Friday, October 16, 2009


Grading is pretty unpleasant, but now and then there's something really sweet. I was reading essays written by my first year Chinese students on the theme of "my hero". Their vocabulary is still very basic--they really can't say very much at all. But here's one that was... just... awww...

"My hero is my mom. She is fifty years old. She is a college student."

Sunday, October 11, 2009

Sister of My Heart

Last week I had a sudden and unexpected visit, almost completely without warning, from this dear girl whom I had thought lost to me. Thinking her lost, I wrote her a letter... sort of to say goodbye. She was my brother's girlfriend for many years, and she and I were particularly close, at least for some of that time--when geography permitted. The three of us were roommates off and on one year, and there were visits and travels... But then they broke up and she was gone.

There was no answer to my letter, but I didn't really expect one. It was like a message in a bottle--why does anyone put a message in a bottle? It is written for the writer, not for some unimaginable reader.

Then suddenly, at 1 AM one day, she sends me an e-mail: she will be in Chicago for 24 hours. I wrote back to her at 5 AM. Amazingly, at 3 in the afternoon, my phone rang and it was she (calling from a payphone--she has no cell). I rode the bus to Union Station where she was waiting. She was standing on a shoulder high wall holding an accordion in her arms. The wind was gusting so hard and her red hair was long again--I'd last seen it cropped short. Despite the stormy wind, as she threw herself into my arms, the sun came out, I kid you not. I got us a taxi and took her home.

I had been worried it would be too urban or too alienating or something for her... but a person changes so much between her early 20s and her late 20s, no? Besides, who knows how much all of those old misunderstandings were ... just misunderstandings. Related to other things than what they seemed to be about.

She had been going to sleep in the airport--she was so afraid of being trouble to us--but it was so easy to treat her like family. She felt it. She wasn't a guest, but the sister of my heart.

We took her up on the roof and showed her the vast blue of the lake, the complex lines and curves and colors of the skyline. We brought her down and abandoned her because we had an unbreakable dinner engagement. Well, at least it was a perfect reassurance that she was not putting us out at all! When we got back, she was repacking her backpack (she's en route to a year of roughing it in Europe, something I was already too old for at her age!), making it lighter, still lighter. She gave us a funny assortment of things to find a home for--my favorite was a pair of pale blue wool socks, which I just had to wear, the very next day.

She slept in the guest bed, that isn't much to look at but no guest ever complains... it is outrageously comfortable for a grad school futon. In the morning, I woke her up at her request for my usual early breakfast-time and she wrapped her arms around my neck like a child. Such sweetness. We fed her mooncakes, and she walked me partway to work, promising ... nothing, but ... open heart to open heart--I feel that I will see her again, somehow or other.

She will spend the winter in Spain picking olives. She will spend half of each day drawing. She will observe the cultural differences in the treatment of young misfits in school. She will practice her accordion in wild windy places. I like to think of her, without any desire to hold on, even in my thoughts. I feel happy to know her, to have found her again.