There are times when I am convinced I have the luckiest life in this world. Those usually happen early in the morning on Sundays. The house will be quiet save for the meows of a cat in the basement who might remember that this is the time the owner may consider her life the luckiest. These are also the times I would not say out loud or even write down the word “luck” on paper, real or virtual, in case whomever, although undetectable by my naked eyes but real nonetheless, is watching may be tempted to wipe this brief spell of magical life that I am in.
You wouldn’t know it by looking at me of course, of how lucky I am. I am clad in flannel pajamas, and hair hastily combed, holding a mug, decorated with drawn scenes from London, which is filled with bitter coffee; in front of me lays an open book on the kitchen table which still houses some leftover crumbs from last night’s dinner. I would soon brush away the debris on this pine table, bought fifteen years ago from a Rent-to-Own furniture store which had since gone bankrupt, and place my laptop on the smooth surface to write about how fortunate I am.
I am aware that even this table feels lucky today. This table with brown coffee rings, which would never truly fade even after years of being scrubbed, knows that it had served so many meals – some cranky, some in haste, mostly happy and noisy. There, this chair used to have a booster seat strapped on top to secure a baby who fingered, threw, picked, shoved, dropped, ate Cheerios and macaroni-and-cheese. Another baby too sat on the other chair, and both of the babies grew up to be toddlers, and preschoolers, and elementary-schoolers, and now teenagers with stubborn minds and sweet cheeky smiles. How can this table not feel blessed this morning?
This book on the said table, left open at page 23, must feel fortunate since the day it was printed, bound and distributed in the bookstores and libraries across the world. Everything is illuminated, it says on the hardcover, with the author’s name Jonathan Safran Foer, right underneath. To be the book of Jonathan Safran Foer, to be the words chosen and considered, formed on paper and to capture the imagination of the readers, to live in their hearts, to draw out loud laughs and soft tears out of them, must be the best feeling in the world. How many lines have been touched upon, and cited in quotation marks in many manners– virtual, verbal, penciled, inked, typed, dreamed, mouthed, remembered? How breath-taking this book must feel every time a stranger’s fingers pick it out of the shelf in the Daniel Boone St Louis County library (or requested via the internet, since these days everything is inevitably internet-ted)?
Mind you, I along with many others have seen the movie version with that Hobbit Frodo in it. It was a good heart warming movie but it is nothing like the book, which by the end of the first paragraph, I was already laughing and shaking my head at the ingenious work of the author. What imagination, what word power, what incredible sense of humor and wit, this man has. He is no sheep. Nor he has shits between the brains, as his character Alexander Perchov would refer to him in the book (yes, he stars as himself in the book or the imaginary himself). “He is an ingenious Jew.”
I have read his other book, Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close, which also has been made into a big movie (not an independent one like Everything is Illuminated was) with Tom Hanks and Sandra Bullock, but I have no desire to see the movie. Extremely Loud is also an incredibly moving and funny book, formatted in the most unusual manner (I urge you to pick up a copy and read it). You will be bowed by the sheer brilliance of this man’s mind. I wish I could eat the words so that the shit between my brains would be replaced by his dazzling intellect. If only essence can form and duplicate like flames from a candle. I would have been reading books like his over and over in the hope of stoking my neurons to come alight.
Before I lost my point by describing the glory of this book and how I want to marry it, or the author if he would make me smarter, I was thinking how lucky this book has made me feel. If I do not possess the mind to appreciate the words in this book, imagine how dim my life would be. Or if I cannot fathom the true value of this used table, which I bought with my first paycheck because we had to have a surface to eat on in the unfurnished one bedroom apartment, our first home in this city, imagine how vacuous my life would be!
I feel lucky that I was born from the union of two incredibly smart, loving, and honest hardworking parents. I even feel lucky that I was born in a country, which had already been under the rule of a ruthless dictator for three years by the time my first breath of oxygen was drawn into my lungs. I was lucky that my father was the head of a University hospital when I was born, whereupon he and my mother would look through the names of the patients (most of whom were students of Rangoon University), and made combination between first and second names to come up with my name, Aye Mon. All of us three daughters were named this way. While other Burmese parents went to the Buddhist monks and the astrologers and palm readers and psychics to choose the right names, with each of the child’s birth chart, my father sifted through the names of his patients and made anagrams for his new daughters.
I feel lucky that I had grandparents who gave my father a piece of land with an old colonial house built on it, to live with his family. And on this piece of wild land (or it appeared wild in my five-year old mind), many games were played, trees climbed, fish from the ponds hand-scooped, flowers lei-ed, sour plums pickled and eaten with fish sauce and red pepper flakes, ticks from skin detached, leeches pulled from toes and salted to be shrunk, snakes seen and voices shrieked, gecko tails spotted at doorways, and butterflies netted and killed.
In this acre land with weeds grown taller than an average Burmese man (which is five feet seven), my unblemished and adventurous childhood began and ended happily. Outside the gate, not far from the house, students staged protests and were killed, vendors carried food and merchandise on their heads, pre-war buses full of people dangling at the doors ran from bus stop to bus stop, dust rolled from home to home, and Inya Lake swelled with rain and lovers on the bank. Inside the gate of my father’s land, my eight cousins, all girls, were always visiting; we played, bickered, sang, danced, fought, made-up, ran, chased, hid, sought, and found one another year after year. Tell me who else could claim such glory? Who else could remember their lives with so much joy, moist like the heat of Rangoon in the middle of June?
I am forty-four now. Yes, oh yes, I am finally owning up the numbers. No use in hiding my age. No time to waste denying my identity. Who else but me in their forty-four years could look at a piece of stained wood, exult in the bound book of an author whom she would never be able to write like, or recall a land with full of happiness but left behind long ago?
I am Aye Mon, a name combined and chosen by my father from the pages of a hospital registration record. I am a lucky daughter, a blessed wife, winner of two children, and bearer of a beautiful life. Mornings have never looked so illuminated.