My Life Story (1)- A Rose That Cannot Be Crushed

The image was taken from one of LA art exhibition and the author is unknown.


I was born in a small town in Taiwan. My father worked for the First Bank of Taiwan, and as he would often be assigned to a new location, we were always moving. We went from city to city throughout my childhood, which made me insecure. After entering high school and staying there for six years, my feeling of being unsettled gradually subsided.

I completed junior and senior high school in a girl’s school. Since our social circle was limited to females, we found ourselves closed off in a conservative atmosphere. On top of that, I had to spend a couple of hours traveling back and forth between the small town we lived in to the city where my school was located. In the time remaining to me after school and commuting, I studied hard so my life was fairly simple. There was very little social life, and my friends and I were quite naive and unsophisticated. We were as pure as a sheet of white paper.

I did my undergraduate studies at National Taiwan University in Taipei, the capital of Taiwan. It is a bustling city with lots of things to see and do. This did not change me much, however. Other than sleep, I spent most of my time studying in the library. Being a horticulture major, I led a less colorful life than the students who were majoring in business or literature.

After graduating, I followed a path taken by many others and came to the United States for graduate school. I got married and earned my master’s degree at the University of Illinois. After my husband had got his doctorate, we went to the Massachusetts Institute of Technology where he did his postdoctoral fellowship and I did DNA research.

Our life was rather calm and pleasant for the first year in Boston, and then we discovered my husband had liver cancer. Suddenly, my life was turned upside down, and I felt I’d been thrown out of heaven and plunged into hell. When we were moving from the city to city during my childhood, I had only felt insecure. But now my days were filled with fear, distress and anxiety. The time of happiness and peace was gone.

I remember a day that began as a normal Thursday. I went to the Department of Motor Vehicles to take the written test for a driver’s license. I was learning to drive so I could be more independent. It was a long way to the DMV, and I walked. This triggered the delivery of my second baby sooner than I expected. And it opened the curtain on the most challenging chapter in my life’s journey … as you can see from the poem below, which I wrote previously.

I Survived

All this happened a long time ago.
Yet it seems as though it just took place.

It was early on a Friday morning at the beginning of autumn.
The pain was so fierce and unbearable.
I kept telling myself, “This can’t happen now.
Endure. Hang on … You must! Because Bob and Elaine are going away for the weekend.”
I could not spoil their vacation … but I needed them to get me to the hospital.

Oh, no! It was time and the baby was coming.
Three hours later in a hospital room in Boston,
The high-pitched cry of a newborn boy seemed to rip through the thin air of the sky.
It scared the birds, who sprang into flight, shaking leaves to the ground.
Outside the room, Elaine and Bob tried to comfort my little four-year-old girl and prepare her for the arrival of her brother.

Inside, after giving birth, I stared at the window. Exhausted. Tears filling my eyes.
I did not have any feeling. All I had was emptiness, loneliness and hopelessness.
I felt as though I were falling to the bottom of a pit.
I felt I was at the very bottom of the earth.
How I wished this was a dream. I wanted so badly to wake up
And find out that the baby’s father had been discharged from the hospital with a clean bill of health.

God seemed to be playing a joke on me.
Twelve days after the birth of my baby, without ever seeing his son,
The father rushed to the finish of his life’s journey, shorter than 30 years.
It seemed God still wasn’t finished playing jokes on me.
What lay ahead was totally beyond what I could have imagined.

In Asia, women who have just given birth
Have a month-long “confinement” period to recover.
As for me … Perhaps I am special?
Oh, no! I did not want to be so special.
I used to be carefree, everything was handed to me.
I did not know how to do anything.
Because my husband took care of everything for me.
Now, after his passing,
I had to come out of my shell – to learn fast and deal with everything.
Beginning with arranging his funeral service.

And learning to drive a stick-shift car.
Elaine was from England. She taught me not only with patience and love, but also strictly and with principle.
By the time my confinement ended, I had my driver’s license.

The next thing was to fight with a well-known life insurance company.
Due to the ignorance of the agent, I had run into problems collecting the insurance payment.
The company hired a Cantonese-speaking man to come to my house.
His job was to persuade me to accept a smaller amount.

