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My father: A man who always walked tall

Helen Raleigh //June 17, 2011//

My father: A man who always walked tall

Helen Raleigh //June 17, 2011//

Do any of you remember how you learned to walk? Probably not. We were simply too young to remember it. I don’t remember learning to walk either.

Yet I have a vivid memory of watching my father learning to walk in 1977.

It started as a good year for my father. China’s Cultural Revolution was ended. My father was released from a labor camp. During the Cultural Revolution, many Chinese intellectual and business people suffered persecution and many were put to death without trial. My father simply voiced his concern about this kind of brutality. He was accused of being antirevolution.

 Shortly after I was born, he was sent to the labor camp to get “reeducated”. He never had the chance to watch me learn how to walk. Years later, my father told me that one of the cruel punishments he received inside the labor camp was to move big piles of bricks from one end of the courtyard to the other. After he was done, he was ordered to move them back again. At the end of the day, he felt his back was going to kill him. Yet he kept his chin up and walked tall.

Now, when I read about the Greek mythology of Sisyphus, a king who was eternally punished by rolling an immense boulder up a hill, only to watch it roll back down, I always have the image of my father moving bricks from one end to the other end of the courtyard.

In 1977, my father was released from the labor camp. Our family life was getting back to normal. On a hot summer day, I was waiting for my father to pick me up at the kindergarten. He never showed up. Later I found out that a truck made an unexpected turn, crashed into his bike and ran over his right leg. He suffered a great deal of blood loss and there were so many pieces of fractured bones, the doctor told my mother that the only way to save him was to amputate his injured leg.

My mother said no. She told the doctors that my father was only 37 and he had three young children. He couldn’t lose his leg. There must be another way to save him. Later, my mother was able to find an old Chinese bone-setting doctor who was willing to give it a try. He prescribed a lot of herbal medicines and once a week, he would give my father acupuncture treatment.

My mother gathered all of us together and told us to keep our chin up because daddy will walk tall again. I don’t know whether because of my parents’ strong will or the power of herbal medicine, or the magic of acupuncture, or maybe the combination of all of the above, my father gradually got better.

Eventually he was well enough to learn to walk again, but it proved to be a very long and painful process. I watched him go from using two crutches to one crutch, from moving from one side of the bed to the other side of bed and then to the door. His facial expression and his sweat told me that every step was agonizing. Yet, I never heard him complain or moan.

It took him two years to be able to walk tall again on his own.

During this long and excruciating recovery period, my father not only learned how to walk again, but also taught himself English and Russian. His teachers were two dictionaries: Russian to Chinese and English to Chinese. He recited both dictionaries word by word. Later when the Chinese government gradually loosened its control on the Chinese people, my father started translating foreign engineering articles into Chinese. By the time he retired, he had become a renowned expert within the chemical engineering community.

Physically, my dad never fully recovered from his injury. Over the years, he had a dozen more surgeries to remove the remaining fragments. Yet, throughout his life, he has been so determined not to let that tragic accident cripple him mentally and physically.

Someone once said that “Life is like a game of cards. The hand that is dealt you represents determinism; the way you play it is free will.” My father certainly has been dealt with some very awful hands in life’s card game. However, he played them with his determination and strong will. Eventually, he became a winner against all odds.

Have you heard of the song “Walk Tall” by Ziggy Marley? It sounds as if it is written for my father. It says “Walk tall, Stand tall. Nothing is ever gonna keep me down. I jump over hurdles I’ll come around.” Are you currently feeling that life has beaten your down so much so often that you just want to give up? No matter what happens, don’t give up, don’t let anything keep you down. Keep your chin up and walk tall!
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