How ashen my father was under the harsh fluorescent lights, I thought, as I pulled a chair up and offered to help him with the small computer I'd just restored. I knew that he needed the computer for his work tomorrow and that he was under a lot of stress. Yet despite the strains of the day, his voice was gentle and thankful, so different from the harried voice I'd heard on the phone earlier - so different from the impatience and grumpiness that frightened many of the employees.
Even as a child I had always seen him with a vivid red sunburn from days spent exploring the world and taking pictures. When he removed his watch or his eyeglasses, you could see pale strips of porcelain-white skin - part of his Chinese heritage. He lived like that, too - fantastic adventures coupled with a surprising gentleness. He glowed with the incredible passion that filled and sustained him: his photography. My father encouraged us to pursue our dreams. He lived his, and that gave us hope. He loved photography, getting up early and working late into the night creating beautiful images. Of all the people I know, he was the one most passionate about his dreams.
Today... today was different. The color seemed to have drained from his face. There was an unaccustomed sadness in the voice that had so often told me exciting stories of wild adventures. Today his words seemed to come from very far away. He asked me for such small, simple things. And because he asked so gently, I wanted to do everything. He was so grateful when I got them to work. Sometimes I couldn't. Instead of becoming cross, he simply smiled and said that that was okay.
We finally got the camera and the computer to work together; all that he needed for the next day's. My father let out a sigh and began to confide in me, unfolding his frustrations and his fears. We talked of passion and frustration, of plans and pains. He was worried about my sister and about the company. Their indifference sapped his strength, undermined his confidence. I looked at him closely. Suddenly he seemed so very old and so very tired. I wanted to throw my arms around him and cry.
How I wished I had been the one to follow in his footsteps, but my heart is in another field. I learned something important: fire feeds fire. I must always be near other people who are passionate about something or my soul will die as his seems slowly dying.
When the next day brings with it the thrill of the shoot and a system that works, perhaps he will rediscover his passion. I can only hope that the people around him realize how important they are to him. Their incompetence can break him. Their interest can inspire him. His work is important to him. He is important to me, both who he is and what he stands for.
May the world never break my father's spirit nor quench his passion. In a world of dim lives and mediocrity, he blazes with a light that so few know.
(2004.01.12 Update: Looks like Dad's fine again. Yay!)