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Surviving Darkness

Life is odd. At times it is good; at times it is cruel.

The lady in the photo is my grandmother -- my Amah. A year after this photograph was taken, my grandfather, who sits beside her, passed away. My father, the youngest of the brood, did not even know the man. Consequently, my Amah had to raise 2 stepchildren and 9 of her own, making a living washing people's clothes and selling cold drinks on the street. In turn, she had brought up children who are hardworking and tenacious individuals.

As much as she could, my Amah scraped together all her earnings so she could send her children to school. She would walk miles to the principal's office and beg for a "wholesale discount" on her children's tuition since she had 11 of them attending. I sometimes wonder how many loads of washing she had to do, how many drinks she had to sell, and how many tears she'd shed to eke out a living for her family?

My strong and beautiful Amah is now, perhaps, close to a hundred years old. At least, that's her estimated age. She had arrived in the Philippines as a young girl on a boat from China. She was like a shadow; a girl without a past -- an orphan who made her way out of the war-torn province of Fukien. Nowadays, her mind might be senile, but her will and spirit are alive and kicking.

My father is the little one in the photo, sitting on my grandmother's lap. He is the 9th child of the Sy clan. After living most of his adult life in the Philippines, he had bravely immigrated to Canada with his wife and 2 children. His second child - a son - was diagnosed with a psycho-social disability long stigmatized in the Chinese culture - or in many cultures for that matter. You see, our family has weathered through many tough times, with many questions about the "abnormal" son. Yet my father kept his head up high and he loved with all his might. My father is my hero, and I will forever be thankful for his decision to love his family the best way he could, and to come to Canada to carve a better future for us.

During these times of economic downturn, I often think about how my Amah is a survivor. I am in tears because her son (my father) is experiencing a life-changing financial crisis that I feel helpless to relieve. I had never seen my father cry, save for now. And that is why I am hoping my father draws on my grandmother's inspirational life to make him stronger. I am calling on the gods of Prosperity, Wisdom, and Long Life to help him remember that life is worth living.

I silently pray my father doesn't forget that life is sometimes good and sometimes cruel. But the basic, most humane, most intelligent instinct of all is to SURVIVE.

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