Mid-Autumn Rising

There is no shortage of good days. It is good lives that are hard to come by. —Annie Dillard

Watching a sunrise is breathtaking. Not actively watching it, mind you, but witnessing it unfold as a backdrop to the daily activities of people rising to greet the dawn, or with the pattering raindrops of sneakers, listening to those on their early runs, steam swirling from the cold air touching their radiated heat.

Watching a sunrise solely focused on the sun itself is to witness only the composer, the cacophony of sound comprising life unheeded. The mundane details no longer seem so mundane when orchestrated together with the rising tide of light that greets the early morning’s day. That is truly the sunrise.


A Grandfather’s Gift to a Grandson He Never Met

“Who has fully realized that history is not contained in thick books but lives in our very blood?” — Carl Jung

Visiting America

As my family tells it, his face—with its defined lines grooved by dirt, strife and time—held a solemn look most days. Weary or apathy was not the matter, it was a face well worn. A face having spent time in his village watching the nearby river slowly dismantle the fading banks. Even with all those years between him and the war, it was a face etched with wrinkles wrought by the tears he could no longer shed. Anymore, his mood would shift only after dinner.

“I’m going to America today,” he’d declare. Taking out his faux leather-bound album, grandfather would chuckle as he opened to the first page. The photographs were slightly crinkled having sat beneath cracked yellowing plastic covers for some years. But that didn’t matter. The true treasure were the faces sitting behind those sheets.

The smile would appear slowly at first. As pages turned, the creases in his brow and on his cheeks would stretch taut, crevices giving way to delight.

“Look at that!” he would shout slapping his fingers onto the photos. Then he would smoothen the photographs with those fingers, fingers well aged in setting bones, mixing herbs, punching posts and pulling triggers. “That’s my grandson!” he’d proclaim, as if sharing the images to the family for the first time.

My grandmother told me that during those span of years in their lives, this was the only time my grandfather really showed any emotion. The war and reeducation had wrested the rest away from him. What brought him life were his memories.

And that album.

Across the Seas

The world in which you were born is just one model of reality. Other cultures are not failed attempts at being you; they are unique manifestations of the human spirit. ― Wade Davis

Those were the early 90s. Telecommunications were much different then, strikingly so when considering the gaps between the Vietnam countryside and Philadelphian suburb. Phone calls were scheduled months in advanced by handwritten postal mail. A time was arranged and the family in Ang Giang would travel to the designated phone station where the phone sat. When the phone rang, they would answer. And we’d be on the other side waiting for a “Hello?”

At this point in my life I had never met my extended family. Beyond the perimeter of my parents and sister, the rest of my kin were all abstract ideas inferred by stories and brief phone conversations during special holidays.

I remember the last phone conversation I would share with my grandfather. I no longer remember the sound of his voice, nor exactly what we talked about, but vividly recall the setting that January evening.

Our lights were off. It was early. My sister and I were already asleep, but our parents woke us up in the dark dawn to call the family. With the 12-hour difference, our uncles and aunts would be back from their day’s work.

I still remember sitting on the shag carpet watching my mother with the cordless phone pressed firmly against her ear. In two weeks time it would be the Lunar New Year and my mother was excited to talk about some final plans before she would touch Vietnam soil for the first time in 15 years.

I remember her talking to the family as I rubbed my eyes, head rested on the couch with arms slung over the side. I wanted a chance to talk to grandpa and grandma. I wanted to hear their voices. My mother handed me the grey magical box that would send me to my family a whole world away. And we talked.

I can remember pacing the room, chirping excitedly. And then we said our goodbyes as I passed the phone along to my sister. And that was the last time I heard my grandfather’s voice. A week later he passed away.

Verbal History

There was no wealth after the war and so there were no heirlooms to pass on, no tokens, no mementos. All we had were the memories. All I had were the phone calls made 12,000 miles apart. And our stories. For a time, all we had were our stories.

