June 13, 2010
On June 27th, 2009, my family and I had to put our beloved dog of 17, Rika, to sleep. She had a disease that has been steadily making her lose all the muscle in her back legs. She could barely walk and she couldn’t do any of the things she loved to do like running, playing fetch, hiking, playing soccer and she was even having a lot of trouble swimming. Rika’s quality of life was deteriorating and my family and I did the humane thing, we put her to sleep. That day was the saddest day I’ve ever encountered in my life and I was distraught. Letting Rika go was really sad. We were all holding her and I knew we were all together. When we came home I sat down with her collar and tried to do something to cheer up. I tried reading, listening to music, and watching TV but the only thing that made me feel better was when I picked up my guitar and started to play, very loud. When I played my guitar, it was like I got a little push on the road to accepting Rika’s death. I’ve found that whenever I’m mad or sad or just in a bad mood, I know that once I pick up my guitar and use my creativity I’ll feel a bit better.
The value of creativity(Y’tzeer-ah-too-oot) is a thread that runs through both sides of my family. Creative expression is in people’s work, how they play and how they deal with things. For example, when my Mah-Mah (my dad’s mom) immigrated to America when she was 15 (in 1955), she played her violin while balancing in-between the bunks in her ship. She used to play the piano, the violin and the harmonica. Even after her strokes she responds to music. My grandpa’s mother was deaf and she played the piano for silent movies. My mother’s brother is a professional musician and her mother is a dancer and a teacher. My grandpa plays the guitar and the saxophone. Not only is he musically talented but he also holds the title for best story teller. His most renowned stories are his Bouncy stories. Bouncy is an Indian rubber man that Grandpa met when he was in India during the war. Bouncy and my grandpa have had countless adventures in jungles, lakes, and mountains and in every story they use some sort of skill, involving Bouncy’s ability to bend and twist, to save each other. Instead of telling war stories, grandpa tells Bouncy stories. My dad is also a musician who plays piano and guitar really, really well. In fact, he was my first teacher. My mom, has a masters in fine arts and now is an art therapist, combining her parent’s professions- doctor, arts and sciences and teaching. My dad also combines creativity and science. He is a chiropractor and he really set the musical tone in our house.
We have our art all around the apartment and there is an instrument in every room. I play music every day. In our household you could be hearing guitars, the piano, ukelele, drums and the clicking of the keyboard as Anna writes one of her many stories. Creativity is an important value for me because it gives me different ways to express myself and I really like that I can do that.
Hard work,( a-vo-dah ka-shey) and education ( chee-nuch) are also a common thread. Both my grandmother’s pursued their master’s degrees while raising children. There are teachers in my family and some of them are still going to school so that they can learn more. It is important to keep learning. The more you know, the better you can do. There are a lot of ambitious, educated people in my family.
My Mah-Mah was only 15 when she came to the U.S. Her father, a psychologist, wanted his children to have a good education. Her English wasn’t perfect. So when she had to study for a test she would memorize the entire blackboard and copy it down from memory on her test the next day (she always got 100’s).
When she had to take French she would translate the French into English and then translate the English to Chinese so she could understand it. She also studied on the roof of her slanted porch, thinking that if she dosed off she would fall. So she stayed awake. From the early 19th century to the present day my family has strived and sacrificed to have a good education.
My father and Aunt Lucille’s father died when my dad was 5. When my Yeh-Yeh married my Mah-Mah, they moved upstate and this meant away from my Mah-Mah’s family, and away from the church. Religion is a choice. My religious education is different than my parents. When my father was a kid he spent weekends in church. My mother went to Hebrew school 3 times a week. You can choose to be religious or you can choose not to be. As long as you have a choice you will have freedom (hey-root).
Sometimes though, you may not want a choice. Sometimes you just want someone to tell you what to do so that you don’t have to make a choice. Choice not only gives you freedom, but it represents that you are growing up. When you are a little kid you don’t have that many choices but when you’re older you have a lot more freedom and responsibility.
