Ephemeral

Blazer, Kohl's | Dress, Kohl's | Oxfords, Forever 21 | Necklace, Macy's
Sifting through the stacks of dark-wash skinny jeans, I inspected the table display, methodically confirming that the sizes ascended in numerical order, then tucking tags into pockets. After a few switches and touchups on folding, I stepped back, observing the organized denim piles with satisfaction. 

The pieces draped over my arm, however, reminded me that I had more to do: run rejected fitting room items back. Glancing at the labels, I headed for the summery displays in the back. I never made it; upon spotting a trio of lost-looking Asian girls, I paused.

"Are you finding everything all right?"

Eyes wide, the tallest and oldest-looking girl seemed caught off guard. "We...ahh...are look..." she began, scrunching her eyebrows in concentration, "...ing for dress...es."

The hesitation. The accent. The lanyards with name tags. They were foreigners, but I couldn't immediately deduce exact ethnicity.

So I responded accordingly. "Okay, dresses? Are you looking for formal ones, or more casual?"

They looked at each other for a moment. Then, as if suddenly understanding, they vehemently shook their heads. "No formal. No formal."

"Okay, let me take you to BP then, our teen department. The dresses on this side will be too formal and really expensive."

As we walked, I attempted to inconspicuously catch a glance at their name tags, hoping it would clue me in on their home nation. It was going to be a long search if we had to conduct our conversations in English, struggling to understand each other. 

I finally gave up and just asked. "So where are you guys from? I noticed your name tags."

They looked at each other again. The most petite girl caught on first. She held out her name tag; underneath her name, it read Shanghai, China. And as confirmation, I heard a resounding chorus of voices. "China!"
I felt both relief and adrenaline. "Oh, you guys came from Shanghai? I speak a little bit of Chinese. Here," I paused, wondering if my oral skills would suffice, but plunged in anyways, "Ni men zai zao shen me? What are you looking for?" I figured it was best to start from the beginning. 

The middle height girl chirped up. "Wo men zai zao qun zi, jiu shi, wo men bu yao tai zhen shi de. We're looking for dresses, but we don't want them to be too formal."

It took a moment, but I understood. "Ni men zai nar yao chuan zhe xie qun zi? Where will you wear these dresses?"

"Wo men lai mei guo can jia yi ge xia lin ying. Jing tian wan shang you ge wu hui. We came to America for a camp. Tonight there's a dance."

Somehow, I understood them. Somehow, they understood me. Somehow, they left the store with everything they needed in twenty minutes. 

Because that's all the time they had. The dance was that night, but they needed to meet their group at another store at 1:45. It was 1:20. With the aid of a BP salesperson and frantic translations, we dug up two dresses (the third girl declined, saying that one she already had sufficed), three bandeaus, one belt, and one pair of shoes. 

And I learned a little bit about them along the way. All of them were around high school freshman age, and they had traveled to an American college for a month-long camp to learn English. They were extremely sweet, and even tried to give me a tip as they left (which I politely declined). 

Bags in tow, the girls smiled gratefully, waving goodbye and calling a heartfelt "Xie xie! Thank you!"

I returned their smiles and waves, feeling a strange mixture of accomplishment, relief, and wistfulness. I watched them exit the doors into the summer sunshine, then returned to my department with a new bounce in my step.
Vest, Big Star | Dress, Abercrombie | Watch, Guess | Flip-flops, Bandolino
The girls told me that they wouldn't have been able to find anything without my help. I did wonder shortly after what would've happened if I hadn't reached out. If I hadn't been working that day. If I had never accepted a seasonal job at Nordstrom. None of my co-workers on the second floor that day spoke Chinese. Would they have left empty-handed?

Life is so circumstantial. One tiny detail can change a day, a week, a month, perhaps even years. I ponder this often, especially relative to people and activities--who would I be if I hadn't met my closest friends? What would I be doing if I hadn't picked up the violin? If I hadn't begun running?

It's intimidating, especially as a college-bound freshman. Some of my upcoming decisions will carry much weight. The activities I choose may define my college experiences. The friends I make may define my happiness. The courses I take may define my career path.
It's so easy to become overwhelmed and to over-analyze (who, me? overanalyze?). Those Chinese girls may have had more trouble finding their dresses if I hadn't been there, but the fact is that I was there. I may have led a completely disparate life with different friends and hobbies, but reality is the life I live and enjoy now. 

