We are in an era in which we are too eager to want to prove our sense of being. If we don’t show what we have and what we own by way of all kinds of high-tech media, it feels like we don't physically exist in the real world. The essence of proving our sense of being is because we are too afraid and anxious about lacking it.
This person however really existed. In the eyes of common people and by the standards of worldly accomplishments, she can at least be counted as a successful person. She graduated from Peking University and emigrated to the United States. She had a son and a daughter and they both amounted to something. She had a happy family, owned a car and a house. She traveled all around the world. This was the real life of a real person. This list alone could make millions of people envious. This sense of being is solid and real.
I happened to meet this person in a park in Boston, on the streets of Shanghai's Wujiaochang district, and by Kunming Lake in Kunming. I also met her when I was at outdoor barbecues, at dinners, on strolls, during academic discussions, and when I visited historic sites and watched fireworks over the Hudson River.
During the time and in places where I encountered her, I do know she existed, sometimes near me, sometimes far away, or sometimes close at hand. But I also sometimes couldn’t feel her presence. This person, during the nearly twenty years of our interaction, shook my soul with her sense of not being and changed my idea regarding what it means to exist, something that I took for granted. That is, I am, therefore I exist. But this person used her years on earth, which were not many but were also not few, to prove that there is another idea about existence--that is, I am not, therefore I am.
She was not a nobody, nor was she a lady of great wealth or great fortune who never left her boudoir. She was a person who was truly committed to her studies, her family, her career and her beliefs.
She was admitted to China's top institution of higher learning. Then she assisted her husband and raised her children. She silently supported her husband who was constantly traveling. She never gave up her on work, whether in Yan Yuan or in Boston. Besides all of these, she was also an enthusiastic volunteer.
We both were in our fifties, so I know that this person lived a hard life. But this sense of not being seemed to make the burdens on her shoulder lighter. She never showed anyone a sad look. It’s not that she never felt pain. Being a person who had to struggle with an incurable disease during her last journey on earth, no one could ever relate to the pain in her body other she herself who experienced it personally.
She had a kind of power in silence. This kind of power is silent, and only faintly discernible. But in fact, it is filled with fortitude, valor, determination, and persistence. It erases the existence of a real sense of being in a quiet way: always being a giver and helping others.
While viewing the selected PPT photos of her life, I have been thinking about this sense of not being her. It feels like I have forgotten her. I cannot recall her voice or remember what her face looked like. I can only remember the view of her backside.
She seemed to be just a passerby. But in the sense of a person, nameless, the daughter of a mother and a father, a student by Weiming Lake, the mother of two children, a virtuous wife, and a zealous sister. She seemed to never exist. Her tenacity, gentleness, silence, could not be touched physically, but yet could be touched by one's heart.
We who are still alive can always tell those who have passed away to live a happy life in heaven. These kinds of words are, in fact, for ourselves. If there is a heaven, then heaven itself is filled with happiness. Heaven would never lack it. Those who lack happiness are we who are still alive and breathing. I’m praying now that you who are happily living in heaven would pray for our happiness. She would gladly do so because she was willing to share happiness with other people when she was alive and so would naturally be willing to pray for the ones who are still alive to live happy lives.
This person is the wife of my friend, Lanlan (1963-September 1, 2019). She was my friend and my sister.
at my Shanghai apartment
31 August 2020
(The author is a professor of philosophy at Fudan University, Shanghai)
- Translated by Nicolas Cao