Another family value is empathy or compassion (Ra-cha-meem), the power to allow yourself to step into another persons shoes and understand their feelings. When something sad happens feeling empathy from someone can be more helpful than feeling sympathy. When Rika died, my grandpa wrote a very empathic letter to my family. The letter went like this:
“Dear Rika (Where ever you are),
Thanks for being the best swimmer, runner, and ball-retriever, with the best personality in our family. I will miss your wet nose prodding me to play and your ferocious bark that hid your sweet, gentle strength. You were a role model for all dogs and humans. Rest in peace.
This letter meant a lot to me and I really thank my grandpa for it.
The values of community (k’hee-la) and family (Meesh-pah-cha) are important to me and can mean many things. My Yeh-Yeh was adopted and he immigrated to America when he was 8. Mah Mah and Yeh Yeh both experienced a lot of switching around of communities. This must have been very hard. I have grown up with a stable community of family and friends and I think this helps me to find myself.
Both my Mah-Mah and my Yeh-Yeh left china to escape the war. Both of them have an extreme amount of courage (o-metz-lev). My Mah-Mah had to escape the communist attacks. Her house was destroyed twice and after the second time her family decided to immigrate to America. Once here the family had to find a home big enough for a family of seven people. Mah-Mah went to get room and board near her college. This took an extreme amount of courage because she was new to the country and by herself. When she was working as a dressmaker she would sit my dad on her shoulders to keep him from grabbing all of her stuff. Making a living for family of 3 was not an easy thing to do but she persevered and made it.
Yeh-Yeh has a complicated, difficult history. He was sent to the United States as a little boy and lived with his foster family. He was adopted but had no consistent family until he met and married my Mah-Mah and adopted my father and my aunt. Now he is devoted to caring for my Mah-Mah who has had a series of strokes. It’s taken a lot of courage for her and my entire family to work through this hard time. My dad often talks about how I have barely had any struggle (ma-ah-vek) in my life. I’ve never had to work, I’ve always had food on my table, and I’ve always had some form of happiness. Conflict helps you to learn life’s lessons and I am very fortunate.
Humor (hu-mor) is very much a part of my family. My house is full of silliness (especially during dinner). A great example of this is at Passover dinner. Almost all of my family from my mom’s side is at this dinner. It’s full of laughs, food and of course, the sing along songs that are filled with traditional good humor and my uncle Mark’s jokes. During hard times, humor can be the one remedy that makes people feel better. Even when people aren’t sad, humor is a great way to get everyone in the family to laugh and smile and be one big community.
One thing about being part of a community is giving back to it. (Tee-koon-o-lahm) My grandpa says that everyone should spend at least 2 years away from home doing something that benefits the community or their world. Once you do that you’ll know exactly what profession you want and what you want to do with your life. I think that this means that when you are away from home you need to make your own decisions and you get a better sense of what’s right and wrong for you and this helps you find yourself and this makes you more independent (atz-ma-oot)
This brings me to my final family values: wisdom (chach-ma) and Knowledge (Bee-na). Every person in my family has given me wisdom; whether it’s a certain way to play (my cousins), or a way to live my life (my adult relatives). Here are some wise quotes that I’ve gotten from my family members, starting with my mom.“Nicky, turn off I-tunes and do your homework!” She also tells me to know myself, and be true to myself and other people. My mother has also helped me with my writing for my Bar Mitzvah immensely. When my dad was teaching me guitar, he let me just fool around with the music until I was ready to really learn. This was a really wise decision because now I’ve developed my own creative style.
My Mah-Mah said during her interview “it’s not how much money you have, it’s how much family you have. You can lose money, but you can’t lose family”. I think that this is extremely true. (That’s why I backed up Anna’s drum solo at her talent show and she helped me with my community service.) It’s hard to admit but it feels good to help or teach anyone even if it is my sister.
G.G. my great grandma once told me that reading lets you live longer. The more you read, the longer you live. She was a prolific reader and died 2 months before her 105th birthday. Reading really opens up your eyes to the ever changing world around you. I know that my family is wise and I hope that I can pass the wisdom I’ve gotten down to the next generations that have yet to come.