Happy Journey, My Little Girl

Written by:Xin Huai-Nan & Translated by: K C Lu

Friday afternoon, blue sky, no clouds, 70 degree Fahrenheit, June.

Nine years ago, at this very football field, your brother graduated from high school. I flew back across the Pacific for the ceremony, could only stay a few days and had to leave in a hurry. Last night, your brother flew in from the East Coast; forty eight hours from now you will take him back to the airport. To the east flies the shrike, to the west flies the swallow, these days gathering all four family members under the same roof has indeed become a rare occasion.

I do not know what you are pondering right now. The all night party that will be held at school tonight? The four years of high school days that will never return? Just napping? Actually paying attention to what the speaker is saying on stage?

I was 18 and young once, the year I graduated from high school, I skipped the graduation ceremony and left without saying thank you or goodbye to any of the teachers. Why? Who can say? Wanting to play cool? Perhaps! As far as I am concerned, most people who lecture at graduation ceremonies have nothing important to say.

Listen to that student representative on stage... "Build a ladder to reach the stars" - how to build such a ladder? She gave no clue. "Stay forever young" - how does one achieve that? Worst comes to worst, "forever stupid" is a much more real possibility.

That winter 18 years ago, I watched your arrival to this world in the hospital. A nurse placed you on the scale to weigh you. It seems to have occurred just yesterday. In a blink of an eye, you have grown as tall as I am.

Before you turned one, I had to go to Hong Kong to work. By the time I returned stateside, you were already three. In the following years I had to find jobs and worked in Taiwan twice. Your brother took over the man-of-the-house role at a very young age. He had to look after your mother and you in my place. By the time I settled back in the States again, you had started elementary school. So many things in this world we are given only one chance to do, when you give up that chance you may never get another. There are many moments I shared with your brother which I never shared with you: I never took you hiking on the hills; I never enjoyed a cold drink with you sitting on the slope taking in the view; I never flew a kite with you; I can not even recall when and how you learned to ride a bicycle. Thinking back, I realize your arrival to this world was a pivotal moment and had its special meaning. For a very long time, however, I could neither understand nor accept the blessing that is the changing of the course of my life brought about by your birth.

I see you standing in line, wearing the cap and the white gown, going up to receive your diploma, the smile on your face so radiant. I turn aside to look at your brother. I often joke with him on how you are the best present I have ever given him. Many years from now, on a Friday afternoon in June, you will be at the high school graduation for your own child. More likely than not, I will not be around to witness the event. Will you think of me then? Do you know what I would like to say to you now?

What I would like to tell you is this: in the next four years you will probably face the two most important decisions in your life: I have to admit that I am indeed too old fashioned, but I do think "marrying the right person" is the most important decision you have to make. When you face that choice, I hope you will follow your head and marry someone whose love for you is stronger than yours for him, instead of following your heart and marrying someone for whom your feeling is stronger than his for you.

I saw the graduation gift your brother gave you: he made a collage of your pictures "from crayons to perfume" and quoted book Proverbs, chapter 3 and verses 5 to 7 from the Old Testimony for you. Indeed, man's wisdom is very limited. On the other hand, we Chinese also have 2 proverbs: "Not listening to the words of an old person, you shall come to grief in the very near future", and "Do your best before leaving it to fate." These old sayings are derived from thousands of years of experience and deserve to be heard. Please listen to me:

"Marrying the right person" is not difficult. I have only eight words to impart: "comparable family background and comparable interest and aspiration." "Comparable family background" is an objective condition. In principle I am not for interracial marriages. You may find this difficult to accept. I understand at your age you must find my theory of "marriage is not just an event between two people, it is an event between two families," quaint and out of step with time. However, trust me; this theory is based on the lasting experience of many people.

"Comparable interest and aspiration" is a subjective condition. Both sides should have similar value system and share the same approach to life. In truth, it is not easy to hide a person's true character. It is just that, in love, we often can not bring ourselves to face the facts. Among the different subjective value systems, views on religion, money, and sex are the touchstones. There are wide variations and clear delineations on how people view these three subjects. I can guarantee you a marriage of two people with different views cannot lead to happiness. Time shall be your friend, not your enemy. You will learn that in this world, there are very few unhappy bachelors, but there are many unhappy marriages.

The second most important decision you must make is the career you shall choose. Time has changed, in the States, one does not equate marrying with a life long meal ticket. Opposite to selecting the right marriage partner, you should follow your heart in selecting a career instead of following your head. Get into a line of work you enjoy doing, seek to excel in your field.

As you were growing up, your mother taught you the faith and discipline of a Christian. Your brother set a worthy example for you. I never gave you anything. Now that you are 18, and you will become independent and go out on your own. I hope you are well equipped. Mark Twain once said: "When I was a boy of fourteen, my father was so ignorant I could hardly stand to have the old man around. But when I got to be twenty-one, I was astonished at how much the old man had learned in seven years."

Happy journey, my little girl.


