“He must be out of his mind!” “How dare he call himself the father of that poor kid?” The object of these insults stood there with a cigarette in hand. No facial expression. No tears.
It was a normal day at the end of December. I hopped on my mountain bike, ready to go to school. From afar, I saw a huge truck stop abruptly at an intersection, which was abnormal, because parking at any intersection is strictly prohibited in my city. I saw a bloody scene as I went closer. A boy with his bike had been rolled over by the turning truck, and he was killed immediately. I couldn’t believe what happened because I recognized the boy with his uniform and green hat from my school. I always thought he looked like a naïve little penguin when he was riding his bike. He always outran me at that intersection with the happiest of laughs in the world, just as if he were celebrating something. Suddenly, however, this beautiful life was gone.
I used all my strength to press the pedals on my bike away from this gruesome scene. In that moment, the whole world in my mind was full of blood and the boy’s deep groan. Reality had no meaning, and my nights became plagued with the replaying of the scene. Even though I did not know his name, I was used to seeing him every day on my way to school. To lose something that you took for granted as permanent, such as the nameless little boy at school, is confusing and disillusioning. As I expected, the local newspaper reported the whole event the next morning: “Angry Parents Block Main Street, Ask For Justice and Reparations.” The attached photo showed the boy’s parents parked at the scene of the accident with a huge picture of their son against the front window. Almost everybody in my city placed blame on the boy’s parents. Word spread around town with angry, hushed whispers of how they should not park at the crowded intersection every morning to show people how ‘innocent’ their son was. Instead, the parents were the ones held responsible for their child’s death due to lack of proper supervision because people under fifteen are not allowed to ride bikes on the city roads unattended.
A month later, I went back to school because winter break was over. Like usual, I rode my bike to school at seven in the morning. The boy’s father was standing there in the intersection at the same spot of the horrific incident, leaning on the hood of his car, looking up at the sky with a cigarette in hand. He had no facial expression. I thought he was standing there in demonstration because he was still struggling to receive reparations from the truck driver. He, however, had been showing up at the place where his child was killed and continued to do so for many days, months, and now even years. Although I could not comprehend why he continually chose to subject himself to such pain, I started to think of his action in a different way.
One day when I passed by, I saw there was a beautiful birthday cake on top of the hood of his car. I got off my bike and asked him, “Excuse me sir, why do you stand here every day?” To me he solemnly replied, “My only child is gone. I just want to tell him how guilty I feel for letting him go to school alone at such a young age.” Tears started to well in his eyes. Looking up toward Heaven, he continued, “ I want him to know that his dad is always here for him whenever he needs me. Today is supposed to be his fourteenth birthday. I dream that my son asks me to come here every morning to warn other kids when trucks are behind them. People do not know the feeling of loss until they lose a loved one.”
Regardless of this unimaginable fact, the father insists on repeating the same action day after day, year after year. I relived the incident every day as I made my way past the intersection and gave my solemn, understanding nod to the father. This tradition continued until I left China.
After some reflection on the experience, I realized that the sad truth is quite the opposite of what was reflected in the newspaper; but no one will ever know the real intention of this poor father. Instead of engaging in hurtful gossip, the community should have come together to support this grieving man and his family. This parent suffered from the death of his only son, as well as constant judgments from passersby. Reporters who work for the local newspaper should have interviewed the father first before putting their insensitive judgments as headlines. Language should be used as a powerful tool to bring people together, to portray empathy and express our experiences in “the Human Condition.” Instead, language was manipulated to perpetuate blame on a situation that is tragic enough. Can blame be placed on one person in this situation? I cannot answer that. But this was a crucial time in my life where I realized that language could either be used to bring people together or pull them further apart. Lack of thinking carefully when using language can cause damaging consequences, such as the social alienation seen in the boy’s father. We may hurt others sometimes, simply because we do not understand the implications of what we say. After this event, I started to choose my words more carefully. Language is a bridge, connecting people together, but it is also a weapon if we fail to use it in the appropriate way.