Being Present

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Dear Blue,

In about twenty-five years, our plans to arrange an arranged marriage with one of our friend’s daughters without you knowing it was arranged should be coming into fruition. If that’s the case, then the inevitable ‘in-laws meeting for the first time’ might not be so awkward. If it’s not, prepare yourself, Blue. It’s fun.

I’m going to tell you about the first time my parents met your mother’s parents.  Wrapped up in it is a morsel of truth that can be applied to basically any situation when dealing with people. Be present, Blue. People like it. People respect it. People reward it.

About a year before your mother and I married, my parents flew in to visit. We spent the first few days of their vacation up in Yosemite and San Francisco. Things were going splendid, Blue. This was the first time your mother had met my parents, and even though she was a nervous wreck, by the end of our little road trip it was like they had switched out their son for a daughter. Your mother has that affect on people. She’s a very present person.

Naturally, since things were going so well, we took them to dinner with her parents. Naturally, we were terrified. Any time you decide to collide two different worlds, the aftermath of that collision is unpredictable, often messy and nearly always awkward.

But we were used to awkward, so onward. We went to eat at a Chinese restaurant. I’m not talking Panda Express here, Blue. I mean, a place that serves real Chinese food. It had a B proudly attached to the front window, a glowing ring of authenticity from the Health Department.  When we walked in, up front and center was a wall stacked with fish tanks and clipped garden hoses feeding fresh water to the schools of fish staring dumbly at customers as they walked by.

I was sweating bullets. Your grandparents, Blue, do not normally eat real Chinese food. When they do, it’s egg rolls and orange chicken, with a fork. This was the real deal, and I knew as stepped into the restaurant, worlds were busily colliding alongside the steady clatter of silverware.

In a good way. I was shocked and amazed to see my parents fit in so comfortably. I shouldn’t have doubted them. They have a gift with that, Blue. Any and every situation, they somehow find a way to feel comfortable in their own skin, and it projects outward like an invisible mist, infecting everyone with the same sense of serenity. Most people, when they visit them back home in Kentucky, stay for weeks and think they’ve only been there a few hours.

Things were going well. Everybody was chattering away around the table as waiters plopped down plate after plate after delicious plate on the lazy susan. Then came the fish. Remember how I talked about worlds colliding? I remember the exact moment of impact.

The fish dropped on the table, and like every other fish at a real Chinese restaurant, it was cooked whole and presented proudly in that manner. The head. The fins. The bones. Everything was there.

And it was placed right in front of your grandmother, its mouth agape; a perfect mirror of her shocked face. For the most part, nobody noticed. Everyone was having such a good time they weren’t paying attention. I noticed and made a move to grab the edge of the lazy susan to drag the fish away from your now frozen grandmother. Before I could reach the glass, your gonggong beat me to it. He whipped the fish around to him, snatched it off the glass, and then neatly chopped the head off before depositing the rest of the fish back on the plate. He nodded at your grandmother. Nothing more needed to be said. Instead, we laughed.

The night would have been fine regardless of that little hiccup, Blue. Your grandparents aren’t fickle people, and something as stupid as a fish would never ruin an experience for them. Make no mistake, though. Worlds did collide that day, and your gonggong, being present and alert, was able to turn a potentially awkward collision into a funny moment that bonded the two worlds you come from in a unique way that we all remember.

Be present, Blue. It’s rewarding. Not just to you, but to everyone with you in an awkward situation.

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