Pak Kok, Lamma IslandThere has been a death in my village.

It is a strange thing, a man, a neighbor, a familiar face… who I saw every morning of nearly every day is gone. We were not especially close, though we always exchanged pleasantries and smiles, and now he is gone. I found out a couple of days after it had happened and had an unfamiliar feeling of disbelief (that it had happened) and discomfort (at my natural inclination to keep saying over and over in head that he had died… really died.) He died in his sleep in his flat above his son’s family flat. I keep hearing there are worse ways to go, if you have to go. Of course, there were the cliched and strained recollections… “When did I see him last?” “Did we speak, or only say hello?” “How did he look?” Were there any signs?” Pointless in fact, but I suppose necessary in process.

I live in village of less than 100 people, and this total is halved again by the designation of Pak Kok Old Village (Pak Kok Kau Tsuen) and Pak Kok New Village (Pak Kok San Tsuen). It is so small that the absence of one seems so large. As I sat with a small group of friends and contemplated the life of another, it all seemed trite and sort of hapless.

“You know,” suggested Caroline, “having four people sitting around and thinking about you after you’re gone is really not that bad.” We looked up and she continued, “I mean, I’d be happy to know that there were four people sitting around and thinking pleasantly of me after I’m gone. I mean, you know, four. That’s pretty good, right?” We thought on this for a moment.

She was right.

And so we tried to come up with words we thought best described ths neighbor of ours. What was the essence of the man? What is the essence of any of us? What makes us uniquely us?

So often we are identified, categorized, classified, justified and clarified by what is plain to the naked eye… but is that what makes us us? And how do we discover what it is inside of us that makes us who we are? Is it easier for others to see, or are we our own best interpreter?

My mom always told me I was beautiful as I was growing up. “Things will always be so much easier for you.” She would say. My surly teenaged self disregarded her opinion but she still put it out there. I was a very successful athlete in high school and in the town where I grew up this was like local hero material. Somehow, I accepted this accolade with more grace than I did my mom’s kind words. In college I had ups and downs, but was always the girl who had a lot of friends (no boyfriends, mind you) and was the one who people could turn to in any kind of pinch. It was another interpretation. Just like the image of the party girl, the academic, the teacher, the Deadhead, the coach, the fiance, the horrible ex, the traveler… None of them ever seem to totally fit.

The more experiences that I have in life the more it seems like maybe they define us… but this still leaves me dissatified, because the experiences that we seek we do not always achieve and the ones we achieve are not always what we are after. Maybe it is our reaction to experience. Could it be that the essence of a person is found in the way they reflect the world around them? I am still not sure, but it gives me a lot to think about on a really hot, humid, tropical night, in my village minus one.

[Addition: I have just re-read Kasha’s post about her niece and remembered how real that was to me and I wonder if it had been playing on my mind a bit as I wrote as well. I certainly did not intend to pinch the concept… and I wonder now about the idea of our essence being a singular thing… or maybe really complex…. and I am still stuck on how we know exactly what it is… or if we ever do…. inside or out…]

Pak Kok, Lamma Island


On a lighter note, there is always this interpretation that comes to mind when I consider the word ‘essence’:

General Jack D. Ripper: Mandrake, do you realize that in addition to fluoridating water, why, there are studies underway to fluoridate salt, flour, fruit juices, soup, sugar, milk… ice cream. Ice cream, Mandrake, children’s ice cream.
Group Capt. Lionel Mandrake: Lord, Jack.
General Jack D. Ripper: You know when fluoridation first began?
Group Capt. Lionel Mandrake: I… no, no. I don’t, Jack.
General Jack D. Ripper: Nineteen hundred and forty-six. Nineteen forty-six, Mandrake. How does that coincide with your post-war Commie conspiracy, huh? It’s incredibly obvious, isn’t it? A foreign substance is introduced into our precious bodily fluids without the knowledge of the individual. Certainly without any choice. That’s the way your hard-core Commie works.
Group Capt. Lionel Mandrake: Uh, Jack, Jack, listen, tell me, tell me, Jack. When did you first… become… well, develop this theory?
General Jack D. Ripper: Well, I, uh… I… I… first became aware of it, Mandrake, during the physical act of love.
Group Capt. Lionel Mandrake: Hmm.
General Jack D. Ripper: Yes, a uh, a profound sense of fatigue… a feeling of emptiness followed. Luckily I… I was able to interpret these feelings correctly. Loss of essence.
Group Capt. Lionel Mandrake: Hmm.
General Jack D. Ripper: I can assure you it has not recurred, Mandrake. Women uh… women sense my power and they seek the life essence. I, uh… I do not avoid women, Mandrake.
Group Capt. Lionel Mandrake: No.
General Jack D. Ripper: But I… I do deny them my essence.

Amanda, 36, contemplating essence in Hong Kong