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Opinion: Bridging generations and embracing change can inspire self-growth

(Katherine Wang/Daily Bruin)

By Katherine Wang

Oct. 12, 2023 8:58 p.m.

My heart pounded faster as the taxi turned onto the familiar street from my childhood. Steam was wafting from a nearby dumpling house and children were gathered around a row of concession stands. I checked the time every few seconds, calculating the moment I could hug my grandparents.

I lived with my grandparents in Beijing for the first five years of my life and had a consistent impression of their personalities – at least, or so I thought. I knew my grandpa as a retired journalist who liked having his opinions heard and plans executed, and my grandma as frugal, stubborn and never late for the daily weather channel broadcast.

I last visited them in 2018. Certain memories of the trip still evoked vivid images in my mind, yet the majority of it was blurred, as if everything that happened between then and now had dampened my memories. Most of my family was in Beijing then, and I remember the trip feeling more celebratory than sentimental. There was no elevator in our apartment compound and no fear of COVID-19.

Fast forward to summer 2023, my grandparents and I reached another five-year period in our relationship, only this time we had spent the years apart rather than together. In these five years, my grandpa’s dialysis was tiring him and my grandma’s hearing began to rapidly decline.

My decision to visit was a spontaneous one, and I had boarded the train to Beijing with one goal in mind: reconnect with my grandparents as someone they could trust and depend on.

Although my plan to make a surprise appearance carried through, my intention to make the reunion lighthearted was defeated when my grandparents opened the door.

“Xixi?”

Hearing them say my Chinese nickname was what made my presence in Beijing a reality. I felt the hours of excitement and anticipation overtaken by tenderness in that instant. They looked thinner and spoke more softly than in my memory.

Aging. For the remainder of the evening, I was continuously reminded of how age was rounding the corner for my grandparents and augmenting into something almost tangible yet undefeatable. Perhaps it was age that made my grandpa set aside his pride and cry unapologetically in front of me for the first time when tasting the scallion pancakes I made for him. Perhaps it was age that made my grandma grasp my hand so tightly, afraid to fall and let go, as we toured Beihai Park and Summer Palace together.

I found myself scrolling through photos from the day after they went to bed each night. I would zoom in on our faces and especially their smiles, the joy and longing in our eyes enriching me. It felt like those feelings were walking from the screen and into my body as I was gifted with a moment of reexperience.

Those nights I slept well, rejoicing in anticipation of another eventful day ahead with them. Yet this comfortable routine didn’t last long.

The night before my flight back, I spent less time indulging and more time reflecting. I thought about what I had hoped to do for my grandparents before returning to Beijing and to what extent I had fulfilled my own expectations.

But family goals were never meant to be put on a timeline or organized into a to-do list. Referring to them as “goals” may even be inappropriate, suggesting they can be dismissed with an impulsive change of attitude. As I gazed out at the cityscape from the balcony window, I realized it was not only the city and my grandparents changing, but also me.

Growth. I realized that I should not only work to become a dependable adult in the eyes of my family but also actively take responsibility for caring for them. Physical distance is not an excuse for my helplessness, but rather directs more emphasis on ways I can provide them with emotional support. I learned that relationships flourish most when nurtured by shared emotions, especially those you frequently express.

My grandparents and I parted at the train station in tears and in strength, fueled by our unconditional love for each other that received mutual confirmation in our recent days of living together once again.

On the train ride back, my grandpa sent me an original poem he had just drafted.

The poem’s title roughly translates to “Loving Autumn.” It articulates the parallel between cycles in nature and the cycle of life, portraying how imperfections, from a broken tree branch to the linearity of time, remind us to cherish what we have in the moment. It also describes celestial objects as the connection between people who are distant in space yet close at heart.

That night, I saw half a full moon.

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