“Listen to this,“ my friend said.
I looked up from the letter before me written on line-less, thin paper now faded yellow.
“Our dear Mother Superior is good and kind to us all, but here in China we learn to pass by with many things. You mentioned that living was very high in Toronto, it is the same here as the money is very low, 1 egg is fifty dollars; about 4 years ago sugar was twelve dollars a pound, since that time we have not bought one ounce of it, & for butter I have not seen it since my arrival here. We have rabbits so from time to time we have a little meat.”
“One egg fifty dollars? In 1946?” I comment.
My friend continues reading.
“Everything is quiet around us now, as during the war our neighbours were Japanese soldiers who came here for rest; we heard the bugle many times a day, as there were sometimes five-hundred, eight-hundred, up to one thousand soldiers, they gave us no trouble, 2 or 3 times a year the first officers visited us. They rented a part of (the) mission for three years…..We continue to sit in almost darkness after supper as we have no sufficient coal oil to light a lamp for a big room.”
“Wow,” my friend says. “And we complain about having to wear a mask in a stocked grocery store.”
We were reviewing a legal folder full of letters, a few photographs, and a newspaper article my late-brother had gathered to write a document for my father. My father’s aunt (his mother’s sister) had been a nun of the Our Sisters of the Precious Blood Order in China during war time including the Second Sino-Japanese War (1937-45). The letter he was reading, written by my great aunt, Dorothy, to her mother and sister (my grandmother) was most likely penned in 1946. Dorothy died in 1947. Although my brother was able to pass on his own written history of that time to Father, I have not yet seen it. Before Father passed away, he’d leant the document to a priest in his parish and now it is with a friend of my father’s. Once the pandemic is over, we should have it back in our family’s hand.
Now I am not a historian. But sometimes I’d like to be! For as I get older and hopefully wiser in experience, I see how history has shaped us. And often repeated, just with new weaponary, as every generation tries to achieve the same goals—sustain life, success, power, money, happiness, better the world, produce a next generation that hopefully will do better….
There is something else though, beyond teaching, that history can invoke.
Today, as I write this, my doors may be locked to keep out the cold -21C air, but even if unlocked I am not worried about soldiers suddenly coming into my home. I have a dozen eggs bought for approximately $4. If the eggs were $50 each, as mentioned in my great aunt Dorthy’s letter, the carton would have cost me $600. Tonight I know I can plan to read, or write, or do housework, or watch a movie without worries I will not have enough light. If I sit in the dark it is because I choose to, not because a light source is not available.
And it is very, very quiet. No bugles. Honestly, I’m not sure if I have ever heard a bugle!
I’ve grumbled over our current pandemic circumstances. Not able to have groups in my home, not able to browse the library, not able to skate in arenas or go to a dance class. I’ve been confused by the news, by ‘soon to be censored’ stories sent to me via facebook messenger, and by government lockdown rules that don’t always make sense to me. There is a low-grade stress level that I believe is always present due to the rules placed on me. I work on not worrying about my lower income, yet sometimes fail.
Only in time, in the looking back, will we be able to understand the pandemic affects on our society and determine the truth, I believe. And it may not be in my life-time, but through my grandchildren’s and beyond history lessons.
But I digress.
“We continue to sit in almost darkness after supper as we have no sufficient coal oil to light a lamp for a big room.”
We may be in some darkness in understanding fully what is really going on during this world pandemic, however may we help our own spirits by being grateful for the commodities we are experiencing this moment. And, like my great-aunt and the nuns she served with, may we learn to pass by with many things graciously knowing His light never dims even in darkness.
Your word is a lamp for my feet, a light on my path.