve one's country is not freedom for which one can ask. E. B. and I rarely talked about the war except a few remarks he made with respect to the young American soldiers and teenaged Viet Cong soldiers who were killed during battles. It was most harrowing to him to realize that those young persons never had a chance to grow up, have families, and live to be his age. To force young men and women to give up their freedom and their lives for a duty they barely understood was the most brutal aspect of war and the hardest to witness. His favorite music during Easter and Thanksgiving was about "redemption." But before he died, the caretaker was asked to play "The Flying Dutchman" almost all the time.
Outside my door with my Pink Lemon tree
Ummm… I think I have gone way too far into a less relevant domain. As we were eating and talked on, Elaine’s eyes caught the arm muscles of the gentleman sitting at the table next to us. “Look, look at his muscles,” said Elaine.

I turned my head from side to side to look at him, “Yes, I am sure he’s a football player or maybe…” I giggled loudly then Elaine followed and we acted like two teenagers in front of a good looking man.

Suddenly the man stood up, turned around and looked at us. I grinned then gave him an elevator look, “We’ve been admiring your… your biceps. Do you play football or basketball?”

The man gave us a friendly smile, “I play football. I play for the Raiders.”

“Ahh…” I cracked up and felt blushed. “I know one former Raider as he was my next door neighbor, Michael Huff. You know him?”

“Of course I know him. Michael Huff and I joined the Raiders at the same time.” He nicely responded while I kept looking at his muscular physique and admired his workout ethics. The man said he had been in Huff’s house in Alameda. He then asked for my name and said he would email Huff that he met me. After he left, I turned to Dan, “What name did he say he was?” Dan cracked up, “He told you his name. But you and Elaine only paid attention to something else.”

Elaine, “A man like him needs the food here… always a huge portion.”

I suddenly remembered something, “I don’t think we’re dying yet. We’re too alive.” And that was how the luncheon went. END

P.S.: As usual, I wrote as fast as I could and this is unedited.

Copyright Kim Roberts

Friday, November 2, 2018

Elaine, an Amazing Hospice Patient: The Magic of 80% Mental and Spiritual Power and 20% Physical Condition

Copyright © Kim Roberts

November 1, 2018. We are what we believe. Religious or non-religious, faith is us. I’ve been living it. I am witnessing it. Now, I am writing about it.

I haven’t seen Elaine for a few weeks as she and Dan went to Hong Kong for a week to visit with their friends. I was worried sick since they had to take such a long 14-hour flight and anything could happen to Elaine. Elaine has been at her end-stage (stage 5 CKD) of renal disease with a kidney level below 4%  and it has been for four months now. But knowing her and her faith in her God and in herself, I knew that she would not let anything stop her as long as she still has a small percentage of energy left to aid her mental power and to sustain her during the travel.

Frankly, I would do the same. As long as I have at least 20% of my physical condition for me to hold on to, I can make up the 80% with my mental power and the force of my faith. But unlike Elaine who puts her unwavering faith in God and sustains on the magic of prayers, I have a strong faith in myself and some in religion, philosophy, hope, dream, and an aspiration for life’s magic and meaning.
Me and Elaine today 11/1/18
Faith is a firm belief, or conviction, in something for which there is no proof. Faith may be held as true by one or more persons. A belief is a state of mind. As one places trust and confidence in someone or something, or a tenet, or body of tenets, without questioning or proving their validity, the believer has developed belief and faith. That goes with or without devotion, loyalty, and commitment for that belief over a certain period or a lifetime. Both Elaine and I have belief and faith although we place our belief and faith on different grounds. Her faith in God is pure, complete, and absolute because she was born in Christian faith and in America. I was not. But for my survival during wartime and difficult family situations, I developed faith early to give me strength, hope, comfort, and to anchor my life decisions. Even before I was introduced to Christianity, my faith was not completely in Buddhism either.

