They say patience is a virtue, and a desirable quality. In a world where we are constantly inundated with notifications, news with hidden agenda, angst, vitriol, and on occasion — actual information, it seems as if everyone and their grandmother is becoming diagnosed with A.D.D of some sort or another.
Throughout my life, I’ve seen many instances of patient and impatient people, often times resulting in my standing by the sidelines being thoroughly amused. Sometimes resulting in being witness to a rare major blow-up where a great deal of friendships are lost because someone couldn’t manage to wait 7 minutes for a bunch of very apologetic friends to arrive via a delayed bus during rush hour (don’t look at me, I was not in either party). Great deal of lessons in that one incident, many which I have not quite fully figured out myself.
Being known for having seemingly endless amounts of patience, and working in a field where patience (or a lack thereof) can have a significant impact on your work, I’ve come to see patience as a holy grail of sorts. It’s always been a trait that I’ve received many compliments for, and it’s certainly served me well throughout life’s many trials and tribulations, until recently.
The past year has been quite the rude awakening on the other side of that very coin. A side that is seldom ever brought up, a side that amongst all the busyness and chaos of life, we seem to have lost as a society. A side that I still struggle to come to terms with.
Prior to moving to Taiwan in the early 2000s, I had gone to Australia to visit my mom’s godmother, who I call Grandma. As my maternal grandmother passed well before my birth, she was the only grandmother I knew growing up. In the years prior, I had pestered my mother incessantly to take me to visit the paternal side of my family, so on this trip, we finally did.
Upon arriving at the family home, we discovered that another family was living there and that the place had been sold long ago. After a lot more looking, we found the address of my grandfather’s new residence, and headed there in hopes he was home and would like to see us. Once there, my mom was very hesitant to hit the buzzer as it’d been a long time since they’d seen each other and she was very anxious. However, I was very insistent on finally meeting my grandfather and was not going to turn around and leave after having traveled this far and waited this long to meet him.
Once my grandfather heard my mother’s name through the intercom, he let us in and came down to invite us up to his condo. There we learned that my grandmother had passed just before my birth, and he had sold the family home and moved to this new one. He explained that he never knew about my birth, and expressed deep regret at all the years he had missed with me. That the family was estranged, and I was the 6th of the 10 grandchildren he had. He asked that we leave our contact information, and promised to visit and make up for lost time.
In the years following, he would visit for 2~3 weeks at a time, and we kept in close contact despite the many times we moved residences. He would fly to Taiwan, and walk the couple kilometers from our home to my school just to see me and meet my friends. He would continue to do this even when we moved back to Canada, and we would share phone conversations every few weeks where he would happily sit on the other side asking me questions, trying to get me to open up and tell him anything. I seldom did say much, but he would happily sit in silence with me, sharing that moment.
We would visit each other many times over the years, flying some ~17 hours + layovers and delays until it was too much strain on his health, and I would continue to take those trips. On each and every visit, he would remember my favourite ice cream, my favourite foods, and would make sure the fridge was fully stocked with everything I liked before I even arrived. Despite refusing to eat red meat because he had a farm with all sorts of animals in his earlier days, he would go down to the butcher’s to ask for the best cut of steak meat to cook for me. A sort of luxury I never had the privilege of experiencing before.
We would spend our time together at home, reading books for hours on the couch in silence. He would teach me any word or phrase I asked him to in any one of the 5 languages he was fluent in, no matter how silly or crude. Talk with me about anything and everything; the state of the world, my goals and aspirations, his life, his time in the Navy in WW2, all about our family, etc. Watching shows like “Border Patrol” or “Do you want to be a millionaire?” where he seemed to know the answer to every question before the options even came on the screen, or just watching sitcoms like “Two and a Half Men” which were too stupid for his liking and he would doze off some 20 times before finally calling it a night. Every year, we would celebrate our birthdays together in October. Then the following month would be my mom and god grandmother’s birthday. Then Christmas. A whole stack of cards and letters being sent back and forth.
The lounge table would always have a fancy bowl with $50 in it, way too much for any kid to have, and he would always urge me to go buy myself something I liked from McDonald’s or whatever I wanted. He’d pretend to get upset until I finally grabbed a $10 or $20 bill, came back with an ice cream cone and put all the change back in the bowl, much to his chagrin. He would insist on me sleeping in his master bedroom, while he took the small bed in the spare room. Every Saturday around 5am, we’d go to visit my great grandparents at the cemetary, where he would drop off flowers. And if I was too tired to make the early morning trip, he’d go it alone.
