Summer setback


That summer in Jr High, I experienced a setback: Hapkido went wild, leaving me with a broken arm.

The Kung Fu Hall already had my parents’ release, so even if it had been the fault of the visiting Red-Belt Master (who held up the brick, but moved it unexpectedly when it’s my turn to kick), we couldn’t say a word. All my fault!

So I stayed indoor most of that summer: learning English phrases and reflecting on my class yearbook.

I envisioned life not as a straight line (not like Champ Elyse), but quite twist and turn, hard to see around the bend.

I also knew that my friends and I would make choices we later regret (clearly my attempt at Kung Fu still stared at me, heavy in cast, itchy and with hair ).

I promised myself that whatever happens around the bend, I still see them as they once were: innocent, a bit naive and full of energy.

40 years later, I got to see what’s around the bend.

I ran into some of them: neither innocent, nor full of energy.

Nevertheless, I listen and take in what 4 decades did to a young junior high friend: regime collapse triggered a chain of unintended consequences (for both of us). For him, it meant failed attempt at escape, imprisonment and finally orderly departure with the help of his sister (way to go girl).

Now, we still “ping-pong” in our conversation about deficit and surplus.

I detected hidden intelligence and determination despite my friend’s lack of higher education. After all, we were the selected few for that high school.

The IQ scores are still there. In fact, his setback and mine has strengthened our resolves. For him, it offered such an unmatched springboard and deeper frame of reference. For me, a summer setback (an eternity at that age) which has turned into a lifelong pursuit of learning.

I never look at someone without assuming his/her best intention. If a broken arm caused me a summer setback, it gave me something better in return: the ability to bounce back, to heal and to see in others the pain they might have gone through, albeit not a physical pain.

In retrospect, what one projected into the future was quite powerful.

It’s called visualization. In my case, I knew I couldn’t see around the bend (of time). But I knew then as now, that life is unpredictable. Growing up witnessing the burning monk, starting school late because of Tet 68, only confirmed that someday, when I see my friends again, not only I would greet them with warmest of hearts, but also, rejoice in that we are alive still.

Setbacks make us stronger, just like muscles that got ripped when we exercised. Talking of which, I have stayed away, far away, from the Kung Fu Hall ever since. Instead of muscles, I dwell into higher learning. The body will someday waste away, but a man with clarity of mind and purity of heart remains forever.

Summer setback was my painful lesson in overcoming adversity.

I did not ask for it. But the unintended consequence is the ability to absorb disappointment and bounce back from it. No setback, no success.

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