I am sitting here in the Vancouver YVR airport reflecting on this trip. I cautiously sip A&W coffee with the startlingly loud snores of a Chinese man draped on a bench beside me. I didn’t really get the chance to absorb and process everything that had happened. So here it goes, the untangling and the processing:
I always found Vancouver to be the most amazing place on earth as a child. We would visit almost every summer and were greeted at the airport by my hyper cousin bouncing up and down in excitement, her ponytail swaying back and forth, and my grandma smiling calmly by her side. We would drive to my grandma’s house where the sun would stream through the windows and Schatze the Weiner dog would bolt to the door to see who it was, then retreat to her business once she found out. Schatze wasn’t a fan of children. She didn’t particularly enjoy the constant pulling of her tail and attempts to pick her up, but she was always around us during meal time, waiting patiently for scraps of food to fall.
I remember selling handmade bracelets on the side of the road and running down the hill to play in the park of Canyon Heights Elementary School. I remember exciting games of kick the can, nicky-nicky-nine doors and hide and go seek. Sometimes we would wander down to Peter Rabbit for candy and walk back. We would make prank phone calls that we’re so hilarious I could barely finish a sentence without falling on the floor in a fit of laughter. We would watch Disney movies and arrange ourselves strategically on a small couch meant for two people. We would visit my grandpa’s house where we would watch gangs of hungry racoons lurking in the backyard or blue jays eating peanuts on the balcony and fish swirling around a pond. Ending the day sitting on the living room floor as our grandfather explained why little decorative mice lived in the wall.
Vancouver was perfect to me, it always was.
Every time I came home to Vancouver it was the same. It was always happy and exciting. I figured that this Vancouver that I knew would remain that way forever, like my own little snow-globe that I could return to every year.
But life doesn’t work that way. It feels like this time I have been revealed the backstage of the performance, the dark, grim reality of life. Or in other words, the shocking reality of adulthood.
I attended my grandmother’s funeral yesterday and learnt quite a bit about her I didn’t know before. Her parents rode on horseback from the East coast of Canada and settled in a small farm town in British Columbia called Pouce Coupé. She was born on August 14, 1920 as the youngest to 5 older brothers. Her mother was a strict woman and thought electricity was a passing fad so they went without. She was later sent to a covenant in Alberta. In her early twenties she enrolled in the Royal Canadian Air Force as a logistics officer in part of the war effort against Hitler. This is where she met and eventually married fighter pilot, Orville Richard Hetherington, my grandfather, who died when I was only twelve. They had 3 boys, one being my father.
There was a slide show during the service and I saw pictures of her as a young woman. Pictures I’d never seen before. I could see myself, my cousin and my sister in these pictures. I realized that I am living with the genes of this unbelievable woman and suddenly felt so proud to be a Hetherington. For all those little things I don’t like about myself or feel insecure about, they are all parts of my ancestors, they are part of the Hetherington’s. My sister, and my grandmother live on in the living. It makes me stand a bit taller and feel a little prouder.
This trip felt like the beginning of a new era. Of a new generation. The kids have grown up. I have realized that life is not all flowers and rainbows, that bubble has burst. Bad things happen, life is hard. Now I realize how important the little things are, like those small childhood memories that seemed to be in endless supply. Or last night, sitting with my other grandma, my aunt, my cousin and my parents, going through old pictures and eating peanut butter sandwiches. We laughed about old memories and past experiences. I felt really happy and deeply aware that these are the kind of joyful moments that are not in endless supply. Because of this I bask fully in it, being completely present, because you can’t pause life but you can choose to savour the good moments.
Life is a cycle. I have never identified more with the quote “how quietly we endure all the falls upon us” so fully before. Each one of us face struggles throughout life, somehow managing to make it to our daily job hiding our problems from heartbreak to cancer to divorce, each problem and struggle unique to that person. There is no point in fighting the natural course of life, we must accept the changes that we have no control over and adapt, especially the painful separations from all those we love. And our inevitable demise.
The reminder of death sends my head reeling in thoughts about what the point of it all is. It’s so weird how you are here, living and breathing, and then you are gone. Your spot in the world is pulled out and then immediately filled in and grown over. Leaving those you loved in suffering agony with no other choice but to move on like everyone else.
As I sat in my grandmother’s ceremony, listening to people tell stories about my her, it made me think about how much of an impression I hope to leave on the world when I go. That if I am lucky to live till I’m 100 years old, I hope my grandchildren sit tall in my ceremony with pride that their grandmother lived a courageous, adventurous life. I hope it encourages them to push the boundaries, to take risks and to never settle for ordinary. And if I don’t make it that far, I hope the impression I leave is an inspiring one.
Just like what my sister left for me.