A splinter festers inside me.
I continue to long for the China of my youth, but why, when I know it no longer exists? Why do I weep when reading stories of children who were forced to leave their countries due to civil strife?
Nothing stays the same. I know this. Change is inevitable and necessary. I know this. Life presents challenges to everyone. I know this, too. Some of us learn to make lemonade out of lemons, others shrivel up in a vat of lemon juice and bemoan their fate.
As for me, I feel that I have been blessed beyond belief. Were I to begin listing those blessings, I’d never be done. There have been patches of pain, of course, but most of them have healed through the passage of time and through personal growth in understanding and maturity. However, I still feel a splinter of pure agony within me. It needs to be removed, and the wound cleansed, but I’m at a loss as to how to do that.
“Where are you from?” is a question that I’m frequently asked, and it’s one I could never answer simply.
I want to answer with “I’m an Annapolitan.” After all, I’ve lived here for 50 years and this is where my three children were born and baptized. It is the place where I met my first husband, Ray, and where I married my current husband, Bob. It is where I taught fourth grade for 43 years.
The problem, though, is that I don’t feel like a Marylander. I feel more loyal to North Dakota, even though I lived there a lot less, but it’s where Ray and I spent thirty summers. However, I don’t feel that I can answer “I’m from North Dakota,” either, because of all that Maryland has provided to me.
I also want to say “I’m American.” I want to FEEL like an American. I want to be proud to be an American. So what is stopping me? After all, I can say whatever I want. Maybe it’s the feeling of betrayal to my beloved Chinese father and the China I loved that holds me back.
The betrayal I feel with all of these possible answers is the same as what I felt after Ray died. Although Ray and I had 54 happy years together, and he had passed, I was still shocked to find myself falling in love with Bob. Before I could marry Bob, though, I had to work through my feeling of betrayal to Ray.
So now, I need now to remind myself that the China I loved and left is DEAD — the China that exists now, the one that punishes protestors, that jails Muslims, encourages people to rat on one another — that China is NOT the one I left. I need to remind myself how the United States welcomed my family in 1949, allowed my German mom to get a job, and provided an opportunity for the three of us kids to attend school. This country allows freedom of speech and the press. This country listens to protestors, and occasionally reacts positively to their demands. This country is where a trial by a jury of one’s peers is usually fair and just.
Of course, the U.S. is flawed. What country isn’t?
Through this analysis, I’ve found my answer: I am an American and I love Annapolis. Both have provided me with a job, a wonderful family, a group of friends, and a home, all of which I love and provide me with joy. Finally, I now know how to answer that question that has plagued me for the last 70 years.
The splinter is out!
Photos above: Left – teaching in Annapolis . Center Top – in Rome as a young child. Center Bottom – in Germany with family, as an infant. Right – Family passport photo to China, 1941. (All photos from personal collection.)
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Katherine Haas taught at Key School in Annapolis for 43 years. She now spends her time enjoying the arts with her husband, teaching Chinese, working part-time at Key as Scientist in Residence and engaging in progressive activism.