We would drive for 1.5 hours each way to the farm in his old 4×4 Daihatsu with me singing to annoying pop songs the whole way. Picking up throwaway produce from the grocer’s and bread from the bakery, we would make our way there every 2~3 days. Feeding the giant koi fish in the pond, burning ant mounds over a meter wide in diameter while standing way too close…watering the plants and 20+ different types of fruits he planted all over, feeding the 10 odd cows that the neighbour would leave with him till they were ready to be sold off, and eating sandwiches and orange soda from the cooler we brought. There he would teach me to chop wood, where I developed a weird obsession with chopping down every single invasive tree species I had the energy for, while almost chopping off my big toe in the process. Removing tree stumps by pouring in poison, and having to stop me from trying to burn all the chopped wood/stumps because it was wildfire season (much to my disappointment).
He’d have to make many attempts to stop me from getting myself killed by the angry mother cow because I felt a special kinship to her baby calf that was born on my birthday. We’d drive to the next street to see the lambs and horses, or arrive at 4:30 in the morning just to see the rabbits and wallabies run off in the woods. He’d wear the SAP hat I gave him many years ago, and be incredibly proud even though he didn’t know what SAP was. It didn’t matter what SAP was anyway, it was from his grandson, and that’s all that mattered.
In the later years when his doctor forbade him from driving so far to do work on the farm, he would still do his routine of picking up huge bags of bread and pastry, to haul up to the condo and share it with all the families, even going so far as to deliver bread door to door to the families that need it most. Never once did I hear him express discontentment at the lack of gratitude he received. Never once had I seen him treat anyone with less than the highest of courtesies, despite all the ways people would judge and treat him just because he chose to dress simply. He was always humble and understated, always wore a smile, the most generous, and the most patient. Never once would he talk about putting 4 kids through private school and university as the sole provider without a dime to his name. Nor would he ever mention making furniture for famous figures, prime ministers, or Queen Elizabeth II herself.
Most importantly, of all the things he would never do, he never gave up the chance to let me know that I was loved. Every phone call, every visit. 3 words that I never heard growing up with an Asian mother, 3 words that may as well not exist in the Chinese vocabulary. He always wanted me to know he meant it too, “never forget that” he would say.
Yet somehow, every single time I heard it, it felt foreign. Those 3 words are so alien to my whole being and upbringing that despite wanting to say it back, I would choke on the words. No matter how much I felt the same, the best I could ever muster was “you too”. It was okay though, because one day, I will tell him. One day, those words will come out, and it’ll feel natural, because I mean it. Phone call after phone call, time after time, it’d come and go, “you too”, “you too”, “you too”.
In more recent years, he would be short on breath, and have difficulty holding conversation for very long, yet still, he would say it. No matter how difficult it was for him to say it, he would push it out. Knowing that despite his good health, he was no longer as able as he was just years prior, I resolved to take leave from work to go see him before the end of the month. When he found out, he asked me not to visit, and begged me to promise him that I would not fly over. Between his shortness of breath, and his refusal to let me change the topic, I reluctantly promised so he could hang up and get some rest.
Finally, on July 13th 2018, we shared another phone call. Between his shallow breaths, he said “I will always remember you, and you will always remember me, I love you, don’t ever forget that. You are and will always be my favourite grandson. I love you.” Yet it just didn’t come out, I didn’t say it back. When he hung up the phone, all I felt was hatred for myself, I hated that after this long I still couldn’t say something that should be so simple. So I resolved to call him again tomorrow, and tell him no matter what. It was going to happen, and nothing was going to stop me.
There’s always another chance, always another opportunity. Another bus, another train, another flight, another job, another phone call. That’s just another fact of life, and that’s what patient people understand. Sometimes though, there is no other. It’s gone and nothing will bring it back.
On July 14th 2018, in the dead of the night, my Grandpa passed at the age of 92. Never to pickup the phone again. Never to sit in silence with me on the phone. Never to hear me say those 3 words I so desperately wanted to say. Never knowing that he was and is my favourite person in the whole world. And yet, my only solace is in knowing that despite having never heard those words, he knows.
I love you, Grandpa.