To many, especially those advanced in age, starting over is a scary proposition. To some, this forecasted mountain of challenges proves to be too crippling to attempt. And they wither under the weight of change. In this piece, I offer a story of my mom’s tumultuous journey and the many start-overs she endured to show that it’s not too late to begin anew.
My Family’s Story Is Proof: You’re Never Too Old to Start Over Again
Change is the law of life. And those who look only to the past or present are certain to miss the future.
– John F. Kennedy
I waved goodbye to the sleepy neighborhood. It was 4am and not a soul was stirring except for the five of us and the bus driver. It would be our last day in Vietnam.
I don’t know if I could describe what I was feeling at that point. Fear, excitement, and a slew of other emotions — but mostly, I was numb. As we rounded the corner, I shed a tear watching the house I grew up in fade out of view.
But whatever emotional rollercoaster I was on during those first few transitional days from Vietnam to America could never compare to what my parents must have been experiencing. I was young enough that the effects of this new beginning didn’t debilitate me. I could make new friends quicker, learn the language easier, and assimilate to life in America faster. Starting over wasn’t as significant a barrier to me as it was to them.
My parents were in their late forties; their road to societal integration wasn’t as smooth. They struggled. Yet, somehow they managed to rise above the rubble and became contributing members of society within months. Perhaps, they were forced to do so. Fight or flight, you know? And they fought. But, I think a major factor for this quick turnaround had to do with their positive mindset toward change. “It’s never too late to start over,” they would tell me.
And started over they did, for the umpteenth time.
To fully illustrate this point, I will give a brief summary of my mom’s many start-overs in her life and how she never shied away from them.
From the change you never choose
When she was very young, her family moved from the countryside of North Vietnam to the cosmopolitan South. Back in the sixties, North and South Vietnam were as different as night and day. She quickly assimilated to life in South Vietnam and soon became a top student in school.
Then, just as becoming a judge came within reach, the ravages of the Vietnam War caught up with her. South Vietnam fell. Leaving everything behind, she and her new husband fled the city to go into hiding — my father was a ranking officer for the Southern Army at the time, and his life was in imminent danger.
He was captured soon after and sent to “re-education” camps for six years. And just like that, my mom was reduced from a position of honor to one of a countryside daughter-in-law, farming the fields as a quasi-peasant. Even then, she thrived in that environment. Being one of a few educated people in the area, she became a teacher and a respected member of the community.
Through twists and turns
Some years later, on my second birthday, my grandfather from my mom’s side visited us, and appalled by what he saw, plucked us from the farms and brought us back to the city. By then my mom had fully embraced the rural life.
She started over again.
The former Soviet Union and Vietnam were relatively close allies back then. There were a lot of Russian military personnel in the South — and their wives. My mother soon became a somewhat famous seamstress for these Russian women. But just as soon as life stabilized, we got the call from the U.S. embassy: “You’re going to America.”
To a(nother) new beginning in America
In the US, she went back to school at the ripe young age of fifty, received an associate’s degree and soon became an admired team member for a Fortune 500 company. Yet just as soon as life stabilized and the joy of homeownership was upon her, the housing bubble popped. She lost the house she so proudly and deservedly earned.
She was shipped off to Oregon to start over with a different division in the company. By then I, the youngest of three kids, had graduated college and started to earn a good living. To her, her “job” was done, and she retired. And I suppose retirement could be considered “starting over” as well.
Triumphing through change
All said and done, my mom’s life is comprised of many abrupt changes, but through them all, she triumphed. She triumphed because she didn’t let the emotional weight and strain of starting over erect an impenetrable wall before her. She embraced each change, and in doing so, found ways to overcome these hurdles.
Now, when faced with the possibility of starting over, I channel my mom’s fighting spirit to move steadfast toward the future.
So what I’m trying to say is… it’s not too late. You’re not too old to embark on a new journey. The obstacles you see are indeed tangible, but they’re not insurmountable. You might not have that pep in your step anymore, but as long as one foot can go in front of the other, strive forward! My mom’s journey is a testament of that.