The word of the day is inevitable: Bound to happen, unavoidable, predictable. Fitting because I have been thinking about death. True, that this is the inevitable course of all our lives.
Facebook tells me that J.D. Salinger has passed away. And Howard Zinn. In the last year, we’ve lost beloved Filipino American poet and community organizer Al Robles, Chinese American historian (and chronicler of the Chinese American left) Him Mark Lai and Ronald Takaki all in the same month. In the very beginning of the year, Lhasa de Sela whose songs I’ve kept on repeat now for days.
They were all my teachers and mentors through their words, though the only one I knew personally was Al Robles. We would cross paths on street corners, in front of Mom & Pop sandwich stores, at the playground in San Francisco Chinatown where I worked down the street from the corner where the I-Hotel had stood (and where Al had organized against the evictions of the I-Hotel tenants in the 1970s). He was always friendly with a story or a joke to pass onto me and I always felt a little lighter after a chance encounter with him. But I never knew who he really was beyond his community personage.
One of the last times I saw Al was when he agreed to read his poetry at a fundraiser for Oakland Chinatown organizing against the evictions of elderly tenants at the Pacific Renaissance Plaza. I thank him for his generosity and he smiled at me and just nodded his head as if it was a matter of course. And I didn’t keep in touch with him when I moved from the Bay area. What would I have said to him the last time I saw him if I had known that would be it?
This Valentine’s Day weekend, I am going to make a pilgrimage with my family to see my grandmother, who is currently surviving Alzheimer’s. She is in the care of my aunties who take care of her in rotating shifts every few months.
My father told us a few months ago to make room in our schedules so that we could make intentional time to see her, possibly this one last time. Because she is frail, he said. The last time my father went to see her, she recognized him for only a moment, but it was a joyful moment.
When we ask him if it’s to say goodbye, he says No, No, No. Just in case. But I’m thinking about what I want to bring with me on my way to see her, in case this is goodbye.