The curiousity of separate fates is natural and inevitable. It reminds me of Robert Frost's "The Road Not Taken," in which the speaker contemplates two diverging paths in the woods that are equally appealing; he can only select one, knowing that he will likely not return once on his way. Life may not be a choose-you-own-adventure book--you cannot rewind time and redo--but you can change your direction in the present. If you wish you had picked a hobby up years ago, do it now. If you wish that you had known someone earlier, enjoy the time you do have with them. If you don't like the way things are going, find the courage to change them, and don't be afraid to seek guidance. This is especially reassuring for me.

I'm ready to tackle college. There may be detours and there will be roadblocks, but I'm well-equipped to face them. With the right attitude and a bit of luck, I hope and believe that everything will fall into place. 
Working was certainly valuable for me--I learned and experienced much more than I ever imagined. I feel wistful every now and then that I've finished my scheduled shifts, but know it's for the best (Nordstrom offered me a full-time sales job after my support job for the anniversary sale ended, but I had to decline because the hours were too hefty). It's August; summer is fleeting, like my job, and all other good things. It hit me today that I won't see my family, friends, and hometown for three months after I arrive on campus. 

So here's to maximizing what's left. From this photoshoot with my best friend Gabrielle (you last met her in this post here) to a 15-miler with my running buddy to carefree movie gatherings and all the adventures in between.

Here's to living.

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17 comments

  1. Way cool!! I have a long way to go in my experience of learning Chinese--but the few times I ran into Chinese speakers in the USA, it was quite exciting to figure out how to communicate. It's so scary to be somewhere where you don't really know how to communicate!

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  2. hey, Lily! happy Monday! let me tell you it was such a lovely and warmhearted story, very well written too, of course! (well, like you always do, hehe) it's nice to hear you enjoyed the job and did it like it actually has to be done. here in Estonia not every salesgirl or boy can do that. many are even angry at the customers. probably because of the low salaries... so yeah, it was especially nice to hear how you felt about the job and the customers. no wonder they wanted you there for a longer time. every store would be thrilled to have a worker who truly gives his/her best and acts like a professional. good job, Lily! :)
    now, those photos of you and your friend are really cool too. especially the last one, super cheerful! oh and your oxfords are something I started to like. they have this cool vintage vibe, very nice match with the white lace dress. oh and I'm sure your college time will be exciting, awesome and every other good word available! enjoy!

    Maiken,
    Maikeni blogi - part of me

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  3. The oxford shoes are very nice to compliment your dress and blazer, and I usually don't like oxfords or brogues too much. Gabrielle- which is one of my personal favorite feminine names- is a cutie with her outfit. She's styled nicely, as are you. Best wishes to you in your collegiate adventures, Lily.

    johnbmarine.blogspot.com

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  4. Lily, you seriously write so well! I felt as if I were reading a chapter from a novel. This is such a beautiful look. I just adore this dress.

    Lauren xo
    Sophisticated In Style

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  5. Lily! I can't even believe you speak Chinese... Like I swear you are a genius or something! All these AP classes, your GPA. Wow, you cease to amaze me! I used to study Chinese back in the day. But my teacher ended up getting pregnant and moving to NYC. I don't really remember much, unfortunately:(
    Anyway, it's interesting to think what an impact we have on this world. Like you said, doing one thing or not being there can really have an effect on other people. We're like a ripple in the water where one thing we do can start a catalyst of events. During English, we read books about people who were Existentialists and questioned their place in the world. Like how can one person have an effect on this huge world we live in? But I disagree and believe that we do have an effect on the world and our actions affect the people around us.
    Anyway, super cute outfit! I am just in love with your dress...those kinds of white dresses are my favorite for summer:) And ahh love BFF pics! I want to get one with my friend Meg before I leave for college-the one who is going to U Mass.
    Also, your video was so cute! I love hearing people's voices because you're right-I really don't know how people sound. And I like using these rules of thumbs when shopping-either as advice for friends or for myself- A. Will I wear this a lot and B. Can I make at least 3 outfits with this piece from my closet. Great shopping haul!
    Hope you are having a great summer and are excited for college! I'm super pumped although who knows how I'm going to fit my clothes into a dinky little wardrobe at school. But I'm up for the challenge:) Still have to reply to your email-don't worry I haven't forgotten!
    Keep in touch:)
    xo Olivia

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  6. I love running into people who can speak Chinese - feels good to be able to communicate with others in my mother tongue. Even if it's a bit rusty...

    As with the future, maybe whatever is supposed to happen is the road we end up choosing. No use getting stuck in analysis paralysis. Good luck in college!

    http://heyprettything.com

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  7. Wow, what a great story! How great that you were able to help out these girls! I bet they will remember your kindness and willingness to help for a long time!

