I’m writing this from a coffee shop in Hanoi, Vietnam on July 6, 2019.
The chaos around me is indescribable. Hundreds of scooters whiz past every minute with horns blaring. Hawkers tout their wares from overladen bicycles that appear to be screaming in protest at the thought of rolling yet another mile.
Fires are burning in the street, the smell of meat roasting over charcoal oozes through every pocket of air, and my stomach is about to explode from the steaming bowls of pho that allured me to Hanoi in the first place.
I find the chaos of Hanoi strangely beautiful.
Every morning the city awakens to the same routine — the honking, the scooters, the simmering bone broth patiently awaiting the onslaught of hungry pho customers — and the day progresses like it always does. It doesn’t matter if it’s a Sunday morning or Tuesday at midnight, the sounds and smells of Hanoi are constant.
I can’t think of anywhere else I’d rather be. I’m beaming from ear to ear. I feel alive.
A loudspeaker crackles calling a doctor to the trauma center. The pale blue curtain flutters as nurses rush past.
Beep. Beep. Beep. Beep. Beep. It’s not honking scooters I hear but rather the steady chirp of a heart monitor.
It’s funny how the mind works.
We remember the smallest of details. We remember fear. We remember the smell of simmering bone broth. But we tend to forget pain.
9 months ago, I was not in a Hanoian coffee shop. I was lying in a hospital bed with 12 broken bones, unable to walk, and coming up on two straight weeks of an excruciating, blinding migraine that never once showed signs of releasing its grip. The needle in my arm was pumping a cocktail of sedatives, blood vessel constrictors and who knows what else into my body. It wasn’t working. The neurologist didn’t know what else to do. I was the sickest I had ever been in my life.
It’s funny how the mind works.
Enough time has now passed that I don’t remember the extent of the pain that day in the hospital… I don’t fully remember how agonizing it was to learn how to walk again, but I’ll never forget watching the little droplets fall into my IV for hours on end. I can’t describe how my body felt climbing out of the mangled car that night. Never in my life, however, will I forget the way I screamed at the paramedics to save us.
It’s funny how the mind works. We remember, and we forget.
At the time of writing this on July 6th, I’ve now been living all over SE Asia — Thailand, Cambodia, Indonesia, the Philippines, Taiwan, Vietnam…
Everyone has their own opinion about why I packed up everything I owned and set out for the other side of the world. Is he trying to find himself? Is he on a permanent vacation? Is he having a quarter-life crisis?
All I know is I needed time for my mind to work. I needed time to forget.
If you really think about it, the human mind is a beautiful thing.
We remember the sticky feeling of sweat mixing with sunscreen, sand, and saltwater on a balmy day at the beach. We recall the smells of a summer night running through the grass as a kid after a rainstorm. We can describe in vivid detail the velvety taste of wine on our lips and the conversation we had during a romantic dinner.
However, with enough time, feelings of pain and suffering begin to fade.
I guess we as humans have evolved to forget the worst. Life is full of pain, and if we remembered just how bad it can be, we’d never trust, take risks, love, or believe ever again. I’m no scientist, but this theory seems to make sense.
Look, the point of writing this is not to tell a sob story. My point in writing this is to share. My point is to open your eyes to the fragility of our memories.
Often times, it’s the smallest details, the most (seemingly) insignificant moments that help us block out the worst.
Or maybe the honking scooters in Hanoi have just driven me mad… I’m not sure? 🙂
Be well and do good work. Until next time…