THE WRITERS POST
VOLUME 1 NUMBER 1
There were graceful curves, nostalgic image, dignified facial features, soft lines, and over the whole carved head, close and far, the reminiscent beauty gleamed, with every passing glance enhancing it with new marvels and revelations. To me, this statue was one meaningless, yet through time, I have begun to see the many wonderful treasures it holds. At first, I believed that the sculpture represented my father's dying dream, but later found out that I was wrong. My father and I hold different views on achievement, his Eastern definition of success was not to be rich and famous, but it meant inner growth and existence. In America, I have developed a more Western way of thinking. The time that I thought he had lost without achieving his goal was not gone at all; he treasures all the time that he has creating what he loves, art.
The sculpture was flawlessly carved during our escape from Vietnam on an island in Indonesia called Galang. This became the only treasure that we brought with us to America. The statue was not easy to bring over. I remember that day vividly, as though it had just happened. Before entering the country, they checked our bags. I can still see the fear in my Dad's eyes, when the bag that contained his sculpture rang like the school bell across the metal detector. My father scrambled every broken English word he could put together to keep his creation. "Art mine, please I keep, OK?" my father said. It was fortunate that we still have it today.
The statue sits in the middle of my family living room, quietly facing south. This sculpture was just a pretty object to look at, but meant nothing to me at that time. This sand colored sculpture is sharp and hard with jagged edges, coarse, but very exquisite. Although fine line erase some of the hardness of its physical material, there is just enough of both to balance. It depicts a young Asian girl with half-closed almond eyes, the nose, high and prominent, and a smile that gleams the light of a crescent moon. Her face is long and charmingly flagrant as if from a royal stature. Her hair is like the reunion of sand and water, but abstractly portrayed. The head is elegantly supported by an elongated neck that resembles a neck of an ancient Egyptian pharaoh. Small black abalone shells adorn the holes of the coral carving. This statue is entitled "Time".
My father had once told me that this statue represents not only his hopes and dreams but much more. As an artist in Vietnam, ha had struggled when the communists invaded our country and took his artistic freedom away. Before the domination, my father made a name for himself. He had many collectors of his art. Our family escaped here with a dream... to continue life in America with freedom and prosperity. My father not only had a dream for us but a dream for himself. All he wanted was to be free to create, and have a chance to expand his spiritual growth. However, I thought his dream was to become a rich and famous artist, but he later proved to me that I was wrong. I saw that it was not easy for him to become famous in America, for he had to start over from the beginning. America was a land so new and different; time became the only way. The sculpture became a symbol of this "time".
Then this one incident led me to believe that my father dreams were slowly diminishing. One day I had accidentally knocked the sculpture off its base and caused the statue to tip down over the edge of the table. I caught it in mid-air with the greatest fear that it possibly would smash to pieces on the floor. I carefully placed it back on the base, but something was wrong. I felt dust and miniature pieces of the coral in my hands. Evidently, I knew something must have happened when it fell. then I saw it, on the mid-ridge of the nose, a small section had haplessly chipped away. The statue that used to look so hard and sharp on the outside, now looked so vulnerable and delicate. How could I have damaged something so priceless? Cold chills ran up, down, and around my body. I stared at every corner and crevice of the statue to see if there were any more broken parts and pieces. But in searching for that, I noticed that the sculpture was not what it used to be. Why did it look so different all of a sudden?
I began to compare the statue to my father and his dream. Over time, the black abalone shells that used to enhance the statue disappeared and only few remained. The lines of the statue were not as sharp as they were before. Dust clouded the hair that was once clean and flawless. Although the statue has not lost its beauty, it is slowly beginning to age. Like the statue, I felt my father and his dreams were slowly crumbling apart. He is no longer a young man and I want him to be as rich and famous as Picasso. But yet he never once complained that he is not successful? And why through all this time he had not realized that his dream was dying?
It was not until this unforgettable day that I found out that I had totally misunderstood his way of thinking, my father's philosophy of life. Feeling so guilty, I told my father what had happened to his sculpture. I could never believe how he reacted that day. Surprisingly he was not mad. And all this time I had thought he would be furious to find his "dream" chipped. Then I asked him if his dream was to become wealthy and famous. I remember clearly what he told me that day. "You have developed a Western philosophy, whereas I, still follow the Eastern philosophy." It was then that I saw the whole new revelation. It was true, I have developed the "Western way of thinking", I believe that time equaled money and success. Achievement always had to clear and obvious. I was wrong to think that my father had to be rich to be happy.
My father had kept the Eastern philosophy, he believes that achievement is inner growth. He treasures the time that he has to create his art. He has already achieved his dream... to be free to paint, carve or draw what ever he pleases. I realized that my father's dream is not crumbling like the statue, it is not fading away, it is as vibrant as before. True, he is aging, but he grows wiser and he feels more self-accomplished now that he is older. True, he probably would like to be very famous one day, but that is now what he lives for. my father does not look for acceptance from outside, he believes that he does not have to be famous to be fulfilled. Although he can make money the fast and easy way, he has chosen to be patient and enjoys life as it comes. "Time is part of life," he said, "but you will never be satisfied until you have fulfilled what is inside, growth and existence is what you should thrive for."
I stood in awe, bewitched by its aura. The statue became new to me and I had never seen anything like it before. Now I know what the statue really means, it represents treasured times you can only experience though life. The statue is supposed to age through time, it is what makes it more humanly beautiful. This one marvelous statue has been with him through many years of hardships and triumphs, and he treasures them all. For the first time, this object became important to me and it began to radiate so much power and energy. He gave it life and I clung on to it like a mother to a child. Time should be treasured like a piece of art, you can never know how many meanings it holds. Now as I look at the statue, it is not only entrancing, but meaningful as well. All the fame in the world will never replace what he has grown to appreciate, time.
( The essay was first printed in Viet World Magazine, Vol 1 No 6.
The Vietnamese version was printed in SongVan magazine, issue 5 )
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