Those stories and what they inspired became the only links left between me and my grandfather. Some were loving, others humorous, a few fantastical and others still, curious. My favorites were always the gung fu adventures involving my grandfather, his teacher and a mysterious man by the name of Ong Dao Luong. (While amongst my favorite stories, Ong Dao Luong will have to wait for another time.)

Hearing my grandfather taught gung fu in those days—that he, in fact, practiced in a familial style tied to our heritage—grabbed my imagination early in my post-toddler life. Vo Lam it was called, a general term for a variety of indigenous combat arts. Despite the lack of specificity in name, his art was his and therefore it was something worth exploring.

Grandfather would wake my mother up in the early mornings to practice in the predawn light. Atop the roof of their three-story home, he forged her through the skills of our family’s art.

I wanted to learn gung fu like my mother had. I wanted to practice with my grandfather. But at this point in my life, my mother didn’t remember much of what she had learned. That was so long ago, further distanced by other worldly trials and concerns. She was, however, able to recall a few movements from grandfather’s routine called “Man Ho Li Son”–Mighty Tiger Up The Golden Mountain. And while my martial arts journey blossomed in other ways, it was with those movements I first felt aspiration, an undying passion for a particular kind of cultural movement. Here was where I began to learn, not only my grandfather’s legacy, but also his secret in visiting loved ones so far away.

A civilization is a heritage of beliefs, customs, and knowledge slowly accumulated in the course of centuries, elements difficult at times to justify by logic, but justifying themselves as paths when they lead somewhere, since they open up for man his inner distance. — Antoine de Saint-Exupery

I spent the next years of my life asking my mother to retell me stories of my grandfather’s training, of his skills and of his personality. I dove into various styles of gung fu, boxing and MMA for the next 20 years of my life. In my early twenties I traveled back to Vietnam, to my uncles, aunts, great uncles and neighbors seeking nuggets of information about my grandfather. To discover how he interacted with people, what motivated him, the intricacies of his life and the peculiarities of his movements. With the help of loved ones I pieced together the aforementioned Man Ho Li Son in its entirety. My great uncle, a contemporary with my grandfather, attempted to show me applications and concepts he learned alongside his friend. The years prior spent refining other martial arts informed my practice with the new aspects I encountered from my grandfather’s art.

Fast forward four years. I met with another extended family member who recalled techniques and three additional forms. With a friend, I recorded this knowledge on video while dedicating a day practicing the forms, to not only document them digitally, but also commit them biomechanically. By day’s end, I received the physio-textbooks of my grandfather’s art, regardless of how patchwork the process, how piecemeal the research.



There are aspects of gung fu and martial arts similar to dancing. But whereas there is generally a large level of cooperation in dance (there are certainly exceptions), communicating through martial arts offers more opportunity for abrupt randomization. While also requiring a level of cooperation and understanding, moments in martial arts provide plenty more instances of disruptive pulse-like exchanges. Many times, the purpose is to outsmart and out maneuver your friend, albeit in the hopes that your friend counters, returning the favor to you. It is communication on the level of a chess match—through feinting, counters and attacks. You not only learn your opponent’s or partner’s physicality, but also their mentality, personality and creativity. An exchange between martial artists can be made with anger and aggression or with amicability and admiration. Like life, communicating with martial arts has layers.

But how do you communicate in that way with a grandfather who passed before you met him? You can’t. But you can catch a glimpse of what it may have been like to do so by practicing the routines he practiced. By extrapolating the techniques from those routines. By contemplating what he would have suggested when you considered the relevance of using those techniques in exchanges with contemporary martial artists.

There is a concept of design called heritage design. It is the idea that in today’s planned obsolescence, in our daily items’ inherent devaluing over time due to the nature in which technology rapidly progresses, we should begin to again design things meant to last. Not simply lasting in our lifetimes, but creating things so well crafted they last generations. Designing family heirlooms.

