It’s no secret that I haven’t endured the easiest past six months. Every time I jump a hurdle, another one seems to appear without even allowing me the chance to catch my breath. There have been times when I’ve seriously considered giving up, when the nothingness seemed so much easier than the endless pressure. I think about that more than I’d like to admit.
So here’s a story.
Both of my parents were refugees in the aftermath of the Vietnam war. On my father’s side, my grandfather had served in the South Vietnamese army and so as soon as we lost the war, it was obvious that my dad and my aunts didn’t have much of a future left. In these times, many people who were in the same position often attempted escape. Through bribes and sacrifice, my dad’s family tried to leave Vietnam. After several months of planning, they set off among hundreds of other people on and old rickety boat. Not dissimilar to the refugee boats one would see on the news recently. The first time they tried this, they failed.
They were caught, and my grandfather was thrown into a concentation camp. I believe he was there for about a year, maybe a bit more. When he was finally allowed to return to his family, one of my aunts – my father’s youngest sister, had perished at the age of 9. My grandfather lived in ignorance of this whilst in the camp, and he never got to say farewell. The family mourned, and eventually tried once more to escape on the boats yet again.
This attempt fared slightly better…well, not really. Partway through the journey, the boat was halted in its tracks yet again. This time, by ‘Pirates’ (this is the term my dad used but I can only assume they weren’t the eye-patch and parrot wearing type.) No, these were real life bloody pirates. My father and grandfather were separated from my aunt during the raid and takeover of the boat, at this point it was pretty safe to assume that they wouldn’t see her again. At the end of all this, my father and grandfather ended up in the ocean. Some miles off the coast of Malaysia, swimming amongst about fifteen survivors. All night, for hours and hours. I guess they figured that the amount that they swam was proportional to their rate of survival, well, they weren’t wrong. At some points, my grandfather did show signs of conceding and just falling into and under the waves, my dad reminded him that if he let go then my dad would as well.
Eventually, in the early hours, they were rescued by a boat of fishermen, and the turmoil finally ended. What followed were months of uncertainty and waiting, waiting to see if any other family members made it. Finally, they were reunited with my aunt who had ended up in Thailand, and the entire family were accepted by the UK as refugees.
It never really went away though. Even after 40+ years, my dad still sleeps with his eyes open and he still has nightmares, yet he hasn’t failed to raise me and my sister, sustain a good job and feed the fish in our pond every morning. My aunt, on the other hand, manages to kill a fish every time she’s tasked with looking after them.
At the age that I am now, my parents had seen more dead bodies, more pain and more suffering than I’ll probably have to endure in my whole lifetime. How sick is that? Growing up in a war zone feels like it belongs in fiction, yet I’ve already heard over two first person accounts. Not exactly pleasant dinner table talk, but at least it keeps me and my sister off of our phones. I don’t believe it’s possible for me to describe everything my dad’s family had to endure in one post. I haven’t even started on my mum’s story.
Yet I can confirm this. There are a million and one things that could’ve happened that meant that I would not be here, right now, typing this. If my grandfather gave up and stopped swimming, if my mum didn’t make it either, if my parents never ended up sitting opposite each other at a mutual friend’s wedding, if I fell off of a roof last summer. The chain is endless, every single decision that all my ancestors have made have somehow contributed to me being here. My petty problems feel so pathetic when I think about this. I’ve basically played the game for all this time, winning each successive round, no Game Overs yet. For anyone that’s ever played a game, you should know that its no small feat. You could say that I’m winning at life.
People do have it worse than you, and there are countless people better off than you. I am not saying that your pain doesn’t matter, or that it is insignificant. I guess I just want you to know that the fact that you made it this far means you are a triumph of evolution. Every decision you make has the power to affect someone at an infinite time into the future, so make good decisions. ’cause you are a success.