While Elaine and Dan were in Hong Kong, I suffered a bad case of heel spur. But, nothing would stop me from getting out and providing services to others. So I have been working. My most enjoyable workday was a six-hour convention for families with disabled children on October 13. I did the work while limping around, laughing at my ugly, swollen foot. Yesterday, I worked with an autistic child with speech problem. Then again, I worked with Sofie, the child with Down syndrome who arrived in an outfit of an angel as yesterday was Halloween day.
Dan and Elaine at the restaurant today 11/1/18
The waiter at the restaurant I frequented at lunch looked at my swollen foot and asked me, “Why are you working at this stage in your life?” I smiled and responded, “My dear young, handsome man, why not? And may I ask, at which stage in life that one should stop having fun and enjoying the meaning of life?” He answered, “I guess you’re right. Perhaps you also wanted to work so you can stop by here and have our delicious shrimp eggrolls and chat with me.” We laughed ourselves silly after that comment.

Today, I went by to pick up Dan and Elaine for lunch. I had imagined how feeble and sickly looking she would be after such a long trip to Hong Kong and back. Elaine came out with Tomo, their dog, to open the door. I looked at her and thought I saw a ghost. She looked so well and she walked better and faster than me with my limping foot. As usual, I brought them some lemons from my trees and that really cracked them up. There’s no doubt that I have an affinity with lemons. It makes me happy when my friends, who read my blog, “The Lemon of Life,” said that they would never look at a lemon the same way again. Along the way to the restaurant, I again cracked Dan and Elaine up when I mentioned before they converted me into Christian faith, a Vietnamese mother desperately tried to convert me so, hopefully, I would marry her son, a Protestant pastor. Nowadays, her son is still a priest at a Castro Valley church. Dan really laughed when I confessed the main reason I declined. I understood the English bible version better than its translation in Vietnamese.

My handyman, Xua, is a devout Christian who told me a story of a retired Vietnamese American podiatrist, Nguyen Duy Tan, who retired and became a pastor at the same Castro Valley church. He came to America the same time I did. When he visited Vietnam he realized that there’s no podiatry in Vietnam, he offered to teach podiatry for free at the university in Hanoi. He’s still doing that. One never knows how belief and faith can change the life of one person who in turn, changes the lives of many others. And that’s where one can really find the meaning of life.
The crispy ham hock and crispy ricenoodles 
I asked Elaine if her kidney failure symptoms got worse. She pulled out some ziplock bags in her pocket and said, “Yes, I can throw up easily.” I waved her off and laughed, “You’re showing off. I throw up all the time.” Dan reminded me that Elaine was under hospice care. But I responded, “But she is misbehaving. She is not acting as one.” Elaine laughed, “Something is wrong here. There must be a mistake.” But I knew there was no mistake. No modern day medical professional can predict the power of faith that sustains a sick patient when the physical conditions begin to diminish. I often mentioned a rule I used, which is 80/20. As long as a person has 80% mental power, and 20% of bare physical health, one can go on. Likewise, a healthy individual who has a higher percentage of physical conditions can fail if there is not enough mental power to function as a whole.

In my blog of January 1, 2017, I wrote about my rule of 80/20, “… I live on 80% mental power. I couldn’t survive today if I had relied on my physical health and other external conditions.” Sometimes they say football is 90/10 or 80/40. But to me, most sports are 80% mental and 20% physical as all players have similar physical conditions. It’s their spirits that make the games winning or losing. And that is how I feel about living life.

We arrived at the restaurant and continued to chat about my book, my editing, my work, and my relative who is currently under hospice care. I talked about another close relative who is old but healthy. Her problem is that she suffers so much fear of the unknown, anger, insecurity, and hatred for people around her including her relatives. It dawned on me that she had gradually changed her appearance ever since she became extremely negative. The individual I mentioned used to be a beauty queen now has a frightening look. A loving heart and righteous thought can improve a person’s appearance and make one glow with radiance, and vice versa. Confucius said that and my father taught me so at an early age.
Elaine was savoring the rice noodles
I still remembered each time Elaine walked through the door, any door, she moved as gentle as the wind. She never made a big entrance, never appeared visible among others, and never tried to get attention for herself. With her petit figure, rarely any jewelry, and in simple outfits, she could be missed by anyone. She reminds me of Mother Teresa. But, instead of feeding the poor with real food, she fed the rich and poor with food for thought, faith, and comfort. Of thousands, if not hundreds of thousands of people she had reached and blessed with her gentleness, beautiful smiles, comforting gesture, and loving heart, perhaps she could not count more than a dozen who would return and show her gratitude. 

