Back in Montreal

Over the Pacific
Over the Pacific

The snow is melting, and the ice beginning to thaw. Roads and pavements that for months have been hidden under winter’s coat are slowly being uncovered, revealing unsightly pocketed (sur)faces. The temperature may still dip below freezing now and then, but signs of life, signs of a new season, are returning with the return of twittering birds and buds budding. It is just the way of the world.

It seems like it has been a long, long time since I left Montreal. Friends say that I am lucky to have escaped what has been a long and brutal winter, but in truth often while I was away, I missed this city, and the life I begun here over two years ago. It is surprising how a place grows on you, and how you realise that even more when you are away from it.

Back in December, I put life here on hold to go back to Taiwan to be with my mother. It was not the first time, and most likely it will not be the last. Ever since I started my Masters at McGill I have been shuttling between here and home trying to spend as much time as possible with her, and trying my best to make the most of our time together. Life is short, as they say, and when faced with illness and mortality, life seems to become even shorter, even more valuable. At the end of the day, when all the noise, troubles and worries subside, the precious little moments, beautiful little memories, and a smile the recollection of which will bring a smile every time, are all that is left. And truly, the past few weeks with my mum have been filled with happy and sad times that I am sure she and I will hold onto and treasure forever.

I may be the only person from my year who has yet to finish his studies. But the life of a graduate student, as the many stories and anecdotes on this blog prove, is not just simply about getting into and out of university. Life throws situations and hurdles at you at unexpected times, and as a child, the ailing health of a parent can weigh down heavily on the heart and mind, and throw plans and expectations into disarray.

I was brought up in a culture centred on filial piety (孝)—the idea that, broadly explained, emphasises being ‘good’ to one’s parents, by  showing them respect, love, care and support. Even having grown up in Europe, and now living in Canada, this idea still resonates deep within. With what I am facing at home, I often feel torn between wanting to be there for my mother, and wanting to finish off my studies and start a career of some sort soon. It feels like a choice, an either-or, which is difficult to reconcile, and causes me much stress, worry and, at times, sleepless nights.

My mum has always been very understanding and open with me. Growing up, she always gave me the time and space to grow and to do what I want with myself. We have very frank talks about life and death, and all that happens in between. All you can ever do in life is the best you can, and try to live without regrets, without remorse about your decisions and choices in life. Nobody knows for certain of life’s (…and death’s) when’s, how’s and why’s. The only thing anyone can do is (try to) make peace with the fact that life and the world can never be the way you want them to be.

Islands in the skyDespite being alone by herself, she tells me again and again that my future is more important than anything else. “Go back to what you have to do,” she said a few weeks ago, “Don’t worry, I’ll be fine.”

Of course, worry I always will, just as I will always think of her and care about her, wherever I may be. But I heeded my mum’s words, and now am back here, back in the library, trying to pick up where I left off a few months ago. It is hard to let go, hard to turn away from the knowledge that a loved one may be suffering far away. But I am not a physician or a healer, and what more can I offer than all the little things I have said and done to show her that I care about her and that she is loved? At one point, you just have to let go, and let life take its course.

Just as the snow and ice will come, one day it will all melt and thaw, for even greatest worries and fears cannot stop the changing of the seasons and the ways of the world.

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