by Emile Placha
A true story about my life. As delivered in a speech to my highschool in 2007.
|KARMA: A Senior Chapel Talk for Concord Academy
Once upon a time, there was a little girl. She lived on an island surrounded by the great blue Sea and from her window she could see all the way to the edge of the horizon. She did not live alone. She had a mother and a father and a sister and some cats. But she had more than these. She had a whole village. There was a Gypsy woman who sang Leonard Cohen and Bob Dylan in a husky, ringing voice. There was the gardener with wild white hair. There were many young men, swearing, seagoing, seasonal. There was the schoolteacher, a kind young woman the little girl thought she would like to resemble, someday.
Each day was the same and each day was different for the little girl. In the autumn, winter and spring she would walk back and forth from school with her sister, spinning stories about everything she saw. She would play with the three other children at recess, in trees, on rocks, in elaborately constructed forts in empty fields of bamboo. In the summer she would play at the beach while her parents worked. Running fearless into the surf she would laugh at barnacle scrapes, gathering as many pieces of perfect glass as she could carry.
The girl sensed the changing of time and yet she did not. Each year was the same in its wholeness, in its circular patterns. She went to school, she played with her friends. She was alone, she walked in the woods and by the shore. On days when it rained, she went on long journeys to the magnificent lands of Sherwood Forest, Arabia and Middle Earth.
Then one day, she packed her possessions into four boxes and left forever.
She had come to a strange new place. The roads were paved, the skies traversed by wires. Cars rolled by her window at night and sometimes sirens shocked her awake. The faces of the friendly fishermen and old eccentrics were replaced by younger, somehow more menacing faces: children of her own age. Instead of sitting on lumpy pillows as she had done in her old school, she now had to switch classrooms every few hours. The rocking rhythm of a life dictated by the Sea had become instead an incessant flow of movement, where everything had a place, a time, a block. Instead of seasons, there were semesters, and the passing of time was meticulously marked, with each assignment completed, each class passed, each day over.
If you imagine a kaleidoscope, that's what Concord looked like to me when I first came here. But I wouldn't change the "strangeness" of my home for anything, even if it does make me suffer culture shock each time I step back on campus. I once told a friend as frustrating as it was to live so far away from school, I didn't think I'd love my home if it wasn't in such a unique location. She responded that I don't know that I wouldn't like my home if it wasn't on an island, and that she thought we love our homes because they are our homes, not because of where they are. I don't know if that's true. My home is beautiful, and I cannot help but be changed by beauty. My island is like a throwback to older, simpler times and what New England used to be, and though it confounds many visitors, I like it that way. My island has no highschool, so I didn't have a choice about leaving. I still remember so clearly lying on the couch of my friends house in Portland, the day before orientation freshman year, and thinking that something was irrevocably ended.
This is not the first time I have gained a new life.
Seventeen years ago, I came to America in a great silver bird from a distant land still dear to my father's memory. On a clear bright day I touched down. It was January 27, 1989. I was sixth months and one week old.
In the country I came from, it was hot and humid, but when I landed in Boston it was midwinter. The trip was a long one, from Saigon to Hong Kong to Oregon to Logan Airport, more than 24 hours. I was asleep when they carried me through the tunnel and into my new life. I woke up when my parents held me, gave them a quizzical yawn, and fell asleep in their arms.
I do not know anything about the life I had in Viet Nam so perhaps it doesn't count. But I like to think my adoption marks the beginning of my life as a traveler. I don't mourn the life I might have had in Viet Nam now that I am old enough to understand the benefits of growing up in the United States. Still, I wonder. If in reincarnation you don't remember what went before, if what before was possibly better, am I better off for not knowing it?
I believe in a twisted kind of karma. Say, for example, one day I am rude to my mother over the telephone. The next day, I get back a bad grade. I don't immediately correlate the bad grade with lack of academic preparation, though I know in my mind this is the case. Instead, I wish I hadn't spoken so to my mother and resolve to be nicer to her.
In my karma, size is not an issue either. No consequence is too big for a small action. A sharp remark on my part may result in something as trivial as then loosing a favorite possession, or something as devastating as loosing a friend.
Speaking of loosing. When I was packing for school this year, I lost quite a few things mysteriously, and being my silly self, I took this as a kind of sign. I lost two shirts. I lost the last page of Chopin's Nocturne. I lost a CD. Little things. To me, they were infuriating. I tried to get to school as quickly as possible to avoid loosing anything else.
About a week into school, my mother called. She said she'd found my two shirts inside my dresser. They'd somehow fallen behind all the drawers and she had quite a time fishing them out. The next week, I opened my music book and there was the last page of my Nocturne.
But other things have slipped away. The third week of school, I lost my favorite black sweater. And two weeks into school, I fell out with one of my best friends.
I have since in my mind tried to juggle the signs and make some sense out of it. What lesson should I be learning? Perhaps I was becoming too materialistic. Perhaps this was a punishment for my going crazy over the loss of small things. I still don't quite know.
When I was 12, I met a man called Constantine, a tall Cypriot who played piano and had an infectious love of life. To me, he was the opitimy of the exotic, a prince from a far off land. He told me that in Cyprus, they believe in a Goddess of Loss. If you loose something, you must pray to her and she will help you find it. When you find it, you must be very careful to bake her a cake with just the right amount of almonds. If you don't thank her properly, she will ensure that next time, what you loose will be of infinitely greater importance.
I live in fear of this Goddess. As I look at this Senior Spring, and realize that soon CA too will be something I am concerned with losing: losing contact with friends, losing memories...I realize that all my anxiety stems from a need to control the world around me, a sentiment I think not unique to me. It is said that "we ring the changes" but I am beginning to think that perhaps that is self-centered. Perhaps things just happen because...they do. Unclimactic, I know. But perhaps all I can do is make the best of the surprises, and then what I keep will still be my own to determine.
This brings me back to the subject of my lives, how I've lost some and gained some, how I've lost people and places and attitudes and things, but also gained the same. I struggle to believe in this. Instead of an intricate world where if I pick a flower, a landmine might explode, I want to chose a world that is more like Sea: ever opening, ever expanding, because perhaps in our way we are all sailors.
If I shed lives like skin, how many incarnations will I go through before attaining the divine? What is there, really, to attain? I look at my life like this. I have decided to enjoy the journey.