Breath of Fresh Air
From My Web Administrator

I got an email from my web administrator a couple of days ago. There isn’t anything special about hearing from her. We exchange emails all the time. The email was that she was able to restore an essay about my great-granddaughter, A Ngal Lay. She has fixed loads of broken links or similar problems for years. This is particularly true since someone hacked into my website. Therefore, what made this restoration so important, even beyond the issue of my great-granddaughter?

This article concerns me and my mindset, which is similar to yin yang. Yin yang is ancient Chinese cosmology dating back over two millennia. The basis of yin yang is that it explains everything. There is a duality in all of life, a positive and negative relationship, regardless of where you look.

Yin and Yang

My mind

Another way to explain yin yang is by the Western phrase, no pain, no gain. I have used that expression of understanding as far back in my life as I can remember. It is the reality in which we live. However, when I am depressed or stressed out, I don’t relish the pain. Once I address the pain, I’ll talk highly about the benefits of pain.

There are two significant yin times in my life. The first was moving from Pennsauken, NJ to Mt. Lebanon, PA. Pennsauken was a nice middle-class town where I was an above-average student, and Mt. Lebanon was a golden ghetto financially and educationally. That transition taught me that I was dumb and poor. While both those feelings were incorrect in retrospect, they float around in my mind even today. This essay was about Ti Ti, my granddaughter in Myanmar, who was dealing with similar feelings.

My two dances with death were also yin times in my life. After not dying, those two near-death experiences taught me to live in the now. I know better about my mortality than someone who hasn’t done the dance. Both those yin events have been transformed into my yang mindsets. However, those changes took time for me to grasp.

In early January 2020, I returned from my third trip to visit Ti Ti and my family in Myanmar. Ti Ti had just graduated from high school. We attended a special honors assembly, where she was recognized as the best in math in Shan State. Then we went on a family tour to many places that many Western tourists have never seen. That month was the happiest time in my life.

I had promised Ti Ti that she would go to college in Myanmar on my dime. However, on January 20th, my birthday, the first case of COVID-19 was confirmed in the States. It wasn’t long before the entire world was facing the coronavirus. In the following year, a military coup took place in Myanmar. Fortunately, Ti Ti could attend college online.

That is the backstory. Ti Ti is trying to get a student visa to come to the States, attend college here, and then return to make her country a better place to live. A local college has accepted her and has her office in my home.

Ti Ti's Office

You will see several photos of Ti Ti and her family in this photo. The large one in the center is of Ti Ti when we met a decade ago. Next to Ti Ti’s photo is a picture of her mentor, Aung San Suu Kyi.

This photo is Ti Ti and I playing Scrabble at her home near Inle Lake and the following is of Ti Ti today. I promised Ti Ti that I would wear the same shirt when I pick her up at O’Hare airport in Chicago that I wore when she beat me at Scrabble.

Us playing scrabble Ti Ti

Ti Ti went to her visit interview at the US Embassy in Yangon, where a female interviewed her. However, there was also a man in the room who indicated he wanted to talk privately to the interviewer. The interviewer turned off the recording device and went to talk with him. He didn’t want her to grant Ti Ti a student visa. Finally, the interviewer returned and told Ti Ti she didn’t qualify for a student visa. Several months later, Ti Ti returned for her second interview. This time, the man was the interviewer. Again, he denied granting her a student visa. Again, several months later, he denied Ti Ti the third time.

Ti Ti has provided me with the questions and her answers during each interview. I wrote to the chargé d’affaire at the US Embassy. However, the gatekeeper refused to forward my email. As a result, I wrote to several well-known American lawyers and ambassadors. Those people are mentors of mine. We had never met, and they didn’t know who I was.

Nevertheless, I viewed them as role models. I sent each person a video explaining the situation and documentation from Ti Ti. I never got past their gatekeepers. In most cases, I talked to their gatekeepers, who understood my reason for wanting to talk to each person. The gatekeepers were very nice but cautioned me that the person I wished to talk with was very busy. I thanked each gatekeeper but never received any response from any recipients of my emails.

You may think that I overreached by contacting busy people. However, over the years, I have reached out to other famous and not-so-famous people with questions about their ideas or for suggestions for me regarding various issues. I have interviewed Robert Novak, Dr. John Woods, Sen. Paul Simon, Studs Terrel, John Astin, Peter Jennings, Ron Magers, and Thubten Norbu, the brother of the Dalai Lama.

I have written to Carl Sagan, Cory Aquino, John Cleese, Leo Buscaglia, Charles Colson, and others. All of them took the time to respond to my letters.

Having failed miserably to get help from people who could assist me, I turned to ProPublica. I have read many of their features, including their investigative journalism related to Justices Thomas and Alito. I sent a dozen and a half emails with attachments similar to those I mentioned to attorneys and ambassadors.

Finally, I got a reply to one of my emails. The sender said that she doesn’t open attachments. She merely wanted me to write out a story about my concern. I replied with a condensed story regarding Ti Ti and the rejections at our embassy in Yangon. There was no reply.

My failure to move the ball even an inch toward resolution set the stage when I got an email from my web admin person. Her email merely stated that she restored that article about A Ngal Lay that had been a part of the hacking of my website several months before.

My web admin’s email was the genesis of my lengthy response to her email. Talk about her email being a breath of fresh air. Several years ago, I was looking for someone to manage my website. I got a reply from her, along with a handful of others. I don’t have a copy of our first couple of emails, but I knew she was the right one after reading her first email. She possesses many positive attributes, like intelligence, proficiency, and caring. She reminds me of Ti Ti.

At the end of my long venting in my email about reaching out to a couple dozen people for help, I ended my breath of fresh air reply with this question, “Guess what my next essay will be about?”

I end this literary venting with a question. What is your takeaway from this article? How would you have managed my litany of rejections if our roles were reversed? Here is a hint. Remember, yin yang and no pain, no gain.

Pain forces one to decide whether to quit or to get up and continue the effort. I’m an eighty-year-old grandfather who feels pain related to my granddaughter. It is as personal as it gets. I merely need another approach. Here is a hint. I’m working on getting this issue past the gatekeeper at the US Embassy by contacting the State Department again.

One further point. Imagine you are Ti Ti, and I am your grandfather. How would you feel after reading this article? That question isn’t about our relationship. Ti Ti knows that I love her and will do anything for her. However, how would you feel about yourself if you were Ti Ti?

If I were Ti Ti, I’d feel good about who I am. Some cute but old guy from America sees value in me and believes in me. That is what Ti Ti will say. After posting this essay, I’ll email Ti Ti with that question. Trust me. Ti Ti’s email will begin, “Dear Papa Al, thank you for believing in me....”

This essay is a roadmap for Ti Ti and her two younger sisters. They are in the early part of their journey down their yellow brick roads of life.

This essay is a parable about never giving up. We all need to remember no pain, no gain.