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  8. Oh Lily, what a wonderful story! I was enthralled from start to finish. You really have such an incredible way with words and storytelling, and I can see why you were so eager to write about this and also walk away with a hop in your step. What an experience! I bet it just put a smile on your face to not only speak Chinese but also to help someone else out. Seriously, major brownie points to you! You never cease to surprise me with the plethora of talents you've acquired. :)

    These photos are gorgeous as well. The sun is hitting that field at the perfect angle so that everything is just glowing green and magical.

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  9. This is a lovely story. I love the fact you took the chance to try. Often our own insecurities and fear of making a fool of ourselves leads to us failing to reach out but nothing ventured, nothing gained. Re my piece, I don't have a recording of it online or ay least I don't think so. It was published when I was 13, so in 20years, I'm not sure what hapened to it!!! X

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  10. That's awesome that you helped out those girls- the power of language!! I can actually understand the Mandarin in italics ~ the 12 years of learning for me is not wasted, lol!! Good job for helping them out- you should feel proud of yourself :))

    And by the way, your pastel outfit is so cute~~ I love your mint and lace dress together!! Plus I need a pair of oxfords like yours~ totally adorbs! Have a great day hun!! X

    Chic Nikkie

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  11. Go girl! That's so awesome you were able to help them. I bet they were relieved to find someone who could translate. You made such a difference in their day, I'm sure. They'll probably be going back to China and tell everyone about the nice American girl who helped them at Nordstrom :)
    It can be overwhelming to think about the future and how every little decision made (especially big ones like college) could affect the outcome. However, I believe that if we set our mind on something and follow God's will, He will lead us in the right direction. Even if we take detours, we'll end up where we're supposed to. Just like you were supposed to be at work that day ;)
    Anyway, can I just say I'm so excited to hear more from you as you tackle college? I'm certain your blog posts will be sparse, but they'll be filled with that spark and engaging storytelling that you always bring to your blogging!

    The Dragonfruit Diaries

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  12. Moments like that blow my mind---a recent tumblr post I read summed it up quite well: "You are a background character in a thousand's people lives every day, walking to class, buying groceries...when are you going to become a starring player?" Often, I've also marveled at the tenuous decisions that led me to meeting someone important. For instance, if I had not been at a certain place that day, or spoken up as I did, I would have never met my best friend of 4 years in college. The precise timing is amazing!

    Also, I am jealous that your Chinese is passable, although helping out those students was an amazing story. My own Chinese is terribly degraded, so I am glad they did not bump into me that day :)

    Another Beautiful Thing

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  13. wow thats so awesome you were able to help them! i felt the exact same way when i helped a lady who only spoke chinese get to her destination on the subway once! its crazy to think how one little change in your day can affect the sequence of the rest of your day and future. can't wait to here more about your college experience once you start! :D

    katslovefashion.blogspot.com

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  14. You're always very insightful about everyday occurrences, which is so great for the new beginnings you're about to start. It's very possible that over-analyzing can become self defeating but you have such a positive perspective on life and people! I can't wait to hear stories about your campus adventures and inspirations. I hope you will continue blogging, even if its not as frequent (trying to is what counts).

    Thank you by the way for asking about the festival! It was so amazing and peaceful to be in the woods for 4 days with my friend, the place itself is something that exceeded my expectations, but my friend really wasn't into that type of thing. I need to post pictures of it and other excited stories about this summer. And thank you for the applause on my honesty, but I'd have to say the same about you. You're so articulate about it too, its just one of the many things I admire about your blog!


    Until next time <3

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  15. Hey Lily!!
    This is such a kind and caring story! Those girls must really appreciate your help and I'm glad you took the chance to try. You made a difference to there day!! You also have a way of writing (though you may already know this!) The way you told this story had me sucked in. It's good that you learned a lot from your job and it must feel so nice to put a smile on other's faces!! Your seem very enthusiastic about your job so it's no wonder they wanted you around for a full time job!
    I often feel the same way as you and I've been thinking a lot about it lately. . (probably because college is starting and we just finished a huge mile stone of our lives.!) I do wonder what my life would have been like if I had not picked up running or if I hadn't chosen to take this class or talk to that person. It's such a mystery, but I do agree that we shouldn't spend too much time dwelling in the past. We need to focus on our futures and make college the best experience possible!! =)
    You and your friend look super cute! That last picture of you guys is so sweet!! =)

    http://www.mybrokeneggshells.com


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  16. I love that mint polka dot blazer, it's soooo cute! Such a perfect summer look.

    Ahhh that's such a nice encounter with the customers at Nordstrom! It's always such a great feeling when helping people. And ooo these photos are gorgeous, I love all the flowers and the greenery :)

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