Pearl S. Buck, novelist and speaker, won the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1938, the year I was born. I never heard of her until I was in high school and her prize-winning novel, The Good Earth, was required reading in an English class. That assignment led me to read about her life, and eventually to write about her in one of my books for young adults.
A moment in her life that stood out for me occurred just eleven years before she received the Nobel Prize. While living in Nanjing, China with her husband John, an agricultural teacher, and their two daughters, Pearl wrote her first novel in the attic room of their modest home. She finished the book early in 1927, but never had a chance to submit it for publication. In the spring of that year a great uprising against China’s warlords took place.
As the troops advanced, the Bucks were forced to flee from their home. For a time Pearl thought everyone was going to die. Finally, the Chinese generals agreed to release non-Chinese.
The Bucks arrived in Shanghai owning no more than the clothes on their backs. The invading soldiers had destroyed Pearl’s recently finished novel. And looters had taken her books and her beautiful green coat.
Yet Pearl claimed she felt a sudden sense of freedom despite the great loss. She learned that material things could be destroyed. “On the other hand, people were more than ever important and human relationships more valuable.”
I once owned a green coat—when I was about thirteen. I can still picture it––with its wide collar, shiny buttons, and smart belt which I loved to cinch tight around my small waist. Mother bought me a hat to match and I felt like a fashion princess whenever I wore this outfit.
Within a year or two I had outgrown the coat and hat and gave them away. I didn’t think of my coat again, until I read about Pearl’s and the fact that someone took it from her before she was ready to give it up. An experience like that feels like an invasion and the sense of loss can be even greater than if one had voluntarily given up the stolen item. I wondered how I’d have felt if someone snatched my green coat when it meant the world to me.
Today, however, as an older woman who has had many coats and hats and dresses and shoes in my life, I am not as attached to any one piece––or any one place, for that matter. I’m aware that the loss of something precious in the material world can’t compare to the loss of a family member through death or divorce. There will always be another green coat, but never another mother or father or child or brother or sister.
My favorite chair, a special book, a lovely pen, a cozy blanket cannot compare to the lilt of a grandchild’s laughter, the love that shines from my son’s eyes, the playful smile that is unmistakably my daughter Julie’s, the attentive look I receive from my daughter Erin when I need to ‘talk.’ And my husband’s protective arm around me at the end of a day.
As I age I want to be quick to smile, to listen, to be available, and to give to my family with a generous heart—whether money, time, service, a listening ear, or a green coat.
Whoever brings blessing will be enriched, and one who waters will himself be watered (Proverbs 11:25).