These stories and the very tangible experiences of performing choreographed routines established by my grandfather, these are my inheritance. It is difficult to describe to someone who hasn’t had the isolation from family, who doesn’t desperately seek out glimpses of his past, it is difficult to describe how much this all means. For me, performing these movements are something very special, knowing that I am not simply reading a piece of history through which my grandfather lived, but for a moment in time and space performing the very movements he did, experiencing the same twist, turn and tumble of my limbs as he had. This experience, this art, my grandfather’s gift is my photo album. This art is a very sacred thing to me and it is through this art that I visit my grandfather

Some people are your relatives but others are your ancestors, and you choose the ones you want to have as ancestors. You create yourself out of those values. — Ralph Ellison

You see, I was never handed an oil-worn baseball glove, or precisely tuned watch. No one would want to sell their grandfather’s old timepiece; I wouldn’t want to sell my grandfather’s gung fu. What was gifted me was deeper than a simple bit of nostalgia. I was given a way of communicating cultural value and heritage within the mediums of story and practice, bonding me beyond land, ocean, time and death itself. My grandfather lives on because I dream of him, think to him and practice the things he cherished. For a moment in time, my grandfather visited my family through his photo album. For a moment in time, I visit my grandfather when performing those movements he performed all those years ago.

During those moments in time, he lives on.

In Our Minds

It’s all a state of mind. Isn’t it?

Food. Fitness. Reality.

I. Food

I was sitting at a local restaurant and bar the other night. It was a cooling evening despite the earlier humidity that stubbornly sat over the city. Post workout, the food was delicious. The random tufts of wind that breezed by were equally satisfying. To say the least, it was a nice night.

“What vitamins or nutrients am I missing from this meal?” my friend asked, breaking the silence. Before him sat a large plate of mashed potatoes and a side dish of asparagus.

“Protein, for one,” I guessed. I pondered that for a moment and within my inner ear heard Michael Pollan chide: “Eat food. Not too much. Mostly plants.” My friend appeared well off enough with his evening’s choice.

“Sometimes I wish we didn’t know about vitamins,” he went on, “then we would just eat whatever. I think it’s mostly made up in our minds anyway. We could eat whatever we wanted and not feel good or bad despite not having the ‘right’ vitamins.”

Eat food. Not too much. Mostly plants. — Michael Pollan

And so I mulled that over a bit. We do eat whatever we want. And for the most part, on the surface,—obesity, hypertension, high blood pressure, cholesterol and heart attacks be damned—we’re okay. How often does the average person consider what sort of nutritional value they receive when they plan their meals? Many, to be sure—I do myself despite the indulgences. But more likely than not, most consider taste, mood and setting before they consider the biochemical makeup of their fuel.

I have no doubt our minds are powerful tools capable of willing us to feel certain ways without us even realizing it. So there is something to be said with the idea that perhaps we feel better when we drink that coconut water after a workout precisely because we’re told that is what is supposed to happen. We need that cup of coffee in the morning to get things started because we believe it so. Ironically, placebos are real things with real effects.

II. Fitness

Earlier that day, my friend had also stated that we must be nearing a day when science could just make our bodies fit. We wouldn’t have to “workout” to get it “in shape.” Science in this near future would simply allow us to metabolize efficiently, produce muscular strength and endurance for no other reason than because that’s what we wanted (as opposed to our bodies adapting to produce physical labor.)

As we move our technology from physical manifestations—books, paintings, pen, paper, analog knobs, clocks and wallets—to the digital cloud, ebooks, tablets, and apps, are we envisioning a world in which we feel the same about ourselves? Do we wish that rather than dealing with the physical portions of our existence—the feeding of ourselves, the physical labor that so often produces physical health—are less relevant than the pursuits of our minds? Are our bodies simply annoying vessels requiring maintenance when the mind is where the “good stuff” resides?

We ascertain metaphors in books because we’ve physically experienced with our senses something similar to what is being described. What we take into ourselves and what we give out from it affects us and the world around us.

