How Long? Character: Larry Nguyen

Larry shows up in the last chapter of It’s a Dance, as a minor character, but he shows up a lot in How Long? He even is featured in a chapter, and shows up in many others. Here’s how I introduce him:

One of the staff members had propped open the door, making for easy access to the two bookshelves of used and discounted books that Book Trails Coffee and Bookstore keeps outside. The day is perfectly fine—one of those days that makes people forget exactly why they don’t like living in Southern California. A few scattered, puffy clouds hang in the brilliant blue sky. A light breeze brings gentle relief from the warmth of the sun, but isn’t enough to cause people to worry about hats or loose paper.

Larry Nguyen rolls his wheelchair through the open door and up to the coffee counter. The barista sees him coming and starts making Larry’s usual order—a twelve-ounce mocha. They talk a little bit about the band, Fontucky, that had played at the coffee shop the last weekend. The concert was a bit unusual for most of the regulars—country not being entirely popular in this urban area. But the band was both good enough and inviting enough to break through the audience’s initial reluctance. Larry even bought a CD, thinking their song “Living the 909” might have a good chance to become a hit. The barista doesn’t agree with the prediction. Larry hasn’t listened to the CD yet, and may never, but he plans to mention the band to his cousin, who’s a fan of that kind of music. He might even give him the CD.

With his mocha in hand and the conversation winding down, Larry rolls past the tall bookshelves to his usual table— the one with the best view of the intersection. People on their way somewhere. People crossing paths, and sometimes crossing purposes. These realities intrigue him. The alternating politeness and rudeness reveal much more about human character than the particular humans themselves would ever admit. Watching the intersection, simply absorbing the action, was more relaxing for him than just about anything else. It was almost hypnotic, really. As he watches, analogies reveal themselves—contrasts and comparisons evolve into ideas for his work. And more often than not, those ideas unknot the tangled thoughts that push on his mind—the intertwining thought strands that come from being both a college professor and a community activist.

He was a surfer and owned a motorcycle when he was younger. School was something he didn’t really care about. An accident left his legs paralyzed. In this chapter he shares how he found a new perspective that helped chart a new course in his life. What was this new perspective? It was one of renewed hope.

Here’s a little bit from one of his conversations:

“I know that you’re in this place,” Larrys says, “where you think it’s your right to be bitter, to be mad, to lose heart. You’re in a place where it seems natural to stumble in faith. Who wouldn’t, right? Who else has to deal with what you’re dealing with? At least I can blame my own youthful stupidity. You can’t blame yourself. You can blame the guy who caused all of this, but what can you do with that feeling? If you hold onto that, if you embrace what you feel you are allowed or owed, you’ll never move on. You’ll instead get comforted by your frustration. You’ll find your identity in your constant anger and in your loss. That’s a bitter, bitter cup to drink from. The longer you sip the harder it is to put it down.”

“So I should just go back to pretending? To being little miss Happy sitting nicely and playing the good Christian girl?”

“No! Not at all. See, that’s where you’re stuck. Right now you can only see the choice between being bitter and being fake. There are more options than that.”

“What?”

“Moving on. You don’t surrender to the Egyptians. You don’t drown in the Red Sea. You move on.”

“But what does that mean, Larry?” she asks, sitting up straight and then leaning toward him. “Practically. Don’t give me platitudes.”

“Sorry if it seemed I was handing out platitudes,” Larry replies, and sighs. “Only they’re not platitudes for me. They’re my reality. When I wake up. When I go to bed. When I hope there’s going to be some easy way to open the door so I can get a cup of coffee without too much hassle. When I go to the bathroom. My problems are always in front of me, always sitting with me in this chair. So they’re not platitudes for me. But I get how they might sound like it. What’s the practical answer? Don’t give up. That’s practical. Don’t lose your dreams. Adapt and respond. Let the limitation guide your creativity. You have to look deeper now. Just as the Israelites had to look deeper in order to find the land of the promise.”

“What does that mean for me today? What do I do with that?”

Read how Larry answers on page 183 of How Long? The Trek Through the Wilderness.

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