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Wednesday, November 14, 2012

Facing my Tripping Point—and Finding Selina

There was a crazy moment in Hong Kong where I tripped and nearly crashed forward, with my body plus camera hanging in the balance, at the precise cusp between disaster and recovery. It came toward the end of a nearly perfect day that began with an easy crossing of the border from China (Shenzhen) into Hong Kong, an uplifting visit to the beautiful Hong Kong Temple where we attended a session that by chance was in the Mongolian language for a group of about 20 hardy, stalwart Saints from Mongolia, followed by teaming up with one of our most inspiring Chinese friends, a young lady who is now a student in Hong Kong. We went together to Hong Kong’s Ngong Ping cable cars that took us up high over the rugged hills to an area with a giant Buddha (marketed as “Big Buddha”—where do they come up with these great names?) and then teamed up with another LDS family, new friends of ours living nearby in Hong Kong. and then took a bus down to Tai-O fishing village for other interesting sites and experiences. We went back up to the Big Buddha area, visited the Buddhist temple and monastery there and were on our way back to the cable cars when I stopped to take a few pictures and was then hurrying back to catch up to my wife and our friend.

The crazy moment, the close encounter with my tripping point, happened as I began running.  So much seemed to happen in a few seconds. Coming toward me but a little to the side was a possibly attractive female who may have been dressed inappropriately. Perhaps it will come as a surprise to you but even at my age (the age where age doesn’t matter much anymore, mostly because I can’t remember what my age is), ancient temptations do not necessarily fade away and self-control is needed daily. Even old supposedly trustworthy geezers can fall and hurt others. The natural, curious man in me wanted to understand just what temptation I was resisting, but there was at that moment a distinct instruction to myself like this: “Jeff, keep your eyes focused straight ahead. Don’t give her the satisfaction of drawing your attention. Don’t even turn your eyes for a second.” That's what I told myself, and I’m happy to report that I listened.

At that same instant, the instant I chose to not be distracted for even a second, my right shoe hit a dangerously raised brick in the walkway as I was jogging and I came as close to losing my balance completely as I think is possible without completely falling. With my expensive, semi-precious SLR camera hanging from my neck, I remember feeling chagrinned about the obliteration it was about to face crashing against the rock, and wondered if I could turn my body enough to shield it as I fell. I also remember feeling embarrassed and worrying about what people would say since I had only recently recovered from another bad fall while rushing down the hard, wet marble steps of our local subway. And then there was the thought, “But maybe I can make it!” as my legs began scrambling forward, first at roughly the same speed as my forward falling torso, and then a little faster, and then, recovery, standing stall again. From the tripping point to the recovery took about 20 meters, and must have been a comic sight, though no friends or family saw it. Had there been any kids or other people in my path across those 20 meters, I think I might have crashed or knocked someone down. And one important lesson for me was this: if my head or eyes had been turned a little to the side when the tripping point came, I suspect that the extra fraction of a second required to bring my focus back to the path in front of me would have made the difference between success and failure. I would have crashed.

By the way, I am not saying that it is a sin to even notice a female and that men must walk around with blinders. But for me, in that moment, the counsel to not notice at all, to not be distracted, and to keep my eyes squarely forward was what I needed. Had I ignored that, I am convinced that I would have suffered bodily harm, mental harm (severe embarrassment), and camera harm.

However, the most serious downside to the barely-averted disaster is one I would not have even known: had I fallen, we would not have met Selina. This LDS young single adult from Shanghai would have remained alone on the streets of Hong Kong without a place to sleep and without much money. Though she is resilient and resourceful, she probably would have slept in the wrong airport and missed her return flight to Shanghai the next day. And we would all have missed out on a tender mercy of the Lord and a small but genuine miracle.

Selina (not her real name) is one of many Young Single Adults in our District of the Church who have come to China, typically to teach English or to study. My wife and I have the greatest calling ever: co-chairs of the Single Adult Committee in the Shanghai International District, which involves traveling together to different branches in the District and working to strengthen the single adults. We are so impressed with these young people, but sometimes they face severe challenges in their journey. Selina was one that we were most concerned for given some of the setbacks she had faced in a bad school situation, etc. She had been in our prayers regularly, and while in Hong Kong, my wife privately wrote her name down on a “prayer role” to express her desire for her welfare. She had Selina on her mind in the house of prayer, but neither of us had any idea that Selina was coming to Hong Kong that day.

Selina had come the night before to Shenzhen, China (next to Hong Kong), as had we. She came with another LDS friend who wanted to go to the Temple for our branch temple trip. That friend would go early, and then Selina would cross the border later and the two would meet at the temple later that day. If something went wrong, they would just use their cell phones to reach each other. And finally, they could just meet at Big Buddha, an interesting tourist spot they wanted to see (one of many choices in Hong Kong, and one that I hadn’t even heard of until my Mormanity blog brought me into contact with the new LDS family I mentioned who suggested Big Buddha and the cable cars as a recommended attraction for our visit). Selina’s friend had made the arrangements and had all the details regarding flights and a possible place to stay for their second night. But when Selina crossed the border, the lines were huge and the process confounding. (Hint: use the Luowu crossing and go before 7 am. We had no lines at 6:30 am.) She got to the Temple two hours late, after her friend had given up and gone. What neither of them knew yet was that their phones wouldn’t work at all in Hong Kong. They also didn’t know that it’s not easy to get to Big Buddha, and the normal way involves expensive cable cars that you can’t even get to without waiting in a gargantuan line when they are open (unless you buy tickets ahead of time online, as I did, fortunately)—but I think they were closed or closing by the time Selina managed to get down to that distant corner of Hong Kong. Selina had given up on the cable cars, given up on Big Buddha, and was wondering how she would meet her friend. Not to worry, she thought, as a last resort she could just sleep in the Hong Kong airport that night and hopefully run into her friend there the next day—but that would have been the wrong airport altogether.

