A life lesson learned

I am often guided by a lesson I learned in 2002. I was touring China then with my son, Adam. He taught English at a school in Tianjin, and we had planned a father/son trip of a lifetime together.

We were traveling by ship on the Yangtze River where the Great Dam was being built. After the dam was completed, rushing water would flood the many communities lining the storied river. It would be our chance to see Chinese history before it disappears.

The ship anchored at the end of the second day. It was here where we booked a day trip up one of the tributaries into a remote section of the river. We would see troops of monkeys; ancient fishing villages and religious symbols on the sides of mountains. It would make for a good adventure. The alternative was to sit all day on the crowded, dirty ship in a smelly harbor.

We were moved from our large boat and into smaller ones holding two dozen passengers. We then roared up the narrow inlet.

The day did present all we expected: monkeys, fishing villages and shrines were seen. At one point about a dozen local men pulled our vessel up the river and over rocks using ropes and muscles.

At the turn-around point, we were served a simple Chinese meal of rice and mystery meat. Tea was free, but if we wanted other beverages, the local market was standing by. They also were brimming with touristy purchases.

My son and I had a bad turn with the other adventurers on our mini-boat, and wanted nothing more to do with them. We found a section away from the food market. It was a rocky beach where fishermen staged their boats each work day. A nearby group of small children were playing without any toys or gear. They viewed us with mild curiosity but played on.

A boy aged around two years came over to me and extended his hand holding a small rock. He gave it to me and looked down. He did not ask for anything in return. I was struck stupid by this gesture. I bowed and thanked the boy but did not accept the rock from him.

Later my son told me these people have very little, and to the boy, this was all he could offer me as a gift of friendship. When I learned this, I was leveled by how badly I acted. Many times, I wished I could recreate this moment but that can not happen. All I can do is take the lesson I learned from this moment when a little boy made a lovely gesture of friendship to me, a stranger, and I was unaccepting.

I often remember this watershed moment. I learned to always look for the kindnesses of others. I now will accept small symbols of affection as the big gifts they are.

What happened to the little boy? He and all of his region were relocated to large cities to start new lives. He may not remember me, but I carry him in my heart every day.

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