just after i picked my shade of polish ("bashful blossom" -- a delicate pink that suits my demure personality) i asked mai for a story -- to tell me how she came to be in virginia. i got a profile in courage. mai left vietnam in the late 70's -- a few years after the communists took power. she was just a young woman but she felt the oppressive rule was going to kill her. her parents consented to fund her dream to escape vietnam for the refugee camps in the philippines. they gave her their life savings and entrusted her with her little pre-pubescent sister and mai bid her parents forever farewell.
she shouldn't have survived the five day boat ride. 100 people packed so tightly on a dingy built for 20 that sitting wasn't an option. mai stood for five days -- she thought the heat and smell and bodies packed tightly was going to kill her. and then both god and man took a shot at sinking her. first a massive storm so strong it knocked people overboard and caused the boat to take on water and then a shipful of pirates rammed and boarded their sad little boat, robbing the refugees of everything and kidnapping the young girls. mai's little sister was grabbed up and then somehow left behind with mai. after the pirates, the boat was sinking for real, but just before disaster claimed the ship, a german oil rigger found and saved the pitiful, helpless lot.
if she'd know about the dangers in her path, would mai have embarked on the journey? mai says yes. her risk was worth her shot at independence. freedom = happiness. she was willing to sacrifice and even die for that freedom and she'd do it again if she had to. now that's some love of freedom... a true story of patriotism. happy independence day everybody! revel in your freedom that everyone in the world wants but YOU enjoy!
but... that's not all mai had to say. as i was leaving, she noticed i didn't have a ring -- was i single? yes, mai. yes i am. she said: "make sure you marry man who loves you more. you love him too much, too risky." excuse me? this is coming from "no risk too great" mai? advising for the safe yet infinitely less awesome path? love, she said, shouldn't factor into the marriage decision. "too much worry. what if something happens? what if he no love you? what if he leaves?"
mai. i feel you. there are terrible, devastatingly painful risks associated with really loving someone... and they are more frightening to me than a raging storm on the high seas or being sold into slavery by a philipino pirate. i've both shied from these risks out of pure fright, and also jumped right in and felt anguish when my greatest fears (what if something happens? what if he leaves?) were realized. love isn't for sissies. it requires courage but a different brand than what mai had to summon to leave behind the life she knew for the unknown. it's one thing to die for a cause, afterall, and quite another to live for it. the struggle for a good mutually loving relationship is all about have the courage to surrender some independence, some control of your feelings and destiny, right?
pat benatar was so right. love IS a battlefield. a fight mostly with yourself probably. but, dear mai, i think i want to stay in the battle and not surrender to the safe, neutral zone of no risk, no love. not yet anyway.