Happy Journey

星期五下午,藍天、無雲、氣70度,6月。

  九年前,在同一個足球場妳哥哥高中畢業。我從太平洋的那邊飛回來,待不了幾天又匆匆話別。昨天上,妳哥哥從美國的東岸飛回來,48小時後,妳送他去機場。東飛伯勞西飛燕,這些年來,我們四個人要聚在一起的機會已經不是那麼容易了。

  我不知道妳現在在想什麼?想今天上學校裡舉辦的通宵派對?回顧這一去不回的四年高中生涯?在打瞌睡?在真正注意聽台上的人講什麼?

  也是18,曾經年輕,那年我高中畢業,沒參加畢業典禮,沒跟任何老師聲謝謝就不告而別,為什麼?誰知道?性格?也許!在我看起來,極大多數在畢業典禮上致辭的人,都是胡八道,不知所云。

  聽聽那個學生代表在胡什麼呢?「建一個可以摘星的梯子」?怎麼建法?沒Forever Young?怎麼可能?搞不好,Forever Stupid倒有可能

  18年前那個冬天,我在醫院看妳出生,護士把妳放在秤上量體重的情景恍如昨日。一晃,妳已經長得和我一樣高了。妳一不到我就去了香港,回來的時候妳已經三。後來我又回台灣做事兩次,妳哥哥很小就要照顧妳和妳母親,我真正回家的時候,妳開始讀小學。很多事情機會一縱即逝,永不再來,我和妳哥哥做過的事從沒機會和妳做:我沒帶妳爬過山,沒有坐在山坡上眺望遠景享受「可樂」,我們沒有一起放過風箏,就是連踏車妳是怎麼學會的我都不記得。回頭來看,妳的出生自有其特殊的目的,有很長一段時期我既不能瞭解也不能接受我的一生被妳改變的福份。

  我看見妳排著隊,穿著白色的袍子,戴著方帽子上台領畢業證書,笑得如此開心。我側頭看妳的哥哥,我常開玩笑,妳是我送給他最好的禮物。很多年後當妳在另一個六月的星期五下午,參加妳小孩的高中畢業典禮時,我多半已經不在了,那時候妳會不會想起我?知不知道我現在想告訴妳什麼呢?

  我想告訴妳的是,在今後的四年中,妳很可能會遇到妳一生中最重要的兩個選擇。我也許是老派,但我認為「嫁對人」是妳一生中最重要的決定。當面對選擇的時候,我希望妳follow妳的頭腦,嫁一個愛妳多過妳愛的人,而不是 follow妳的心去嫁一個妳愛他多過他愛妳的男人。

  我看了妳哥哥給妳的畢業禮物:鏡框中收集了一些妳的照片,從小丫頭到大小姐,他引用了《舊約》「箴言」第三章五到七節的經句來送給妳。不錯,人的智慧有限,但很多時候,中國人所謂的「不聽老人言,吃虧在眼前」,「盡人事以聽天命」還是有它的真理在。妳現在聽我

  「嫁對了人」其實不難,我送妳八個字:「門當對,志趣相投。」「門當對」指的是男女雙方的客觀條件。我基本上是不贊同異族通婚的,這話妳現在聽不進去。我也知道妳今天不可能接受我認為婚姻不單祇是兩個人之間的事而是兩個家庭間的事的法。但相信我,我知道我在什麼。

  「志趣相投」指的是男女雙方主觀的價和人生觀接近。其實人的本性是不容易掩飾的,祇是我們在戀愛中常常不願接受事實而一意孤行。在所有的主觀價中,對宗教、金錢和性的看法及態度是試金石。這三件事大家的看法有明顯差異,我保證婚姻不會幸福。時間是妳的朋友,而不是妳的敵人。妳會發現,天下很少有極不快樂的單身者,但卻有很多極不快樂的婚姻。

  妳人生中第二個重要的決定是選什麼樣的行業為生。時代不同了,在美國,沒有嫁人如買「飯票」這回事。和選擇配偶正好相反,在選行業的時候,follow妳的heart,不要follow妳的head。進妳喜歡的行業,在妳那行追求卓越。

  18之前,妳媽媽教給了妳做一個基督徒的信念和紀律。妳哥哥為妳樹立了一個得效法的榜樣。我什麼都沒給妳。18之後,妳將獨立自主,離家在外,但願我們已把妳裝備完成。馬克吐溫說過:「我18的時候,我認為我爸爸是天下最大的笨蛋,但我22的時候,我發現那老傢伙的進是驚人。」

  Happy Journey,小丫頭。 (信懷南) 7/6/03

懷南補記我本來不想將原文附在這裏,因為我覺得英文翻譯的非常好,連我信手亂引馬克吐溫的話都給改正了。但因為我們的讀者包括台灣和大陸的,他們看中文可能比較方便。翻成英文主要是給第二代的ABC 看的。他們通常不聽自己父母的話,同樣的話別人講,比較容易聽進去。有人批評我的觀點不正確,這極有可能。但在「真」和「對」之間,這次我選擇了前者,這也是為什麼我沒改信手亂引馬克吐名言的原因。