I don’t think I like that. There may come a day when we are nebulous matter floating around thinking deep thoughts about deep things. Perhaps there will be a day when we expand beyond our physical composition on a physical earth producing physical things and bringing forth creative ideas into the physical world. I don’t believe that day is around the corner. Despite our digital age, we still perceive those digital experiences in a very physical world. We ascertain metaphors in books because we’ve physically experienced with our senses something similar to what is being described. What we take into ourselves and what we give out from it affects us and the world around us. Our minds live in our bodies. Our bodies affect our minds.

III. Reality

Scooping up the remnants of our respective foods whilst discussing our day’s happenings, my friend mentioned how he spent most of his day in his fictional world, his writer’s world, more than the real world. He is quite a cerebral one this writer and so it made sense to me why in past musings he’d mentioned that he felt eating and exercise a chore. He did them to make him feel better, though perhaps given the chance, he’d not bother with them.

I chewed on that a moment as I dipped my last fry into a bit of vinegar. It occurred to me, though I am no longer religious, I certainly appreciate moments of gratitude prior to a meal. In our contemporary society, the majority of us don’t need to scavenge, hunt, kill, prep our food. Or concern ourselves with repeating it the next day. Our meals come delivered sliced, diced and cleaned whether at the grocery store or a restaurant. We don’t have to exert much physical energy to acquire our food and we certainly don’t have to worry as much about whether or not there will be anything to hunt or forage the next day. What was once our fundamental goal, our daily effort has been placed aside as a time management faux pas eating away at other things we could be doing. That’s our reality.

Maybe it was growing up knowing that a portion of my family did live that way, concerned with where the next meal was coming from and whether or not it would provide enough energy to procure more food the next day. Maybe it was growing up knowing that my parents fretted over whether this week’s funds would go towards food or another need or want. Either way, there’s a pleasure to eating foods and drinking drinks, but also a fundamental sense of accomplishment and gratitude that comes to knowing what I eat and how I use that fuel.

Our meals come delivered sliced, diced and cleaned whether at the grocery store or a restaurant. We don’t have to exert much physical energy to acquire our food and we certainly don’t have to worry as much about whether or not there will be anything to hunt or forage the next day.

I believe in a correlation between productivity and well-being, mental and physical both. I believe in a quality of life steeped in diet and fitness. While these factors are not yet accessible to the majority of the people living in this world, I do not think that is a reason for lowering the bar on well-being. I believe our knowledge, experience and humanity provided us with where the base line should be. And that it’s our jobs to see how we can get more people there.

Perhaps, if the mind is so powerful and so capable as to alter our perception of physical well-being, we may as well consider what it is we are putting into our bodies—and what we do with them. After all, the science already says diet and lifestyle will affect us accordingly, what does it hurt if we finally believe it too?

Further reading:

  1. Gut–brain connection is a two-way street, study says
  2. Mediterranean Diet Shown to Ward Off Heart Attack and Stroke
  3. Get Fit Now: Your Life (and Job) Depends on It

The Art Requires the Whole Man

My reflections on the factors behind my quest for success and the start towards the reconciliation of such a burden.

As originally published via The Good Men Project

“Ars totum requirit hominem.”

I write those words in every sketchbook I start. The phrase is in reference to the obsolete tradition of alchemy. It speaks of the requirements between Art (work/discipline/endeavor) and man, of their irrevocable tie to one another to create something of value, to be someone of worth and that this creation would require the sum of his being. This resonated with me.

The Magnum Opus, the Great Work it was called.

I remember the moment of my resolution in creating a life’s work, something the family generations preceding me could be proud of. It was a 10pm third-grade evening umpteen years ago, eyes blurry with tears and a yellow No.2 pencil in my hand. I was sitting at the kitchen table, legs dangling over pea-colored tiled flooring, so tired, so tired, with an angry mother over my shoulder.

The moment produced a combination of senses mingled in shame and anger, of guilt and damaged pride. I trembled shaky cursive across a sheet of loose-leaf, my pencil scribing words I no longer recall. Why was I so stupid as to have misspelled these words on last week’s quiz? Why was I so careless?

