I was eating my lunch yesterday at work when a colleague asked me why I was eating inside when I could be enjoying the change of weather outside. It was a warm 84 degrees which is 20 degrees cooler than what we’ve been used to in Austin, Texas. Since I thought she had something going, I went outside, found a bench and called my dad for lunch time conversation as I ate. As I chewed the fat with my dad, I found out he was sipping on a beer while at work. He’s a store owner in Houston. I laughed at him and reminded him it was a work day and it was noon, why is he drinking on the job? He casually explained that it was a concealed cup; he doesn’t stand close enough to his customers for them to smell it. He told me that it’s important to take what small joys he can when he can.
I gave him that. He is a hard worker. Sipping on a beer is the least that he deserves.
So this got him to tell me a short story. A story he’s told me once before. I interrupted him to tell him the ending of the story I already know. If I had just let him finish the story, I would have seen that he was focusing on another matter entirely.
The story: He was just released from a reeducation camp in Vietnam after being imprisoned a harrowing 2-3 years. He had a friend who was conspiring to escape Vietnam (as most South Vietnamese people were during the time). His friend drew attention from the Viet Cong so they detained my dad’s friend and then for good measure they detained my dad for questioning as well. This is where I interrupted my dad’s story and told him I know how it ends. That he was worried that his story wouldn’t match up with his friend’s and he was terrified of going back to the camp. In the end, his friend was detained and he was released. My dad confirmed that that’s how the story unfolded but he wanted to tell me about when he was actually in the cell, awaiting his verdict. He was so distraught and devastated by the idea of leaving my mom again after already being separated for more than 2 years. The idea of leaving my mom again after already being separated for more than 2 years was overwhelming him when he found some ants. Marching, hauling tiny specks of food, and their antennas wiggling. He marveled at their tiny beauty and really observed them. He focused on the grace of their small existence and it took his mind away from the cell and the prospect of his return to the reeducation camp.
He tied up his short story with a neat moral. “Find your ants, baby. We all need to find our ants.”
On this day, for him, the ants manifested as a beer, sipped in secret from his wife and customers. For me it was enjoying the weather on a park bench and listening to my dad talk.
Question: What are your ants today?