Sunday, November 19, 2017

In the Autumn of My Life

© Kim Roberts

I am looking at the dead leaves on the ground of Montmorency Park, in front of Château Frontenac. I am in tears, not because of sadness or joy. This intense emotion is from gladness in my heart. Despite all the ups, downs, and arounds, life has been fabulous and I am thankful for this life.

An autumn gust sweeps through like a magic wand that mysteriously makes the leaves roll upward with hesitation, vacillate for a few moments, then dance in mass as if they are being hypnotized. I stare at their movements. I observe their directions. I am mesmerized by the colors of golden and brown with some stubborn green spots that refuse to give in to the brilliant autumn colors edging around them. I see death with a promise of renewal. Then looking inward, I see a glittering sunset sky shimmering down slowly--the twilight of my time on earth. But, unlike the trees losing autumn leaves with a promise of a new growth in spring, I wonder if I will have the same chance of returning. I am in the autumn of my life--the most brilliant time to cherish what life has offered and a time to reflect, to feel melancholic with a touch of nostalgia, and perhaps a few moments to savor the last drops of golden sun rays before the night takes over and life ends.

As I narrow my eyes and gaze intensely at the movements of autumn leaves chasing each other on Montmorency ground, images of the old days begin to emerge. The colorful carpet of leaves turns into a sparkling water surface with thousands of Water Fish wiggling under the sun. They immediately disappear as a breeze stirs up ripples and tiny streaks of sunrays begin to leap and bounce on the water, unaware of the disturbance that has dissolved the fish. And, I am six. Father is holding my little hand and puts in my palm a tiny sapling plum tree with a promise that the tree would grow if I take good care of it. "Water it thoroughly until it can drink from the creek," says Father. The day Father dies, my plum tree dies. I am fifteen. Sister Nhu Anh consoles me, "Trees have souls. They follow Papa."

I am seventeen. The morning I meet an American Officer at a Sunday service at Dong Tam Chapel, he immediately sweeps me off my feet. We go on a helicopter ride to Vung Tau to visit the military hospital there. Over My Tho, along the Mekong River, Viet Cong's shots hit the side of the chopper. I examine the defoliated dead coconut trees, leaves drooping, and trunks in various brownish shades. I turn to him with inquiring eyes and disbelief, "Why? Why? Trees have souls." For years after that day, I often go to bed with images of his eyes that reveal so much feeling. He contacts me frequently by mail. Yet we never get close. We never have even a hug. Each time I open his letter and reply to it, I ask myself, "Why?" Occasionally, I ask myself a different question, "What's the point?" I am eighteen; I experience the effects of teargas and sing Trinh Cong Son's anti-war music along with other students for the first time. I hang out with starving artists in Saigon. My mentor, artist V. Ba takes me under his wing and helps me hone my skills in painting. I meet a pilot, a friend of my sister, on a rainy night. We stand on the porch and recite Le Trong Lu's and Han Mac Tu's poetry until 2 AM. Two years later the pilot is killed during the Khe Sanh Battle. I ask, "Why? Why him?"

I have learned to compartmentalize my life. Everything has its own drawer. Everyone about whom I care is kept in each compartment. I don't talk to anyone. I keep a diary in my head.  Living with poverty and at war, you don't have privacy. The only private part of your life is in your head and heart, your most primitive way to computerize your files. Over time, the files get full and stuck and you can't get most of them out. Among the files I have buried deep inside is the fact that everyone in my family knows I am a target of an obsessive stalker but no one would help me. I often ask, "Why? Why don't they?"

1974, I can see the day I am running away from a shadow that follows me. I crash into a cadet named Tam from Thu Duc Academy. Along with two dozens of cadets temporarily assigned to protect the Presidential Palace, he stays inside the National Library where I arrange an Art show for my office.  For the first time, in the library's secret archive kept in a nine-floor tower, fear of and anger at my circumstance, love of books, and the pressure of a war that is coming to an end have made our relationship the most intense and memorable of all. Ten days after we met, he goes back to the Academy, I am deeply torn, "Why? Why life has to be this way?" Each time I think of myself standing by the top window of the library tower wishing I could fly away from the whole Saigon and the war, I have an urge to paint birds. I want wings. That's the reason I have painted so many birds--to me, they symbolize "freedom."

After coming to America in 1975, throughout the years, I have asked myself many more whys.  I doubt that I will ever find the answers to all of them. So I always have more questions than answers. I now face the fact that I am in the autumn of my life. Like everyone else of my age group or even older, it's time to decompress and open up the well-packed compartmental life cabinet to lessen the load on our way to the next chapter wherever or whatever that may be. I have decided that this is the time for me to explore the making of my character and answer most if not all the whys--not to satisfy anyone else's concern but mine, for me and me alone. My primary question is whether I am the maker of my own being, or the muse of my own creation. Or have I been merely the rhapsody of a force of destiny, or a Divine Plan, against which I have fought and surrendered?

A long time ago, in October 2015, I pondered that question when I began my blog. I blog so I don't have to be concerned about editing and publication. They are killers of inspiration. I've been waiting for the right time to explore all possible answers to my life inquiries. That said, I will now reprint my blog "Autumn in My Heart," the very beginning of my personal exploration.
Friday, October 9, 2015
© by Kim Roberts

Vibrant and lucid, the trees are ignited in Autumn blaze.

Return again, the whistling winds in sunlit sky.
The time has come for us to reflect
and to celebrate
the magnificence of today and of this place.

I look not to Winter when the leaves are gone,
nor back, with regrets, jolly Spring
and dazzling Summer funs.
Calm, peaceful, and restored by the glory of nature,
I wish to share with you my happiness, love,
and contentment…

That is how I feel about “Autumn" since Autumn always touches me more than any other season. I was born in Autumn. My father passed away on my 15th Birthday.  My late husband also died in Autumn, exactly 1 month before my birthdate. Yet for me, Autumn is not about dying, it’s about beauty. It’s a time to reflect, meditate, and to appreciate what Nature does to indulge us with magnificent colors, with nourishing rain, and with exquisite and melancholic changes when sea birds fly south for the winter and monarch butterflies migrate. This is an ideal time to give love and to reflect…

END    © Kim Roberts

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