My mother was still angry, disappointed at how I could let something like this happen. Wasn’t I concerned with my future? Didn’t I want to become something? Didn’t I understand the hard work she was doing in order for me to have a meaningful life? Couldn’t I spend a little effort getting some silly words spelled correctly?

Looking back I can empathize with her situation. She felt alone in a new world that never grew quite familiar. She worked long hours in midst of mental exhaustion induced by her relationship with my father. Her worries about making the next round of bills permeated our home. She was loving, but easy to frustrate, always a step away from irritability. And she was so fearful of my ever living the life she had to endure. And so that was the culture of our home—failure was not an option.

I no longer remember what those misspelled words were, but those errors and that evening still swirl in my head. They conjure intertwined feelings of a son’s duty, a first-born’s responsibility to make something of himself, to honor the sacrifices of a (pretty much) single mother. I can’t remember a time when the stakes weren’t so pertinent. My godparents frequently reminded me that I was destined for great things. That the hardships my mother inherited were never in vain; they were for me, the fruits of labor borne through me. I can’t remember a time when no bar of some expectation was just out of reach, a time when I didn’t feel I had to dig myself out of whatever it was that I was told I needed to get out of in the first place.

The sense of guilt was worse. A year ago, overwhelmed, distraught and floundering between maintaining a day job, creating a startup, teaching, contributing to a collective art project, and stumbling over a relationship, I called my mother. I was always anxious to call her as she never had anyone to exasperate her problems with—for as long as I could remember, I was that person. But this night, I needed to ask for some advice of my own. I shared my feelings of inadequacy, of the relentless sensations of pursuing some grandeur I couldn’t see, and of the crushing fear of failure that seemed to always loom above me.

“I feel tired all the time. I wake up anxious, not looking forward to the day, not driven to really excel. I feel depressed I think,” I said over the phone.

“You think I’m not tired? I am anxious and depressed all the time.”

“I know,” I say. Not really knowing how to respond I continued with, “Mom, you’re getting old, please stop working overtime. Besides, don’t you ever get bored?”

“How can you be bored when you have a purpose?” she responded.

The matter-of-factness took me back. It startled me, even shocked me, because I knew she truly believed it. My mother started working in the States since she landed here from Vietnam. She met her sponsor family at age 18, working, working… she still works every hour she can get her hands on. She’s come a long way since she’s hit these shores, but it was never easy.

“I get tired. But then I remember. The tiredness goes away when you have vision.”

She doesn’t see her working days ending anytime soon and still, she works hard. Because dammit there’s just no other option. This is life.


I was the son of immigrants. Of foreigners. First male of a generation across two family names. First collegiate graduate. First born into joys of Western comfort. And so, it wasn’t just a blessing: it was duty. The question of success was never a question. It just was. I just had to be.

But duty is never that easy, is it? How does one explain that sense of burden? I was expected to appreciate it as privilege: male privilege, Western privilege bestowed on the son of runaways. But all I felt was a relentless weight that drove itself into knots. The guilt of laxing through a study session or calling sick out of work. The shame of feeling that life was sometimes difficult.

The strength and stoicism this required. All feigned, I knew wasn’t allowed those feelings. I wasn’t supposed to have weakness let alone express it. I was a man, product of trials greater than mine. Where was my Magnum Opus? When would I build my noble house? Where was the meaning in my work? What was I working for? When would I stop feeling so utterly inadequate?

As I threw myself into my work, I ignored my relationships. I ignored former hobbies and passions. My myopic sense of perfection’s pursuit, of finding that ingredient that would turn my perceived leadened-self into gold drove me onward. The equation made sense: anything could be attained through diligence and discipline.

If I just worked hard enough I could be closer to perfection. The closer I was to perfection the closer I would be to love. With success, with security, with accomplishment, if I achieved the unachievable I would earn respect. If I devoted myself to the impossible, I would never feel sorrow again. I was set on making an impact on the world, because that is what it would take for me to accept myself.

