Remi’s Story – To Be or Not To Be Here

Terrified?  Yes, that seems to be the appropriate word.  In my case anyway, as I listened to my tribe co-leader start describing the next recipient selected for the November Project Positivity Award and slowly but surely, realize you ARE IT !  Whoa, rewind that for me again?  You see, the PA and I have a past history.  Not a pretty one by my account and I hope to have the dubious distinction of being the only having dropped it during the traditional “toss” way back with the NYC tribe.  Since then I have been filled with anxiety about the possibility of this same moment with my BK tribe.  To the point that I even hinted that it was totally OK not to be considered.  So despite the significance of what it represents and what it bestows upon oneself, I have been more than content to see a fellow NPer receive it and serve as a constant reminder of the amazing qualities of those around me.  

I see examples of generosity, kindness, resilience, and strength just to mention a few.  I was not born with any of these traits, at least not in any full extent, so I can only assume that if I am perceived to demonstrate any of them, it must be from observing others and emulating them as best as I can.  

Growing up in Brazil where the Chinese community was almost non-existent, and to parents working a laundry and restaurant business, one learns self-reliance and independence rather quickly.  This gets reinforced when you suddenly move to NYC’s Chinatown with very little knowledge of Chinese and you get to see only one of your parents at a time for a few months while the other travels back to run the family business.  Eventually moving to Brooklyn, my high school years were unremarkable and often filled with a sense of isolation.  I pretty much graduated with complete strangers.   College was just an attempt to create bonds with limited success while preparing to find a job. The prospect of leaving my family for a job in Texas after college was terrifying (there goes that word again).  As luck would have it, I was able to find employment in NJ.  The long and costly commute and an 8 hour drive back home during a winter storm made a move closer to work a logical one.  At least I could have weekends spent at home or the few college friends I managed to keep in contact with.  The pursuit of a graduate degree and dating life eventually brought me back home.  Life settled into a long commute again which I learned to accept as a small sacrifice.  Marriage to a wonderful woman and eventual birth of my son Richard seemed to shape my plans and occupy my time and thoughts.  As an engineer, I always had confidence in my ability to figure things out.  Planning is 80 percent, execution 20 I would tell myself.  That approach seemed to work until one day you are diagnosed with a brain tumor.   I can still recall the terrifying (here we go again) numbness as I looked down at my son barely 2 months old before we rushed to the hospital ER, wondering what his life would be without me in it.  

Well, you can well guess the outcome of that chapter as you are still reading this.  Although benign, the removal of what turned out to be a golf sized mass caused a total hearing loss and facial nerve damage on the left side.  More on that last bit later.  And yes, let’s add a ringing 24/7 for good measure (this is for those who often ask how much I sleep).  Despair, anger, and depression became my constant yet silent companions.  So much so, a co-worker playfully nicknamed me “crabby”.  

There were days when I questioned my purpose and existence and whether I had the courage to leave all I dearly cherished behind.  It was during one of those moments which I can only describe as hitting rock bottom, I was taken back to that same instance as I left for the hospital years before.  That same fear not only saved me, but instilled within me a new purpose.  To be here rather than not and make a difference no matter how small it may be.  Years of complacency resulted in a weight gain that I accepted as a cost of “Life getting in the way of living”, as I usually like to say.  It took a while, but eventually I made the fateful decision to do something about it as well.  A dusty treadmill came to life again.  The anger was now harnessed into a furious and relentless pursuit which involved ungodly hours and endless weekends.  As luck would have it, the treadmill stopped working.  Doing a yearly 4M charity run, left me somewhat comfortable with giving outdoor running a try.  Then shortly after, while doing the 5K Sandy charity sponsored by NYRR, I noticed the volunteering opportunities for the NYC Marathon while browsing the website site.  Having coming out to watch it once, it had always sparked my interest.  Working at the start, I felt a sense of purpose while helping runners in any way I could, even with the simple act of handing small bottles of water out. 

I was hooked.  Long story short, volunteering has become a huge part of my life now.   Whether it is about the giving back or just the paying forward, I have come to believe that the odds of making a difference in someone’s experience can only get better with how often I do so.  That fateful decision also eventually led me to my NP family.  That first stint at the marathon kept bringing me back to race events.  I just could not get enough.  That first year would find me at almost all NYRR events, so often I was constantly asked whether I worked for them.  As it goes, my so called baking hobby simply resulted out of a necessity for having something else besides the same donuts at race events, but now it’s just my attempt to make a difference.  Even with the simple act of baking treats.  It pretty much started when I decided to bake a batch of scones while volunteering for the Bronx 10M on my birthday, a day made more memorable while helping make a marriage proposal happen at the finish.  As I mentioned before, the odds do get better.  It was during this time that I started to notice these runners who oddly enough, spray painted something across their shirts.  

My involvement with the NYRR Open Run program inevitably led to an introduction to Paul Leak, Don and Esther E. who often wore the same tags.  After a short inquiry, I somehow managed to convince myself to showup to a Friday workout at Prospect Park.  On my way home, I wondered whether I could find the courage to do it again.  I decided to give it one more try.  Besides, the shirts do look cool I told myself.  The next bounce became another, and then another.  That first tag led to the next, and now to the point that my tagged items outnumber all others.   Tag everything I often say.  Well, at least most.

 I could wonder what life would be like or in a particular case not, based on my choices, but why bother I tell myself.  Such decisions terrifying or not, have led me to this place in time, and to those who I consider to be points in the compass of my life.  Guiding and constantly correcting my course.  Whether by baking treats, cheering, or simply being there during a bounce (hopefully in a costume or prop), I have been graciously allowed to be a small part of their lives.  I learned to make the most of every day, even the bad ones knowing that a smile followed by a hug, sweaty or not, will eventually be waiting to greet me regardless of time and place.  As a reminder to myself of that silver lining, I often joke that not feeling the left side of my face can come very handy in a fight, except with a southpaw.  Luckily for me, the overall odds are still in my favor.  I stopped wondering or fearing what life would be without me and just try to live as best as I know how and those you are with.  I’m just grateful that mine is filled with such amazing humans whose qualities I continue to aspire, and who bring so much into my existence.  Whatever happens, I am glad I decided to be here and glad you are as well.

-Remi Chian

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