He tried his best, alternating between a sympathetic and a hard-line approach
Spending the whole day trying to get the result his company was hoping for.
In the end he could only tell me that he had never encountered anyone in my situation,
Having just lost a husband, with a tiny infant and still in confinement,
Who could still fight with him and not budge an inch.

His words rang in my ear, making me realize I had grown up.
I could shake off the thought of suicide.
Thank God … Thank Him that I could finally stand on my own two feet.

I then hired an attorney to deal with the insurance company,
Which finally gave in, and I received what was owed to me and my children.

Strangely, the same thing happened with MIT, where both my husband and I had been working.
An employee had made a mistake, so again we were not going to receive anything.
My husband’s professor tried and tried to get it resolved but to no avail.
Finally, an MIT vice president came to talk to me,
Hoping that I would admit it was my husband’s error rather than the employee’s.
I do not know where I gained the strength and the wisdom.
But after a heated argument, he fled.
Once again, I’d done it and won.
….      …………
….      …………
….      …………
Slowly I understood.
God was not joking with me.
Because I had to fight for these things,
He led me step by step out from under the shadow of grief over the death of both my husband and my father (who died just a month before my husband).
In this most dreadful and heartbroken period of my life,I survived.

I would never have imagined when I came here from Taiwan that I would be struggling to survive. I came here to realize my dream, my hopes. And yet all of these were shattered. Now all I hoped for was to stay alive. I was gratified that there were angels surrounding me during this terrible time. I can’t help but name some of the people who helped me most in time of need.

My professor, Dr. Huberman, for whom I did DNA chromosome research for five years, treated me like a sister. When I lost my husband, I had to take care of a baby and a five-year-old daughter. He never put pressure on me; I could set my own work schedule. He was always there to support me. What he gave me was pure love.

Robert and Elaine were a couple I will never in my life forget. The help I received from them was immeasurable. Elaine, who came from England,taught me to drive in strict British style. That I am now a skillful driver can be attributed to her coaching. Robert was a typical American gentleman – kind, patient and considerate. I remember one night when I couldn’t go to sleep. They came to my house and watched me and made sure I fell asleep, then stayed the whole night. I can never repay them for all they did for me. I am forever grateful for their kindness.

Dr. Green, my husband’s professor, helped me unravel a badly tangled life insurance problem. Initially, it appeared I wouldn’t be receiving payment from MIT’s life insurance. The reason was that the employee in charge of the insurance application had erroneously told my husband he would need a physical examination, so my husband did not apply because he knew he would not pass the test. But in fact no physical examination was necessary for this group insurance policy. Dr. Green tried everything possible and met with the employees involved to provide life insurance coverage for me. He even rallied some professors to help to resolve the problem. In the end, thanks to all his efforts, he forced an MIT vice president to visit me, and the Institute finally gave in and paid us what we deserved. Dr. Green showed me how to fight an uphill battle and win.

One more person I want to mention was my life insurance agent. Initially, the company informed me I could only get installment payments rather than a lump sum. This was because my husband did not sign a paper needed for the lump sum option. After his passing, this agent went directly to the insurance company and admitted that he had never disclosed the need for this signature. I’m very grateful for what did for me and my family because the lump sum made a tremendous difference. It was not easy for him to admit his mistake, as he risked being penalized by his company.

I am filled with tears when I recall all the trials of those days. They are tears of joy because I can finally let go of the past. Those are also tears of gratitude for the love I received from the people around me at that time. As I went through the challenges and changes in my life, I began to realize whatever happened had a purpose. Through all this, I started to grow. I was no longer the innocent, carefree girl of before. I felt like a rose, which could neither be pressed nor crushed, but had survived and bloomed through these hardships. The stem of this rose may look bent and imperfect, but it still bears a beautiful, fragrant flower. It is the beauty and the fragrance of life. It is a sign of my growth. And I believe it will also help people to grow alongside me.

Note: The poem is a modification of my article- I Have Survived which I posted earlier in this blog and will include in my book.


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