1 Feb 2011 – The day before Tet.
I’d been looking forward for many hours and many days to seeing my son. He’d been working in Vietnam, away from family, for months. He was homesick, and I was homesick for him as well.
The last leg of flying happened at night, from Tokyo to Hanoi, and I slept on and off most of the flight. Arriving at the airport in Hanoi, we spent a bit of time working our way through the visa and entry process, then went and claimed our luggage, and headed out toward the public area.
It’s funny how – when you’ve been separated from someone for a while – your mind creates its own image of that person. I didn’t really think about that as we were headed toward Hanoi, I just knew I was looking forward to seeing Jesse. Frankly, I was really working hard to suppress any potential that my eyes would tear up when I saw him.
Walking out into the public area, it was impossible to miss Jesse. In a country and a region where most folks are short and slim, a six foot tall broad-shouldered American towers over everyone around. Add to that our habit of big bear hugs with loud back-slapping, and I suspect our greeting drew some attention.
Not that I noticed – I was focused on Jesse, and how different he looked to me. Different from what? I wasn’t sure. I suppose different from the image that my mind had been creating over the past days and weeks as I’d looked forward to seeing him.
The difference, I’m just now realizing a month later, was how much man I saw in him. Oh, he’s been a man for a good long time now. At 29, he’s been on his own for a lot of years.
But it’s a long process to start seeing a son as a man, and to let go of the image of the little boy you raised. I had no idea that I still held on to scraps of that little boy image in my mind. But looking back on that moment, and realizing how much I was surprised by something I was seeing in him, I’m thinking it was grandfather time resting his elbow on my shoulder, and showing me a strong and intelligent man who just happened to have been a little boy in my house many years ago. It was a new lens grandfather time was allowing me to look through.
The next day was “New Years Eve” in Hanoi, and preparations for the Tet holiday were in full swing. We spent the day walking all around Hanoi. I lingered often, taking pictures and marveling at a culture so dramatically different from my own. But only part of my lingering was to take pictures. I also found that I liked hanging back, and watching Jesse walking Peggy around the town. I’m not sure what it was that I found so touching about that, but I marveled at it many times.
Traffic in Vietnam (as in most places in the world) is far less “orderly” than it is here in the states, or in Western Europe. To a westerner, the traffic looks completely chaotic and terrifying, with folks just going in and out and left and right with no real order. But under the terror there really is sense to what’s happening, and you just have to play by their rules. You start in a direction, and you keep going in that direction, and you make no sudden changes. Traffic around you adapts.
I watched as Jesse offered Peggy his arm, and walked across the street with her. It was a five-points intersection, and the traffic was absolutely crazy. But they walked slowly and calmly across the craziness, looking ahead, keeping the same pace and direction. The traffic moved around them seamlessly. I was sure this would terrify Peggy, and watching her be so calm while she held Jesse’s arm was a real marvel for me.
The day was full of great sites – we were quite lucky to be there on the day of preparation for Tet – the Chinese New Year. All day, Jesse was the perfect guide, helping us understand the culture and how things worked. He fit in like it was home for him, and he navigated his way around town like it was his own town. It might have been the first time in my life that I felt completely dependent on him. I trusted his judgement and guidance completely.
I’m learning that some of the most arresting moments in life happen when you open your eyes and see the kids you raised in a whole new light. We’re always evolving and reinventing ourselves, aren’t we? It makes sense that as we do this, the folks who’ll be most taken and shaken as we grow and evolve and reinvent ourselves are our parents.
As the parent, I love the shakes and jolts my kids give me as they grow. Keep it up kids!