I’ve been away. For the first time in eight years, I missed the first month of school. I went home to DC to take care of family things. Grown-up things. And not the fun kind of grown-up things.
I commented to my friend last week that being an adult is really hard and I haven’t necessarily gotten better at it in my 30’s. Yet this was right before I heard that three high schoolers had been shot in the Anacostia neighborhood of DC just the other day. Shortly after, I received a text from a high-school student in Yunnan, China whom I got to know over the summer, that her father was very ill and she might need to drop out of school - thus scrapping everything she and her family had worked for with her education.
Though I might be struggling with adulthood, too many of our children all around the world are dealing with it far too early and having a much rougher go at it than I am - and that is just not fair.
It was with this fairly foul perspective of the world last weekend when we began to document my family’s oral history on video. My mother interviewed my 88-year-old grandfather on camera for an hour, tracing his story back from when he was just 16 during the Chinese Civil War, then to abandoning his family to go to Taiwan after joining the military, and what it felt to know his parents both died of starvation during the Cultural Revolution.
And throughout it all, he shared vivid stories of the people in his life who inspired, helped and taught him. He described how his mother, who, as an educated laborer, was able to teach her children at home until they went to school and how his father would buy the latest history books and gather the children around to tell them history stories every night. He talked about how he figured out how to pursue a college degree in post-war Taiwan, even though he had no money and had 6 children to raise. He detailed the story of a stranger who dragged him to her home when she found him dying along the side of the road during the war.
At the end, he said, even when life was hardest and when it seemed like there was nowhere to go, it was the friends, families and complete strangers who ultimately transformed his life path to where he could be today.
Being an adult is hard. So is being a kid. But according to my grandfather, that’s even more reason for us to be nice and to help each other along. And with that, it’s good to be back in China.
The opinions expressed in Lessons From China are strictly those of the author(s) and do not reflect the opinions or endorsement of Editorial Projects in Education, or any of its publications.