Of course, these were all delusions. And it took years of missteps and losses to really take a look at what was important.

“And yet in our world everybody thinks of changing humanity, and nobody thinks of changing himself.” Leo Tolstoy, “Three Methods Of Reform: Pamphlets”

Not too long ago I reached a point of diminishing returns, of exhausting myself and ruining some relationships. The jolt I received from this took on other forms of self-doubt. How could I have been so selfish as to think only about me? How could I be so concerned with making something of myself that I sacrificed all that I already had around me?

It was around this time that I met with a mentor of mine, a former college professor. We occasionally corresponded over the last several years and decided it was due time to meet for lunch. We discussed our endeavors, reacquainting one another with our projects, of life and of what we had accomplished and what we were looking to accomplish. I mentioned to him my shift in careers focusing on the social service sector as a reaction to my self-involved pursuits. I told him of my ambitions with a variety of projects, of wanting to better the world in some way. That, was of course, the meaning I’d been searching. But where was the key? Where was my Philosopher’s Stone to make such a goal happen?

“You know Phil, it also comes with age. You reach a point and you realize that your life is the good work. Living your life is the project. I wake up in the morning wanting to be a good person doing good things. That is my project.”

And it was at this point that I finally took a look at what was important to me, of all the good I already had in life. Perhaps the ingenuity of the Magnum Opus wasn’t in its ability to provide an answer at all. Perhaps its significance was in its impossibility. It made one search and search and in the end notice patterns. In that searching, certain models succeeded while others did not. It was the awareness of these patterns and the fortitude to hone them that provided us with the chemistry and physics of today.

And so, while there was no direct elixir of life and no transmutation, perhaps the process of learning from that journey was the answer itself. The failures and the successes. The joy and the suffering.

“We shall not cease from exploration
And the end of all our exploring
Will be to arrive where we started
And know the place for the first time.”
T.S. Elliot

My circumstances dictated that I wanted to have a “good” life. A life provided for. A life in which I wasn’t only happy, but a life full of meaning and worth. And perhaps with all my angst and all my insecurity I failed to notice the successes that were happening right now. Sure there were varying degrees of struggle, small bouts of suffering, but for all of my fears and pressures of success, I was succeeding.

I am achieving what is needed. I am what I need to be right now. I am all right. I am the art that requires the whole man. The art and the man are one and the same.

  1. Republished from http://goodmenproject.com/business-ethics-2/the-art-requires-the-whole-man/#2YQ32MsIZU3lKesd.99
  2. Image courtesy of Wikimedia Commons: http://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/0/03/Alchemical_Laboratory_-_Project_Gutenberg_eText_14218.jpg


On teamwork and individualism

Shield to Shield

While working today’s social hour, I flipped through a few pages of a book entitled “A Study of History” by Arnold J. Toynbee. It was here that I came upon a part in particular speaking of the evolution of the Spartan phalanx. 1

A phalanx is a general term for military infantry formation. The popular construction of the word describes a military arrangement of tightly packed soldiers armed with spears and interlocking shields. The shield of your colleague’s protected your exposed right side and your shield in turn protected your fellow teammate’s right side. The dense nature of the arrangement provided a compact defensive structure within an offensive mobile force. The Spartans in particular were able to maintain flexibility in this arrangement due to their single-handed dory spears (as opposed to the Macedonian double handed spears) and their short iron xiphos swords, thusly able to function as a single unit while maintaining some autotomy of the individual.

“One-against-one, they are as good as anyone in the world. But when they fight in a body, they are the best of all.” 2

While Tonybee chronicles the evolution of the basic phalanx into more sophisticated military formations, the modern analogy here is less to the lasting integrity of these specific strategies in an ever evolving battlefield and more on the fundamental component of their value: that each individual member is an integral component to the overall integrity of the unit.

