I have had three men in my life who have deeply influenced me, each one at a different phase of my development as a human being. The first was my father, who shepherded me into manhood. The second was my first lover, who I lived with for sixteen years, and who taught me the value of education, and infused me with the tools to become successful. The third is my husband and soul mate, who more than anyone, has taught me—through example—to be a compassionate human being. In all three cases, it was not their accomplishments that had an impact on me, but rather, the strength of their character that shaped that part of my life.
Today, I’ll complete this series by focusing on my husband. I met Herman Chin at the San Francisco opera about two years after my divorce with John Ahrens. At the time we met, we were very attracted to each other but Herman was happily married to Steve, and had been for twenty-one years. I met Steve, and found him to be a decent and exceedingly likeable man. Herman and I frequently met over coffee or dinners (I couldn’t call it dating, and we couldn’t really push it any further) for about six months, and in all that time I knew he was the man for me, yet I never thought he would leave Steve, and I refused to asked him to do so. Little did I know, early on, he told Steve he was falling in love with me, and the two often talked about them splitting up so Herman could live with me.
Things came to a head when Herman asked me to join him on a month-long vacation to Egypt, Italy, and France. He said it would be only us two, and we would be lovers, at least while on this trip. When he made it clear that Steve had given this trip his blessing, I jumped at it. We shared what turned out to be the most marvelous adventure of my life. At some point between climbing five-thousand-year-old pyramids and wandering the backstreets of Rome, we realized we were not simply lovers, we were soul mates—or to be more accurate, we were one soul split into two bodies. Within a few weeks of returning to the States, Herman moved into my house, and we have not spent a night apart in twenty years.
On that first trip abroad, Herman became my guide, both in foreign cultures and in love. He and Steve had traveled through Europe several times, and he knew the ropes of maneuvering an unfamiliar culture. It was during that first trip that our roles were defined—he the guide, me the follower; me the lover, he the loved. And during that time we began a project I call, Humanizing Alan. You see, by that time in my life I’d become a man driven by ambitions, first to climb the corporate ladder and later to become a successful writer. I had become a goal-oriented animal, an aggressive competitor, with little thought to the people around me. I had bought into the American dream of greed and achievement hook, line, and sinker.
Herman, on the other hand, owned a small dental lab where he and two employees made false teeth. He purposely kept his business small so he could supervise all aspects of his trade and keep personal relationships with his dentist clients. He was an artist, whose artwork ended up in peoples’ mouths, and he was content to live modestly, without striving to become more of anything. He and I were very different, as I had spent half my life striving to become successful, and I felt I had a long way to go.
It was Herman’s example of non-striving that convinced me to finally walk away from Corporate America and follow my dream of writing. He convinced me that I already had achieved everything I needed, was already everything I needed to be. So in 1999, after a year of serious discussions, we both took a leap of faith and retired from the world of business. He and I turned forty-five that year. I began to write. He began to travel, and of course, I followed.
It was during our travels that the Humanizing Alan project really kicked into high gear. There is nothing, in my humble opinion, that makes one reevaluate one’s own culture and beliefs more than immersing one’s self in foreign cultures. Contrast can be a very powerful teaching tool, and what is even more powerful is living in an environment where you’re the minority, the odd man out, the one children point and laugh at. Simply being in a country where you don’t speak the language, where you depend on the kindness of those not as fortunate as you, is a humbling and humanizing experience. At first you realize, really know, you are no better than them. Then you realize you are them. Soon, you begin to love them. And finally, you begin to love yourself.
Herman and I travel four to six months each year. In our twenty years together, we have visited over fifty different countries, and have twice circled the globe. We have dined in the best restaurants in Europe, scuba dived the Great Barrier Reef, rode elephants in Nepal and India, gone on safari in Africa, chanted with monks in Tibet, hiked the Great Wall, and trekked to ancient ruins like Angkor Wat and the Pyramids of Giza. This spring we plan to tackle South America for the first time.
Without Herman as my guide, I fear I would have never had the courage to leave the States. He has shown me the world, and how to love all the people in it. In the process, he’s made me a more compassionate person. I’m not quite ready for sainthood, but each day my ego dies a little bit more, and my empathy for the people around me grows. This, more than anything, is what Herman has taught me, not by lectures, but by example. I’ve literally seen him walk through the slums of Calcutta and embrace the people there, as he does in every country we visit.
These days I continue to publish books; I’m now working on number ten. But the idea of being a success is meaningless. I write because I am compelled to write, it brings great pleasure. I publish to see my words in print and to share my stories with anyone who chooses to read them. My only goal at this point in life is to make my husband as happy as possible.