Reflections on a Wandering Life.....

Monday, July 14, 2008

We left Beichuan this morning in a driving rain. The road had been blocked or something, so we had to hike down the hill to meet the van. We walked past the dormitory, around the back end, and over the heap of rubble that used to be Beichuan Middle School. The contrast between the teaching building and the dormitory could not be more stark. The dormitory buildings seem to be in good condition. But the classroom building is literally reduced to rubble. It looks like one of those demolition projects, where they blow up the building and set the charges just right, so that everything falls into the basement. Of course it is just one example of something you see over and over again in the earthquake zone. One building standing--the building right next to it completely demolished. Generally the one that remains standing is a newer building, and the one that is demolished is old and made from cheap materials.

It's hard to leave these precious kids behind. In spite of everything they have been through, they are quite cheerful. But what can I do for them? This is the third summer that I have taught children in the countryside. Every time I do this, I try to give kids some new things to think about--some little insight into the world outside. Really, I am trying to help them see the world through my eyes. Kids often like to try on my glasses to see what the world looks like through my eyes. But my glasses don't fit them. In truth, they can never really see the world through my eyes, because they simply do not have my perspective. But perhaps I can give them some measure of it. And I can also try to see the world through their eyes. It takes a lot of patience to see the world through another person's eyes. A lot of listening. When I first started going to the English Corner at Renmin University in Beijing, I remember feeling frustrated, because so many Chinese young people, although they may be very intelligent, have a relatively limited view of the outside world, because the news they read is filtered. But I have discovered over the years that they are frustrated too. "You're a foreigner; you don't understand." When an argument gets particularly heated, I have learned to say, "What do you think?" or "How do you feel about this?"

I came here to teach. But teaching is very educational. I have learned. I have learned that no matter how great the tragedy, people do bounce back. I have learned that sometimes the way you help people is as important as the help itself. The government is promising to have temporary shelters built for every family, and that's important. But these country folks don't want to go to some temporary shelter. They want to stay in their homes. As much as possible, we should try to help them build their unique lives so as to help them stay in these beautiful surroundings, rather than being scrunched into a sterile prefab neighborhood. Wouldn't it be wonderful if hundreds of young people could be enlisted to help these folks rebuild their own homes? I have learned that sometimes you don't have time to wait until you can put together a sophisticated organization. Just do it. That's what these Christians have done, and the local folks appreciate them so much for it.

I am back in Chengdu now. Sitting here at Starbuck's feeling clean and refreshed after a hot shower, it is easy to be philosophical. Perhaps I should not be too hasty in drawing conclusions, but I hate reading headlines like this one:

"Beichuan to be laid to rest as China moves survivors to new settlement."

And the first line really upsets me: "The town hit hardest by China’s earthquake, will never live again."

I don't believe it. Mark my word, people. Beichuan will rise again. You just watch.

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