“Sometimes we just do what we believe that should be done,” I expressed my deeply held feelings for Elaine, “Forty two years ago, you and Dan never knew when I came into your house that I would turn out to be this way. I still remember it was your fortieth birthday.”  Dan interrupted me, “Yes, Elaine was born in 1936.”  I continued, “I didn’t know how I would turn out either. But I knew then, whatever I was doing, I did it because it was the right thing to do. There has never been a need for any recognition. When you visited me at one of the most beautiful flats in San Francisco, at the corner of Kearny and Lombard, and moved me to the artists’ poor quarters in the city, I just turned down the financial assistance by one of the richest women in the city. And, I turned down financial help from a man who, a decade later after I was successful and independent, became my husband. No one knew what I did. But I knew. I did it for me. I found you and Dan a good fit for me to train myself through a rough road and I was right. Glad we both did. Now we have a story to cherish.”

 By then the waitress served the food and we nearly had to fight each other over the crispy skin of the ham hocks. It was so delicious. Elaine ate wholeheartedly and my nausea had gone away so Dan and I dug in and thoroughly enjoyed the food. Elaine was radiant and she could not hold back joy and happiness. I felt today was my best day in weeks. One feeling Elaine and I share is the freedom we have inside—freedom from fear, desperation, anger, and negativity. And that goes back to belief and faith. There’s no better feeling than being spiritually strong and free.
In front of the restaurant
I know a little about the feeling of fear as one is near death. During my childhood, due to my mother’s ignorance of my allergic reactions to many allergens including herb, she made me sick by giving me Northern herb (thuốc Bắc) or Southern herb (thuốc Nam). I overheard Father telling Mother as he was referring to my rashes, vomiting, and delirium after I drank an herb potion that Mother gave me. He said, “She’s not going to live a full life with these sickly conditions. All the healthcare providers have said they have no cure for her. Sooner or later, she will die young,”

One day, as a child of six years old, I passed out after suffering a high temperature induced by rheumatic fevers, my sister Kiem Anh woke me up with a cold towel over my forehead. Then she whispered, ‘Mom thought you were going to die. I know she will give you more herb potion to drink. She’s cooking it now. Can you smell it? If you are afraid of it, try to use your mental power and show that you’re well.” Kiem Anh was right. I was so afraid of my mother’s treatment of my illness that I suddenly felt fine. Kiem Anh then surprised me with a psychology book she just rented and read a chapter about “mind over matter.” I knew then the power of human mind.
Elaine was examining my Screaming Eagle WWII license plate
What I learned and practiced of having beliefs and relying on faith has helped me go through wars, end of the Vietnam War, a new life in America, and survive all other atrocities and adversities. There were times I clearly felt I functioned with at least 80% on my mental and spiritual power—the power to devise, plan, and prepare a strategy to respond to any unexpected encounter.

My experience of life and death was unique. I’ve never considered death a destructive end, just a beautiful conclusion of life. And only what I made of life mattered, not what death brought. Nowadays I often wish my parents and Kiem Anh were alive so I could thank them for giving me a false impression that I was going to die young. That gave me an urgency to make the best of my time on earth. As Elaine said about her condition, “It must be a mistake,” I do realize that mistakes can be the best thing that happens to patients. But, whatever the case, keep the faith.

P.S. All the photos were taken today 11/1/18. I have just finished the blog now and it is fun to write from the heart

END. Copyright © Kim Roberts