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2003-09-18 12:19 a.m.

On the day after I got fired by my girlfriend and my job I went out for lunch with my nana—my mother's mother. She and I went to the Chinese restaurant by my mom's house, a tiny place with terrible decor and clumsy, photocopied menus where some items are crossed out in pen, a place where the food is superlative in spite of the almost comically low prices, a place where the owner—Chang—knows my name and the name of all my friends and family.

Chang smiled and called out my name when we walked through the door. "Justin! Long time no see! It's good to see you!" He asked how I was doing and I told him that I was having a hard time. I gave him the abridged version: got dumped, got fired, hurt my back.

His response set a new standard for beauty: He laughed. Out Loud. And he smiled. I have been told it's normal for Thai Buddhists to laugh when something bad or painful happens—the laughter reminds them that life is still good, it is a helping hand outstretched to pull one up when they fall. His laughter was the perfect gift at that moment, tailor made to my exact needs.

I sat down in one of the rust–red vinyl booths, three booths past the fish tank that guards the front door. He put his hand on my right shoulder and said, "Even now, your life is so much better than most of the people in this world." And then it was my turn to laugh, because I knew he was right and I was so thankful for the loving reminder. I try to remember that every day, like a little string of laughter tied in a bow around my finger, a reminder of something I need to do today and every day that follows.