Tuesday, December 12, 2017

These Are For You

Each one of us has abilities, skills, qualities, that make us unique. We often end up accepting these qualities as typical of everyone, and therefore, nothing special.They are such a part of who we are and how we operate that we do not recognize how valuable they actually are. It is as if we become immune to their power. While these can be big, mighty talents, it is often the simplest of qualities that we take for granted - our ability to make others smile or laugh; our ability to listen, to say the right thing; our ability to reach out, to be accepting of others; our ability to express ourselves.

This last one - the ability to express - this is the one we creators often take for granted. Most of us were born with an innate ability to express ourselves. We've always been "emotional", bold, "sensitive", daring, fearless. We don't know life without this ability. Usually, we surround ourselves with others with the same abilities. This leads us to assuming that everyone has this ability.

Which leads me to Du.

It was a beautiful Sunday afternoon in Shanghai. I was returning back to the theatre, feeling wistful about having to leave this romantically charming city the next day.

A beautiful young woman approached me. Gentle in demeanor, I was surprised when she called me by name. After all, I was Nun Number 9 in this production.

Nun Number 9. I spend much of the show in the back, a byproduct of being tall. Consequently I assume I am, not quite invisible, but nondescript. Nun Number 9. My distinguishing physical features are erased by my costume, as a nun's habit purpose is to hide the body or, at the very least, take away the individuality. Even my husband has trouble distinguishing me from my colleagues. Consequently, I was surprised that someone could pick me out.

I was even more surprised when she said,

"Heidi, these are for you," and handed me a beautiful bag filled with Chinese herbal throat medicines and a dozen peach-colored roses.

It just so happens that I really like peach-colored roses.
I had used the loquat cough syrup before, but the other herbal
remedy was new to me.

Du and me on that first hot Sunday in Shanghai

These are for you, Heidi. Those words hit me hard. How did she know who I was?

Out of surprise and respect, I offer my gratitude to Du, and a friendship (well, a modern friendship, fostered by Facebook) begins.

I carry the roses with me to our next city, Hangzhou, keeping them in my room until they crumble to dust, a reminder that my creative work has reached a stranger.

I take the herbal medicines with me back to the US, grateful that I am healthy...at least so far.

And I think, except for some Facebook likes and comments and the occasional message, this will be the end of my acquaintance with Du.

My life goes on. I return to the tour and we move to Tokyo, then Seoul.

Then I get a message from Du, telling me she is traveling to Seoul to see our show and asking if some of the cast would be available to say hello. Of course we are, stunned and humbled that our work has inspired someone to travel internationally to see us (although my Chinese friends assure me Seoul isn't that far from Shanghai). This time Du has gifts for the entire cast and for me, the most thoughtful gift possible - yarn for my knitting habit. Throughout my life, knitting has given me hours of pleasure; a pleasure I have happily passed on, including many of my colleagues on this tour.

Du in the middle, Rebecca Mason-Wygil on the right and me.

Du's mother (who is also a knitter) also traveled to Seoul.

Actually, this is the second box of yarn I've been given from China.
I didn't expect to receive so much yarn in China.

The box. Just so interesting to me.

I spend the following days absolutely baffled. What have I done that is so attractive to Du? What did I say? Have I led Du astray? Some of my colleagues seem a tad envious, so I don't discuss it much. But I spend hours considering on my own.

Du gives me some clues. In one of her FB posts, she admits to being shy. She tells me that I have given her the confidence to take a step out of her shy world. I start to realize what I have done.

Self-admittedly shy. No wonder Du is attracted to this big, glitzy, American story about timid, joyless nuns breaking out of their dreary lives. No wonder Du is attracted to the actor who tells this story and then pays attention to her. Not only pays attention, but acknowledges her and the gift she has given - the gift of gratitude, of acknowledgment that even Nun Number Nine's story has touched her.

I am still awed and a tad confused as to what Du is actually teaching me. That one of those inherent qualities that I take for granted, can have a strong impact on someone else? I think so. That we can change lives for the better simply by acknowledging other people exist? I want to believe this with every fiber of my being.

So this is Du's story, Du's legacy, if you will.

Du reminded me that my work really matters. Even when I think I'm inconsequential. You never know who you are inspiring.

Now I sing with joy, now I dance with even more joy. Now when I don't want to go to work (forgetting how blessed I am to get paid to tell stories), I think there might be a Du in the audience tonight. I might change a life.

And so, my friends, these are for you. These words, these ideas. May they inspire you as much as Du inspired me.


  1. This is a beautiful story and I am taking it as one of female empowerment. I just read The Kitchen God's Wife (Amy Tan) for the third or fourth time, and will forever connect "your" Du with the character of Grand-Auntie Du, who made a world of difference for a few women in what was -- and still is, in many ways -- a man's world.

  2. Jean, I had not thought of the female empowerment side of our story. Thank you for that perspective. Like many women, I suspect I have been taking that aspect of life for granted. Time to change that.

    In addition, thanks for the reminder of Kitchen God's Wife. It has been on my list for years. I'll ask Du if she knows about Amy Tan. It is interesting which authors get across cultural borders.

    Thanks for your comments!