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I remember I said to the nurse, "Doesn't she look very wise for her age?" She was then less than an hour old.
"She does, indeed," the nurse declared. "And she is beautiful too. There is a special purpose for this child."
How often have I thought of those words! I thought of them proudly at first, as the child grew, always healthy, always good. I remember when she was two months old that an old friend saw her the first time. The child had never seen a man with a black mustache before and she stared for a moment and then drew down her little mouth to weep, though some pride kept her from actual tears.
"Extraordinary," my friend said, "She knows already what is strange to her."
Remember when she was only a month older that she lay in her little basket upon the sun deck of a ship. I had taken her there for the morning air as we traveled. The people who promenaded upon the deck stopped often to look at her, and my pride grew as they spoke of her unusual beauty and of the intelligence of her deep blue eyes.
I do not know where or at what moment the growth of her intelligence stopped. Nor to this day do we know why it did. There was nothing in my family to make me fear that my child might be one of those who do not grow. Indeed, I was fortunate in my own ancestry on both sides. My father's family was distinguished for achievement in languages and letters, and my mother's family was a cultivated one. On her father's side my child had a sturdy ancestry, which had occasionally produced persons of distinction. I had no fears of any sort---indeed, I was almost too innocent of fear. I had seen in my youth only one defective child, the little son of a missionary, and he had made no impression on me beyond one of love and pity. Of Chinese of the sort I had seen none. There seem to be few, and such as there are remain at home, carefully tended. Perhaps, too, they die young. At any rate, no young mother could have been less prepared then I for what was to come.
My little daughter's body continued its healthy progress. We had left north China by then, and were living in Nanking, which, next to Peking, perhaps, is China's richest city in history and humanity. Though my home was inside the city walls, it was still country living. Our house was surrounded by lawn and gardens, a bamboo grove and great trees. When the city walls were built, centuries ago, enough land was enclosed so that if the city were besieged, the people would not starve. Our compound was surrounded by farms and fish ponds.
It was a pleasant and healthy home for a child. She was still beautiful, as she would be to this day were light of the mind behind her features. I think I was the last to perceive that something was wrong. She was my first child, and I had no close comparison to make with others. She was three years old when I first began to wonder.
For at three she did not yet talk. Now that my adopted babies have taught me so much, I realize that speech comes as naturally to the normal child as breathing. He does not need to be taught to talk-he talks as he grows. He hears words without knowing it and day by day increases the means of conveying his widening thoughts. Still, I became uneasy. In the midst of my pleasant surroundings, in all the fresh interest of a new period in Chinese history when the Nationalist government was setting itself up with such promise, I found life exciting and good. Yet I can remember my growing uneasiness about my child. She looked so well, her cheeks pink, her straight and blond, her eyes the clear blue of health. Why then did speech delay!
I remember asking friends about their children, and voicing my new anxiety about my child. Their replies were comforting, too comforting. They told me that children talked at different ages, that a child growing up in the house with other children learned more quickly than an only child. They spoke all the empty words of assurance that friends, meaning well, will use, and I believed them. Afterward, when I knew the whole tragic truth, I asked them if they had no knowledge then of what had befallen my child. I found that they did have, that they had guessed and surmised and that the older ones even knew, but that they shrank from telling me.
To this day I cannot understand their shrinking. For to me truth is so much dearer than any comforting falsehood, so much kinder in its clean-cutting edge than fencing and evasion, that the better a friend is the more he must use truth. There is value in the quick and necessary wound. Thus my child was nearly four years old before I discovered for myself that her mind had stopped growing. To all of us there comes the hour of awakening to sad truth. Sometimes the whole awakening comes at once and in a moment. To others, like myself, it came in parts slowly. I was reluctant and unbelieving until the last.
Posted May 26, 2013
Posted November 17, 2012
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