Selina had wandered over to a plaza not exactly close to the cable car area, not an obvious destination as far as I can tell for groups going to or from the cable cars. She had bought tickets to see a movie and gone into a Subway sandwich shop to grab a sandwich. As we came down from the cable cars, our LDS friends were taking us to visit their apartments in a nearby complex and led us through a shopping plaza on the way . My wife suddenly said, “Selina!” What? Why yes, it was somebody we knew, one of our single adults. She was just crossing the plaza to go to the theatre. A few seconds earlier or later and we would have missed her, In this city of 7 million people, she was an improbably needle in a vast haystack of people. We soon learned her story and realized that she needed help, though this independent and brave young lady might not have realized it then.

We took her under our wings and brought her with us (reimbursing her for the movie ticket which we encouraged her to forego). In the apartment of our Hong Kong friends, she was able to use the Internet to send a message to her missing friend with instructions on how to reach us (we would get a call around 11 pm that night and all would turn out well). We fed her and then, after parting with our cool Chinese student friend, took Selina back to Shenzhen (crossing the border into China can also be difficult and confusing without experienced help and we were glad to make it easy for her). We put her up in our hotel and then took her with us to the right airport the next morning, and everything worked out.

You can call it a chance coincidence, but we are so grateful to the Lord that he would help her and remind her of His love for her through this little miracle.  We hope Selina remember how much she matters to Him and how much He loves her. For us, it was so rewarding to be able to be there at the right time to be a tool to help someone in need. It’s something I would much rather do than picking up pieces of a shattered lens or nursing new cuts and bruises.

How many Selina moments have I missed, though, through my selfishness, through my other stumblings and errors in life? The experience motivates me to want to be more careful, to keep my focus more firmly forward in life and to more stoutly resist distractions that might keep me from being useful when there’s a miracle that somebody needs. Maybe I’m the one that needed this little miracle the most.



P.S. Practical travel tip when sharing your hotel room: I arose early in the morning and realized that there was a risk of an awkward situation when my wife would later use the shower. To avoid unnecessary awkwardness and risk, I showered first, then quickly dressed and left the hotel room to go work on my computer in the lobby until the girls were all ready to leave. This prevented me from being alone with another female in a hotel room. Sure, I consider myself totally trustworthy and all that. but a key to avoiding trouble, misunderstanding, and even lawsuits years later is staying out of questionable or risky situations as much as possible, even when or especially when trying to do good.

Update for gentle readers: In defense of the natural man mentioned above, the natural process of "noticing" people walking toward you is not something to necessarily be shunned. My eyes-to-the-ground approach at that moment could even count as "rude" in some situations. To notice who others are and what they look like is normal--it's lust and inappropriate responses that must be avoided. However, sometimes special eyes-to-the-ground measures are needed in the first place when there might be excessive temptation, or when a klutz is about to plant his face in the concrete.

6 comments:

Anonymous said...

No it is not a sin to look at an attractive person. BUT, how disrespectful is it to one's spouse? Like anything else one needs to make up their mind to not do something when the time comes.
The Prophets have taught that we need to know beforehand how we are going to act or know what to say when temptation comes our way, that way we can deal with it according to Christ's teachings.
Dale Murphy, a very good player for the Atlanta Braves and a good Mormon would not even put his arm around another woman while taking photos with his fans because it would have been disrespectful to his wife and against his LDS teachings. He doesn't look at other women also. If one makes up their mind beforehand to not do something then when the time comes for temptation it is easy not to do it.
Why do men have to look at women anyway? It could lead to other things. It did for Petreus. The news outlets reported how he and others commented about how good looking his biographer is.
Grow up.

Anonymous said...

Um, actually, I find that you have to look at people to know who they are and what they look like. Ignoring someone completely like that, regardless of how they are dressed, can often be rude - and can make you miss friends coming your way.

What do ou mean by the harsh "grow up" statement, Ma'am?

matejoh said...

The "not looking" is still a sexist reduction arguement that thinks all men are walking penises (I think that's the first time I've used that in plural form) with the intent to fornicate. I think if Christ looked away from the woman taken in adultery, she would have been stoned to death because he would have been too busy trying to avoid temptation instead helping her. Seems like a lot of us trip on the stones at our feet, then out of guilt hurl them in the direction of those we presume to be in sin.

Anonymous said...

In Japan, the large Buddha statues (at least those in Nara and Kamakura) are commonly referred to as 大仏 (Daibutsu in Japanese) which translates literally to Big Buddha or if you want, Great Buddha.

So, I wouldn't be surprised if the Chinese use the same characters and translate them simply to "Big Buddha."

Mark Butler said...

I should have taken a second to look this up. The Chinese name for the statue is "天壇大佛" or "Temple of Heaven Great Buddha." The last of the four characters was formerly used in Japan for "Buddha" but was simplified to 仏 as shown in my previous comment.

So, the English name is simply a direct translation of the Chinese--or at least half of the Chinese.

Jeff Lindsay said...

I really don't get the first commenter's condemnation of men for merely "looking at" or noticing an attractive person. I'll take my cue from the leaders of the Church who, often when speaking to the young women, note that they are beautiful. They look at them, they notice them, and they comment on their beauty--as, for example, President Hinckley did here. He wasn't being disrespectful to his spouse, IMHO. Appreciating the beauty of our fellow humans, which involves, at some point, taking ones eyes off the pavement, need not involve base emotions or lurid desire. Indeed, it can be a wholesome way of resecting others and even appreciating the majestic handiwork of the Lord.