As strong as jade

Your Secret Admirer

Related Posts

To the little jade pendant that never leaves my neck:

I can’t remember a time when your comforting weight hasn’t rested on my chest, right against my heart. Your gentle gleam has always served as my nightlight, and your crescent-moon curve is always the first smile I see each morning. Jade is known for its exceptional durability, once believed to hold the secret to immortality in ancient China due to its resilience. You have indisputably lived up to this praise — throughout my whirlwind of a life, you have been a lasting solace.

So it’s quite strange for me to remember that you were once a broken piece, a jagged remnant of my grandfather’s shattered bangle. So much for exceptional durability, I guess.

Perhaps pliability is the better term for you, my precious gem. Rather than remaining in a single, unyielding form, you have allowed yourself to be reworked and repolished into a new but no less beautiful shape.

Coming from an archetypal Asian family, unchanging tradition is something that has ruled over most of my life. Shoes are always left neatly lined up at doors, and bills are always nobly fought over at restaurants. Elders and guests are always responded to with smiles, regardless of whether or not you agree with what they just said to you. Girls in particular are always graceful, gentle and pleasant.

My clumsy movements, loud laugh and even louder opinions are therefore obnoxiously untraditional. I’m constantly reminded of this, through my mother’s nervous bumps against my knee under the table reminding me to sit up straighter, or through my father’s stern glares as I open my mouth to snap back at my second aunt’s remarks on my weight.

“I know what she said was wrong,” he would tell me after dinner, once he’d been declared the honorable winner of the restaurant bill, “but you can’t just talk back to her like that. Don’t let some little careless comment get under your skin. Our family is stronger than that. Control yourself, harden yourself like jade.”

But I’ve learned over the years that such hardness does not always equate strength. Instead, quietly taking the condescending comments made about me or about the things I love, letting everything simply simmer beneath the surface in a cauldron of searing, molten gold, has only made me, well, jaded.

I want to be soft again. I want to yelp when my aunt or anyone else pricks at my sensitive skin, loudly letting them know that I can be hurt, and that I will defend myself from the pain I do not deserve. I want to let the gold that has been bubbling inside of me to erupt all over me, flashing a brilliant warning: If you are not pleasant to me, why should I be pleasant to you?

Real strength requires softness: the bravery to permit malleability.

Thus, I think it’s time for the “traditional values” of my household to soften themselves. Despite all the pride my family has put into its “resilience,” change is an inevitable part of human existence. Against the crashing tides of life, learning to bend and float is a far better alternative than breaking apart.

I’m not saying that every little thing has to change. It would feel like treason to suddenly start trekking about the house in my dirt-caked hiking boots, or to stop snitching on my uncle attempting to sneakily slide his credit card toward our waitress. I would most definitely miss the lively traditions of Chinese New Year, which fill our home with breathtaking firecrackers, mouth-watering feasts and heartwarming love. (Not to mention the extra pocket money wrapped up in pretty red packets.)

But just like my grandfather’s bangle, traditions can be reformed. Their rough edges can be carefully sanded down into a kinder shape, one with room for younger generations’ loud laughs and opinions to fit into.

Asian — specifically Buddhist — culture actually has an explanation for the shattering of supposedly resilient jade. When strange cracks begin to spider along a gleaming green talisman, it means that it has fulfilled its duty of protecting its bearer. The jade has gathered up all of the malicious spirits that ever dared to approach its bearer, allowing them to eat away at its own strength instead. Breaking is therefore inevitable, and necessary for a rebirth.

I like to believe that my family’s traditions are in want of a similar metamorphosis. They’ve remained so rigid for so long, gathering too many dark spirits. Breakage is the only way to release all of that wickedness and to make space for growth.

Some of the original material will always remain, its beauty now just purified. And it reaches far more people this way — some of it beaming as my smile-shaped pendant, some of it embracing my youngest cousin’s wrist as a beloved bracelet, the rest of it jangling merrily as my eldest cousin’s favorite pair of earrings. When something breaks apart, perhaps that just means that there are more pieces of it to share.

Geraldine Ang writes the Wednesday column on human connection. Contact the opinion desk at [email protected] or follow us on Twitter @dailycalopinion.