I have a pretty origami butterfly on my desk, folded by Wayson Choy.
It is the perfect memento of an evening spent listening to this gentle spirit speak about his experience of almost dying - twice. Although as the title would suggest - Not Yet. As Wayson joked, you need to buy the book to see whether he survives the ordeal or not.
The memoir begins and ends with the two different encounters with death, and in between the pages we learn about reasons for living.
The author stated one of the themes of the book was "family is who loves you." The voices of the elders in Chinatown often admonished him about his bachelorhood and warned him he would die alone. Later in life, as a gay man, he described himself as lucky to have two families to share his life, to be with him through his ordeal and to abide with him as he faced death. He was not alone.
Another thread in the book is that of luck... buying a winning lottery ticket; having his second heart attack in the doctor's office; being "lucky" in having two families choose to include him as a vital member, if not a biological one.
Although he did not speak directly of it tonight; flight is a recurring motif. Why else choose to have a hummingbird on the cover and imprinted on the page following the end of the story? Why else would you fold origami butterflies for people whose books you sign, "For Diane, in flight."
The first time he faced death he was in a coma and in the weeks afterward, there were times he found himself in an altered state observing the moments as a writer. He was heavily drugged and not physically capable of holding a pen to write, so in telling the tale relied on flashbacks and the reminiscences of family members to help pull the fragments together.
When I spoke with him I remarked he must have had to relive the experience in order to write about it, so in fact he had almost died far more than twice - he told me some scenes just poured from his pen and he has flashbacks, still. He had to tell the story, in part, so he could share the understanding of just how potent a force love can be.