“The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not overcome it.”
Thursday at work, son Micah helped patch up the ceiling in an apartment occupied by a pregnant–any day now!–Chinese woman conversant in English and her father, who relied entirely on her as translator. Sensitive to her condition, Micah took extra care plastering and sanding, going so far as to bundle the messy tarps up, load them in his trunk, and take them to the company dumpster for shaking out. He didn’t want any dust in the mother’s and baby’s lungs.
The woman’s father noticed Micah’s consideration and repeated three times: “Xeixei.” Thank you.
Knowing what the father was saying, Micah nodded, smiling politely, kind of bowing.
I learned all this when I got home at 9:00 that night. Micah had spent a couple of hours researching and practicing. He would finish the patching job Friday, and he wanted to give the Chinese man a proper reply.
As I sipped a red blend and warmed up leftover pizza, Micah told me the story and practiced: “Bu yong xei.” Over and over. We even said it together. “I don’t want to sound like an asshole, Dad,” he said. “Does this sound right to you?”
The syllables passed for “don’t mention it” or “you’re welcome.” “I don’t know,” I said. “But I think all you have to do is mean it and you’ll be fine.”
All day I wondered how he made out. Actually, my son had already made me proud. It’s the thought that counts and all that. When he got home, though, I was waiting. “So how’d it go?”
The man’s pregnant daughter was present when Micah finished the job.
“Thank you,” she said.
He had cribbed the words on his wrist: “Bu yong xei.”
“Oh!” she said, “Your Chinese is very good.”
Micah headed out the door, but before he got to his car, the father leaned out and called to him: “Xeixei.”
My son’s spirit blossomed in the gray afternoon: “Bu yong xei,” he said, without reading this time.
The Chinese father’s smile dispersed the clouds. He bowed and made prayer hands.
“The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not overcome it.” Five years ago I would have agreed, but the words would have caught like a lump of doubt in my throat. Micah was covered over in what is now his rich compost of consequences. But on Friday, “Bu yong xei.” A stargazer lily grows out of the rot. A shaft of sun persists in a thunder storm.
I bet my life on light. Its promise to confuse and overcome darkness fills my chest and speaks a truth I share with another Father: “This is my son, my beloved. With him I am well pleased.”