becoming the woman God needs me to be
I don’t use them properly. Yes I’ve seen the instructions. I have had people try and teach me. Hold it like a pencil. Nope Try your left hand. Nope.
Well whatever I’m doing, this cannot-be-replicated-scissor-like-motion works for me. And each time I miraculously defy the laws of physics, gravity and simple dexterity I am thankful. I am thankful for a host of chopstick inspired memories…
I was really little, maybe four years old, at a restaurant in my hometown called Kim Wah’s. We went as a clan: Grandpa, Grandma, Mom, Dad and me. It was dark inside; a townie bar and a Chinese restaurant all rolled into one. We always took the big red corner booth, and there were always chopsticks wrapped in paper with visual directions for use printed right on it. I always had a box of crayons, and as soon as I was done eating I would fall asleep on that makeshift sofa while the adults talked, and drank and enjoyed each other’s company. For whatever reason, aside from the red booth and chopsticks, my only other memory there is Grandpa’s smile. Whenever the owner, Kim Wah, would come out to greet my grandfather, my Grandpa would approach him laughing and smiling with the joy you get from seeing an old friend. I am thankful for one of my earliest memories of witnessing friendship.
They are called Ramen Noodles. They are super cheap. And when you want to feel fancy, you eat them with chopsticks. Of course my roommate and I also ate a lot of hot dogs, drank Dr. Pepper, ate Pringles, tried purple colored ketchup, and stood in line for the infamous omelet station at the cafeteria. We celebrated our 21st birthdays, went to dances, and service projects, and dances, and movies, and dances, and a host of other memories I’ll save for another day. But over the course of three years of living with my best friend there were late nights, long weekends, early mornings, late mornings, laughter, and tears. In the end I was no longer an only child; I had a sister and we were not ashamed to eat our ramen noodles with chopsticks.
Nothing prepared me for Thailand, or Korea or China. It was pre-9/11. I was 19 years old. This was my first overseas journey, and I was so thankful I knew how to use chopsticks. I still have the stainless steel pair I bought in South Korea and whenever I pick them up I get a flood of memories… climbing the great wall, eating fried rice at an airport Burger King for breakfast, swimming in a waterfall, walking in an underground tunnel along the DMZ, riding an elephant through the jungle, beating a British guy in the best game of pool I ever played, posing with a boa constrictor around my neck, riding in a tuk tuk, realizing shrimp head soup is disgusting, teaching a bus full of Thai students the difference between pronouncing a “ch” sound versus an “sh” sound, and being refused a cab because I was American. There were moments I was frightened, joyful, heartbroken, confused, victorious, and ashamed. After a month I was a pro at eating rice with chopsticks, a novice at cultural sensitivity and determined to keep learning.
I don’t use them properly. But chopsticks represent a place where I can find my Grandpa’s smile in the joy of friendship. They represent the friendship that discovered me in a dorm room and continues to grow even miles apart. And chopsticks represent the miles I traveled, which inspired me to see as much of the world God created and all of the people in it.
Today God I am thankful for Grandpa and friendship and travel… and chopsticks.