Last year, my mom decided to try something: a Gratitude Jar. Think a swear jar, but instead, every day, you place a post-it note with something you’re grateful for. When I first heard it, I thought it was an awfully cheesy idea. It would never work. I am awful at keeping up day to day things. Any diaries that I have ever had are filled with blank pages and random entries that are not at all cohesive or near in date. So what’s the point?
This summer, I went to Beijing on a special trip. With a group of girls, who—like me— had been adopted from China, I went to revisit my native home and volunteer to work with orphans. In a word, it was amazing. I saw so much of Beijing and I want to go back eventually when I’m older. We saw Wangfujing, ate Chinese food, climbed the Great Wall, and much more. I would describe in more detail, but that’s not what made the trip so special. Many tourists have done what we did and I’m sure you could look up any travel blogs and find just how spectacular 包子 (buns) is or how satisfying it is to climb the Great Wall by the stairs and haughtily look at those weaklings who took the lift. I said special because, while I did enjoy all the sightseeing, the real moments were in the work we did.
Every time I describe our volunteer work, I hesitate over “orphans”. We worked at the China Care Home in Beijing: a facility where children with medical conditions such as hydrocephalus or cleft palate are treated. Thanks to my ability to speak some Chinese, I was placed with the older kids. So it was that I met Xiali, Xiaoshui, Hongshen, Keke, Gang, and more. Every day was different. I would learn words like 蝴蝶(butterfly) from Xiaoshui, lie down – as a good patient should—for Dr. Gang, or be the horse for rider Hongshen. Just the smallest things would bring smiles such as blowing bubbles for Keke or making silly faces for Xiali. They were like any other children: energetic and full of life, not as the word “orphans” would suggest.
There’s the other thing about using that word: “orphans”. It implies that they don’t have a family. But that’s not true. We, and everyone who took care of the children, are their family. In fact, they call us 姐姐 (older sister). The organization that helped make the trip itself, the Half the Sky Foundation actually works to make sure that all orphans in China don’t have to grow up alone. It was founded by parents who had adopted who wanted to make the orphanages better. Each orphan is nurtured and cared for. And really, I do believe each hug and kiss is important.
At every orphanage, there are nannies to take care of the children. Being no exception, us girls had also been taken care of in this way. This was important to a friend of mine. She was adopted quite later than I had been at 6 years old. The nanny that took care of her was there for her first steps and many other firsts. That woman was family, she helped raise my friend. This friend actually returned to her orphanage and met a nanny there. The woman cried even though she hadn’t been her nanny for it was so rare to see a baby come back.
I don’t know if I’ll ever see any of the children again. After they have been rehabilitated, they will be returned to their respective orphanages. And with all hope, they will be adopted. But it’s not guaranteed. In all likelihood, they will not remember us when they grow older. So leaving was bittersweet. Even so, I’m grateful for the chance to meet them and be a part of their journey.
I am lucky in that I was adopted and that I have such a wonderful life. This trip made me grateful for everything I have.
But for everyone, including me, it’s hard to remember to be grateful. It’s hard to remember that every little thing we have is something precious. I’m can’t promise to fill the Gratitude Jar every day. It’s unrealistic, especially on those difficult days. But going into my last year at Harvard Westlake, I think it’s important to, at least once in a while, tap into our inner child and smile at the little things. I can promise to do that.