I’ve regularly visited a family run vietnamese restaurant for over a decade now. At this point I would say I’m fairly well acquainted with most of the family members who take care of its daily operations, but last week my respect for the owner grew by leaps and bounds.
This restaurant is highly regarded and would be considered one of the best spots in town, or if not the best one vietnamese restaurant in in town for years and years. They have never really skipped a beat since opening their doors. Their fan base is so loyal that they and have close for the entire month of July(heart of tourist season) every year to go on vacation, meanwhile never losing any traction in the local foodie community. This is the kind of place you go to where you know exactly what you are going to order before you even sit down and they generally ask if I will have the regular when it’s my turn to order. The food is brilliant, the service consistent, and the friendly environment never fades. But this week’s visit shook things up for me, as I learned the struggle it took for this landmark to even be established, let alone prosper as it does today. This story of perseverance had to be shared and can be appreciated from many angles.
Having dined at this restaurant over a hundred times over the years I would struggle to recount maybe three or four days in total where she wasn’t charged with peaceful joy in her expression. I will admit at times to even have established a slight envious resentment towards her for the nonstop glowing countenance. It exhausted me to consider the amount of focus it would take to bring forth such a positive approach to life every day, when undoubtedly she had her own life struggles going on in the background. I truly believe it is her relentless charm that made her restaurant so popular to begin with. The people fell in love with her approach to customer care first, with the food quality following up closely behind.
The meal came to a close that day, we made our way to the counter and payed the bill, but just before leaving we sat down and began to talk about trivial life matters. And before you knew it we had turned back the hands of time four decades, back to her life growing up and living through the Vietnam war. She explained that she would be laying in bed night and would hear bombs falling from the sky crashing into the ground only a short distance away from her home. She said that she never slept through a whole night for almost five years while the fighting while the fighting was taking place. I stood aghast to what she was telling us. I turn slightly delusional after missing falling short on sleep even after a couple days, let alone the cumulative impact it would have on someone after weeks or even months of interrupted sleep. The details of her experience were tragic, something I will never really have to relate with and endure in my lifetime.
She went on further to explain that one of the ways the the people in her community would help fight for their own lives was to dig safety holes underneath their bedrooms, creating a make-shift mini bomb-shelters that they would hide when the bombs started to drop at night. Although their efforts would be considered futile in many respects considering the destructive power of the bombs, it still served as a beacon of hope for them. Every night she would sit and pray that the bombs wouldn’t land close to their homes, thinking that just may have been the last day of her life.
At this point in the conversation I started to feel the emotions well up inside of me, and I felt truly blown away at how her life had changed so greatly since those years of struggle. I asked if at that time she could even imagine the life she lives today as a successful business owner, home owner, family matriarch, and as a recognizable figure in the local foodie community? She ecstatically expressed that it would have been unimaginable for her to imagine the life she lives today. She went on to explain why her life today was so unimaginable back then, because the country was so deeply poverty stricken the years following the war to the point where people had to stand in line for rations. People were given 2 square meters of fabric to make their clothes for the year, leaving you with basically one outfit to wear. In 2016 people have multiple outfits to wear for a single 30 minute Instagram photoshoot from their $800 iPhones. Things were so bad for her at one point that she remembers having to make 500 grams of soap last for six months. Let’s just say regular bathing wasn’t part of the daily regime.
Hearing her story of rags to riches blew my mind, and really planted a massive seed of hope inside of me. It was such a great reminder for me to acknowledge my own finite thinking when it comes to my life, and the limited view I carry of what is possible for my future in comparison to what God or the Universe has in store for me. A total shift in the potential for my life took place, grounding me in a moment serenity that I wouldn’t be capable of summoning the words to explain.
Having earned such resilient stripes in life, it’s no wonder she maintains such a nonchalant positive attitude through it all, recognizing that she isn’t in control of it all and that things could most definitely be much worse. A perspective I will attempt replicate in my own life going forward.