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Trauma Trauma on the Wall

When I was eleven years old my dad left China for Canada and I became the only man of the house. Then Chinese New Year arrived and every family must light strings of firecrackers. I was deathly afraid of them but there was no one else to do it. So I found the longest pole we owned and lit 10,000 firecrackers on a string. My eleven year old body was in front of a firing squad armed with machine guns and grenades. The whole experience was so terrifying I can still recall the sounds and smells now as I am writing about it. It was traumatizing in every sense of the word.

When the final firecracker blew up I stood there like a statue. Surrounded by smoke and debris and cannot hear for the next two hours. I could cowl into my mother’s arms and swear to never touch a firecracker again. Or, I could just stand there and take in what had just happened. In the end, my mother came and dusted me off. She gave me a pat on the shoulder and said: “Good work, little man.” On the stairs of my ancestral home, I was no longer a boy. I BECAME A MAN.

Chinese firecrackers lit at New Years.

Recently, childhood trauma bubbled up in one of my friend’s consciousness and she confronted her mother. The mother was physically and verbally abusive to her as a child. The friend demanded acknowledgement and apology. The mother denied all wrongdoing and said she must have deserved it. Things got ugly and they are no longer speaking.

In China and other parts of the old world, corporal punishment is commonly accepted and practised. On my eighth birthday, my father beat me with a stick until it broke in half. When I brought up this story in adulthood no one else wanted to talk about it. “Why stir things up?” and “What do you want out of it?” was the sentiments. I realized I was the ONLY MAN who could get me out of the hole. I did some difficult inner work and realized that in my dad’s fury he thought he was disciplining me and shaping me to be a better person. “Spare the rod, spoil the child.” In that outdated worldview he was not in the wrong. Values change, people evolve, we cannot view the past using today’s lens. We can only say my dad is wrong in today’s standards. I would never treat my own child that way. Today, I do not need my dad’s apology. In fact, it is more likely that I apologise for having being an argumentative child. Child is now a MAN.

I have a Caucasian friend who finds it offensive when I refer to him as White. And why is “The Cleveland Indians” offensive and the “New York Yankees” not? Why is “Chinaman” Offensive and “Frenchman” not? My point is, we all have to work on our fragility and grow the F up. The Me Too, anti-bullying, BLM, Asian Heritage Month, Black History Month, Pride Week movements all have good intentions. But the protective umbrellas of social justice cannot follow us 24/7. We as individuals must also take responsibility and grow thicker skins and stronger spines. We don’t have to turn a blind eye; turn the other cheek or turn back time. But we do have to take a strong stance and make sure the puck stops here if we want a better tomorrow.

A piece of rock took a million beatings and became Michelangelo’s David. Not all traumas are bad. A caveman who escapes death from a saber tooth tiger can become a better hunter and protector of his clan. A social reject who cut off his own ear can pour his energy into creating immortal works of art. A deaf child with abusive parent can rise up to become the greatest musical genius of all times.

I was bullied in elementary school, so I went home and made a pair of dumbbells out of plastic bottles. When school resumed in the fall the bully had a surprise waiting for him. In highschool some bad kids called me a Chink. So I went to Kung Fu classes and learned how to be a Badass Chink. “Never start a fight but alway finish it!” as my master would say. Am I advocating violence? No, I am advocating strength. In the end, the bully at my elementary nevey got the beating he deserved and my Wingchung choke holds has yet to be called into service. However, my new-found self assurance and confidence naturally repelled the biggest bullies around.

After years of struggle Malcolm X concluded that no one is going to hand you your dignity and self-respect on a silver platter. You have to go ahead and take it like a MAN! “Boys step aside, Men step up!” was the civil rights war cry. Physical and mental abilities to take a beating, to endure hardships, to let insults roll off, to heal your own wounds is the only way to live up to one’s full potential.

Friends, when the noise goes away, when the dust settles and the smoke clears, I want you to stand by me. Resiliently and resolutely holding on to our ends of the bargain, we let hatred of the past burn up and herald in the coming of a brave new age. Trauma Trauma on the Wall. Who’s the most victimized of them all? No one, because the victim has become a FREE MAN/WOMAN!


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  1. Dear Zen
    I love you. Every week you just have some more wisdom to share!! The world is a better place cuz of you! We need to all grow up and become our own man/woman and respect the rights of strangers to be different than us.
    Mark Yan


  2. Thanks for your view on this very important issue. so many are struggling with how to handle racism and bigotry. I feel I need to listen to those who have experienced this first hand and take their lead.


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