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On a New Year's Eve - A note on Solitude by Anh Tho Andres

Original Title in English: Back to Square One by Author Anh Tho Andres

On se demande parfois si la vie a un sens…et puis on rencontre des êtres qui donnent un sens à la vie (Brassai)


I wanted to write on Solitude when I am not suffering from it. Solitude has always been a permanent state of me. Since eternity, I had always somehow felt that I was different from others, although in my everyday life, I have always given my entourage the impression that I mix easily with people.

I think that it could be because of that sense of loneliness that I am open to any hand that wants to reach out for me.  I feel I am so eager to communicate with anyone, to give and to share everything I have, because I not only have the need to give, and to share, but also because I know that maybe tomorrow I will not have the opportunity to share that particular thought or feeling or happiness, as life is sometimes very cruel and deceiving.

A Zen author who l read lately - Dillon Masters -  has described ‘my‘ feeling of solitude as follows:
„What brings us joy in one moment brings us sadness in the next. Nobody can stop the tides of anything thus conclusion is that „life sucks“…. In order not to suffer,  we shall not « cling to  [things] but rather savor each passing moment with the awareness that soon the savor will turn into the sour »

Further in his teaching about suffering, he then explains that „Suffering occurs precisely because the nature of conditional life is changing… The origin of suffering is attachment (or craving). Because we don’t know who we are we derive a sense of identity from attaching to things, or we resist other things. We crave things we enjoy and we resist things we repudiate, but since nothing remains constant, our sense of identity rides the wave of change – Here today, gone tomorrow.. . »

I think that the origin of what I identify as the main cause of my permanent state of solitude is indeed my understanding that nothing lasts forever.

It started with the first pain of being separated from what I cherished most, the presence of my uncle, who taught me my first guitar lessons and all the wonderful things that a child of my age was eager to learn. His death at age 18 on his first battlefield helped me to realise how impermanent life could be and taught me to be nice to people as we never knew if that person would be still alive the next day.

I do not recall exactly how we spent time together, he as a younger brother of my mother, and me as a child of ten, except for the many small gifts he brought back from his ‘assignments’ on patrol, his ‘chien loi pham’ (Note : things you collect from your enemies after a battle). I only recalled when the news of his death was announced, the shock I saw on his fiancée’s face. She was also 18, and was living with us as a nanny to my youngest sister – we had each of us a ‘personal’ nanny, mostly between 14-16 as a playmate, as my parents were busy working and coming home late.
Somehow it was also in our tradition that we would take some young and poor people from the countryside, to come and spend a few years with us, receiving the lodging and training until they reach the age of getting married, to be sent back home to their parents as an accomplished ‘debutante’, a kind of « fille au pair ».

The girl’s name was „Summer“, she had a sweet face and beautiful voice, and was quite often photographed in her traditional ‚ao dai‘ and very ‚Hue‘ style, by some American soldiers on leave  in our small town. I was following her quite often to the market, or to the store my parents owned,  she was in a way my playmate. But I guess as a child of ten, I was not really her ‚confidante‘ although I managed to share all the ‚3 sous‘ (cheap) love novels she was reading, hiding them from my mother.

I could not at the time fully understand the pain she must have felt until the day I lost my first husband, after years helping him fight his cancer. Although we had time to prepare ourselves for his final departure, when it came, the pain was still unbearable, because somehow inside me, I still hoped for the impossible. I think although the mind is prepared for such an eventuality, the heart cannot accept it so easily.

Later on, with other separations coming my way, I have learned not to give away all my soul, for fear that I would be going through the same pain again. Could it be that fear that caused me to keep a distance from those whom I could have accepted to share my feelings, for fear of an eventual separation? Could that be that being afraid of suffering, I have missed out so many chances to be happy ? But could that be also that fear was the real background music of my permanent sense of loneliness?

Many people seem to never suffer of loneliness. They are so easy going, and always seem to be surrounded by a multitude of children, cousins, nephews and nieces, friends and neighbours, friends of friends, etc, and every day seems to be a happy party for them. This is the case of one Filipina friend of mine.  I was accepted by her as a member of their family. Anyway, I felt that way. My son who was 7 when I moved  back to Switzerland from Singapore needed a family environment, so I joined this family and discovered how amazing the sense of belonging which I enjoyed.

I learnt a lot from Ellen, who literally only lived for her family. A real example of sacrifice and love to her beloved ones. As a young bride, she already suffered separation from her husband who went to work in the Middle East. Years passed and she got 5 children whom she had been raising almost by herself with the meager sum he sent her. The children later got married and had children and were somehow reunited to live in Switzerland through the blood relationship with some distant Swiss parent.

For each and every one of them, she cared for them since their birth, then later on she accompanied  them to their first school days, until they grew up.  The in-laws were well accepted in the family. There was always lots of food around, and I had the feeling that everytime I was invited to their place (very often indeed) everybody was busy cooking, or preparing for some kind of party. Of course, besides the food, there was dancing, singing karaoke, chatting with friends, and exchanging gifts. How can life be so easygoing, I wonder?

From this experience, I learnt to open up myself and release my real feelings of the moment. For example, on my birthdays, instead of hiding away from the crowd and fearing that I would be disappointed not to receive from the persons I care the expected greetings for this particular day. I would call my friends and announce to them that it is my birthday and sharing with them my joy and satisfaction of the day. I do that every year fort he past 5 years and my friends are delighted.

One of my favourite author, Deepak Chopra said something wonderful:

"We have stopped for a moment to encounter, to meet, to love, to share. This is a precious moment, but it is transient. If we share with caring, lightheartedness, and love, we will create abundance and joy for each other. Anh then this moment will have been worthwhile.”

With this beautiful statement, I am sending my best thoughts for this particular moment we are sharing with each other. Let it go into eternity as it will lay the path of more happiness to come our way.

Anh Tho Andres
Excerpts from my coming book
Back to Square One

Midnight December 20th, 2011

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