This I Believe

Joe - Saratoga, California
Entered on May 15, 2006
Age Group: 30 - 50
Themes: family, immigrant

Ashes

I believe in the strength, meaning and continuity of family. Last December, my family gathered to celebrate my parents’ 50th anniversary. I put together a slide show of family photos. One photo, taken in 1978, in Beijing, China, shows my father, his brother, his sisters and their families. It is the only picture I have of my grandmother with me.

In 1949, Mao took over China. My father was able to escape to Taiwan with his father. He left behind his mother, brother and two sisters. If he had known how long the separation would last, how complete the isolation would be, would he have chosen that path? Eventually, he came to America to study, working in the space program from Mercury to the space shuttle. An interesting story for a man whose mother was illiterate and had bound feet. But that is another story. This story is about family reunion.

China was totally separated from the U.S. after 1949. There was no family news for almost 30 years. After Nixon opened the door to China, my father was able to look for his family. Finally, in 1978 we traveled to China and my father reunited with his family.

His mother’s first questions to him were: “What happened to your father?” He died many years ago and his ashes are in Taiwan. “Did he ever re-marry?” No. “That’s good.”

How do you account for 30 years of complete and total separation?

Only a few years later, my grandmother passed away. Her ashes are in a cemetery outside Beijing. I only met her that one time.

In the late 90’s, my father called and said he was going to China to take care of something. It turns out that he had been working for years, breaking through political and cultural red tape, to reunite his parents. Finally, he made the trip to Taiwan where he was allowed to remove his father’s ashes from the cemetery. He carried them to Beijing, and with his brother and sisters, took these ashes to the cemetery outside Beijing and placed them next his mother’s. On that day, after a separation of almost 50 years, my grandmother and grandfather were reunited.

Family is the most important part of my life. I believe it is what makes us humans special on earth. It is our recognition that all of the generations before matter. That their decisions and actions have brought each of us to where we are today. When someone comes to a new country, they bring themselves and their future generations as well. It is our dedication to that future that gives meaning to everyday life.

I believe that family is not just the people that surround me today. It is an unbroken river of families past and it flows forward to generations to come. The things I do during my lifetime will affect my children and their children. And on and on.

This I believe.