No, I did not, I said.
And she said, Does being happy diminish your sense of purpose, Norman?
And I said, Ive always had purpose. What I never had was peace.
I have thought about that conversation often, and I can still say with confidence that the look your mother gave me on that night told me she would never expect to hear another truth so full of sadness as that one, not as long as she lived.
Today was a difficult day and it is late now. I need sleep very badly. Weve had little water, and in this heat thats something to worry about. Most mornings Ho replenishes my cistern. I hear him pass my door just after first light on his way down to the river. Sometimes hes singing to himself. When he came back empty-handed this morning I knew something was wrong. Last night we heard the fighting up near Chin-kang Ku, a village in the clouds. Ho found the stream running a deep red. When I went out to see for myself, I watched the limpid pink water slipping over the felt-green rocks like a cool summer lemonade. An hour later, a second stain came, lighter still, from the executions that followed.
Sepsis, starvation and tuberculosis are the three main killers here, after the Japanese. How desperate this place is, how wrenching its agonies. I wish you could understand, and somehow at the same time I hope you never will. But I am glad for the silence of writing. This is my one respite, though it is difficult to find the time. Today I operated on seven wounded, two of whom were no older than seventeen. Another 126 are yet to be seen to. The odds are overwhelming. I am alone here but for two under-trained assistants, both too recent to medicine to be of any real help. General conditions in Shansi Province are ghastly. We have few supplies. Without complaint the wounded lie dying in their ragged and filthy uniforms. In the heat of the day they are covered by flies and lice and dust, sweating away the last of their strength, and in the cold of these mountain nights, without blankets or fire, they live moment to moment in shivering agony for lack of morphine or nitrous oxide. The small houses of this village offer scant comfort. There are no windowpanes and there is not enough fuel for fires. This landscape is almost barren of trees but for a few willows at the bottom of a steep valley to the east, practically impassable from here. I am afraid for these men, perhaps more so than they are for themselves. I have never seen a breed of men as tough as these peasants of north China.
It seems to me that religion figured out long ago that the central tenets of belief must be embodied within a single entity. Let one man bear the burden of perfection and suffering. Since arriving to China from Spain I have come to the conclusion that the absence of a leader in the Spanish War amounts to a grave danger that might possibly doom that struggle to failure. That is not the case here, I can say with some authority, and I will try to help you understand why. This is one thing these men do have, an embodiment of their ideals. Perhaps the new Spanish Christ has risen since I left Madrid, and with all my heart I hope that is the case.
Excerpted from The Communist's Daughter by Dennis Bock Copyright © 2007 by Dennis Bock. Excerpted by permission of Knopf, a division of Random House, Inc. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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