Gifts of Life

Several weeks before I turned 23, someone knocked on my door and said, “I cooked something. For your birthday.”

I had been at a different place in understanding myself before I met her, functioning on what seems like a duo of sporadic energy and perpetual anxiety. Our values met, but we couldn’t have been more different at that stage in life. It helped.

Our friendship was kind and irresistible.

I joke around by calling her Mom, except that it isn’t really a joke. I have embraced that word in a much broader sense — the way many would when they were lucky enough to have good parents. I took all of her love in, like how I imagine she would if her Mom were around during her childhood.

I used to hate being sheltered by my parents, but now, I have grown protective of them with that same energy.

On the first minutes of my birthday, my childhood friend called. She is someone who exudes a quality of eternal optimism and sensibility, so reassuring and sweet that they could only have been ironed through years of humility and empathy. She never says or writes much, but always makes clear through actions that she will always be there for those she cares about.

She gives close ones her full presence. But people are alone with their own struggles and I wonder if she has ever felt understood with that same degree of intensity and intentionality.

She is the hero of her own story. And she is always my hero.

Going to an overpopulated public high school in America is one of the richest experiences that I have ever had in my life. I will never forget how I changed during my teenage years. It was like bleeding (for good reasons) so that I could learn about healing.

And I also realized — many teachers don’t only teach. They change lives.

I have five old film cameras, which were passed on to me from older friends. They said, “I would rather give this to someone who could make use of it.”

My first try was with a black-and-white roll of film from my college professor. I didn’t look at the world the same way since then.

Before my college graduation several weeks, a friend who I didn’t keep in touch with for almost four years travelled to meet me in person. We talked for hours that night, like old friends who have never been apart, except that we have always been apart in many ways. She doesn’t know that I have held onto past things for a long time, to be completely swept away by her presence and eagerness to let me be in her life once again. I was free.

If there is something that I always give to many strangers, but owe her, it is honesty. And so, I never truly, partially know her until eight years after we became friends. I regret, but humbly realize the extent of my luck as she chose me to be her friend.

I love her so much — my friend who has been through experiences from which she will probably never truly recover, but chooses to be uncynical, forgiving, ambitious, and most of all, ruthlessly true to herself and others.

“I will surely hold my sister’s hand when she reaches out to me,” she told me.

She doesn’t know it, but she is in my list of top kindest people.

There was one time when I called my mentor at 3am. It was 3pm on the other side of the earth. Despite the countless times I have tried to remember our conversation, I couldn’t recall it at all.

Yet the feeling of having someone who believes in you and sees values in who you are remains.

After that night, she walked deep into my heart.

I hope that one day, someone could walk into her heart, like the way she has walked into others.

There is something special about working with the community. I breathe in a different way.

The person who gave me that job probably didn’t expect that she would change my life when she first shook my hand six years ago.

People who are younger than me teach me to be a better human being.

The first time I cried for feeling someone’s pain was when my best friend’s father passed away. I never told her that.

My friend told me, “Nhi, I hope you know that nothing lasts forever.”

But little does she know how permanent kindness feels to me, when her family welcomed me over for dinner. Her Mother made me biryani. She reminded me of all the love Moms could give to their children.

“I don’t want to forget how you look like,” a child looked into my eyes as we said goodbye.

For as long as I live, that will always be one of the best moments of my life.

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