Collaboration today is similar. A part of the usefulness in collaboration is the trust in your team and the ability to defer to their various disciplines of expertise . Relinquishing control doesn’t mean catering to your team’s whims, but rather placing trust in why you have a team in the first place. Each member has his and her strong attributes, each is capable of catching any holes you or any other member may make, and each reinforces the movement forward through tightly formed strategy. Like the phalanx.

Transcend Yourself.

There is strength in vigorous individuality. The composite of the whole is completely dependent upon the constitution of each individual member. And this is where disruption, the positive kind, can come into play, where diverse individuals challenge one another to provoke invigorating new solutions. This is the crucial spice in the recipe of innovative culture.

It can take a single idea to spark action, but it takes action to keep that spark burning. IDEO’s one tenant for Human Centered Design is to compose a team of varying abilities and disciplines.3 This diversity creates a breadth and depth of experience, but provides lateral thinking that enables the connection of a variety of dots—dots which likely may not exist without a particular member in the fold. Consider a melting pot of the strongest points of culture, perspective and skillset—this is innovative teamwork, when one’s individual value reinforces something greater than himself. When one can, for the moment, put his own individualism aside for the common strength of a greater goal.

“The most effective moral communities – from a well-being perspective – are those that offer occasional experiences in which self-consciousness is greatly reduced and one feels merged with or part of something greater than the self.”4

Our relentless individualism shades the fact that everything we do affects our society, the people around us, the people in our lives. Strengthen oneself to strengthen those around us. That’s why many of us got into the fields we got into in the first place; to make the world a better, more interesting place. And I believe that if we, from time to time, realize that our individualism is stronger when applied to the benefit of the formation, of the goal, of the pursuit, of the good for our constituents, that we can very rarely go wrong.

1. A Study of History, Volume V, The Disentigrations of Civilization; Arnold J. Toynbee
2. Herodotus vii (trans. G. Rawlinson)
3. HCD Tool Kit; IDEO.org
4. “Hive Psychology, Happiness & Public Policy“; J. Haidt, P. Seder & S. Kesebir (as quoted from Why Teams Make Us Happy; Scott Belsky)


Light Magic

Bus rides are usually hectic. By the time the public’s leviathan scoops me up at my stop, I can barely inch over the yellow “DO NOT CROSS” line that demarks the start of the aisle and the end of the driver’s zone.

I don’t mind standing as I’ll be sitting most of the day anyway. But the weight I see on the sullen faces around me forebode their 9-to-5-gruel. And this tempts the phantom knots I can feel in our collective shoulders.

This morning it’s different. While it started with a leaden gloom, the sun’s peaking over and out from it’s five-day hiding. The bus is empty and I have a seat. I actually have a lot of seats. I choose to only occupy one.

The mothers beside me speak with light, accented notes. Their intonations are from two different regions of the world. The little boys with them have none.

Moments earlier, clomping up onto the bus from Green Street and striding gallantly down the aisle, the one boy cried, “It’s magic!” Grinning, he was clearly excited to see he’d somehow synchronized his commute schedule with his morning friend yet again.

“There is no such thing as magic honey,” chides his mother as they sit down across from the first mother-son pair.

The boy continues to speak. He tries to spell on the bus. He doesn’t get it right, but he’s determined to wrestle through breaking down “ingredients.” After a couple of “i” and “n’s” he stops.

“We could look it up in a dictionary you know. Oh! I know how to spell ‘dictionary’!”

Alas, before he can provide adequate solutions for either of those words, his stop arrives. “We should ask Google how to spell them,” he claims as he gets up for the door. “It’s not the smartest person. Google’s not a person. But it’s the smartest network.”

He slides down the seat and stubbles down the steps firmly grasping his mother’s hand.

“You become the smartest person by working hard like you just did,” says the other mother. Her and her son wave goodbye with big smiles.

He gets off the bus with his mom that told him magic doesn’t exist and they both continue on their way.

“See,” says the other mother to her own young boy, “he does not know how to spell those words, but yet he tries and tries. There should be no fear to learning.”

Now that is magic.