Tuesday, June 20, 2006

In Father's Hands

They put him in the back of a nearby taxi and drove him to the hospital. That must have been the bravest taxi driver in all of China. Bruce with his shirt all bloodied, mumbling words in English; his friends beside him white as ghosts. Any taxi driver in his right mind would refuse service as a temporary ambulance. If the victim died, their spirit would forever haunt his car. But Bruce’s spirit would not remain in a Chinese taxi. He was mumbling words of forgiveness for his attacker, the mentally ill son of a family he knew. And perhaps, as the graying city landscape careened outside his vision, he prayed for his daughters—all five of them. It’s all in Father’s hands, he’d say.

Valorie discovered she was pregnant with their sixth daughter less than a month after Bruce died. She remained firm with the officials who encouraged her to go back to America. American rights were never uttered; she never spoke a word of complaint or asked for revenge. The locals were relieved that the international incident quieted so quickly and they let her stay. In the native dialect, she implored them to allow Bruce to be buried in the city. Even citizens were required to be cremated; there just wasn’t enough room to bury city people. But Valorie won their respect and Bruce was buried a taxi drive away. The girls made cards for the young man in prison. “We forgive you for stabbing our daddy,” they wrote in their little-girl scrawl. And they prayed for the son of their friends.

Valorie and the girls stayed in China. Local women from the state-run church helped her cook and clean their little apartment. She birthed daughter number six in the city hospital where Bruce had caught the last four babies in his hands as they came out. This time she went home alone to nurse and home school the girls and practice her Chinese calligraphy.

Simon began to call over the next several months. Bruce had mentored him for many years and it was the least Simon could do to honor his friend. Over time, the younger girls began to call him Baba. They married and, within a year, had daughter number seven.

I have pictures of Bruce and Valorie and their five towheaded little girls. After the service at the state-run church, the old grandmothers would touch the gold of the girls’ hair. A small man, Bruce would hold the girls on his knees and call them “arrows in his quiver.” He cried one morning, with his daughters in his lap, when the Chinese told him about their abortion laws. How do you tell a man with a pocket full of gold to throw it all away? I never met Simon, can’t even imagine the burden he has taken on to raise so many daughters in a culture that reveres sons.

Valorie sat on my couch in far north Dallas last week, nursing daughter number eight. Somewhere along the way I missed a newsletter, missed the news of this new little arrow. Giggles erupted from my own girls’ bedroom. There were ten little daughters in my apartment! It was Valorie’s first trip back in four years and she was driving north to Iowa. It was also the first trip back for the three youngest girls. Simon stayed in China. The American consulate didn’t believe he would return so they wouldn’t issue him a visa. Imagine that. The Chinese officials showed more grace to a widowed foreigner with six daughters than the American government could muster for a man with eight. But Valorie wouldn’t want me to say that. It’s all in Father’s hands, she’d say.

[Portrait of Wu Fu, Brigadier General of the Gansu Region. Hanging scroll; ink and color on silk. With an attached inscription in Chinese and Manchu, signed Liu Tongxun, Liu Lun, and 'Yu Mingzhong, dated Qianlong geng chen, 1760, inscribed, and with one seal of the Qianlong emperor, Qian Long Yu Lan Zhi Bao. www.wickimedia.org]

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Karen, I got your message but can't find your phone number anywhere. Give me another call at home or on my cell (same area code: 913-6377).