◎ Ba Jin
On my recent travels, I came to realize still more fully the significance of the word “friend”.
Seven or eight days ago, I said to a friend whom I had just come to know, “I can’t help feeling embarrassed before my friends. You’re all so nice to me. I simply don’t know how to repay your kindness.” I did not make this remark out of mere modesty and courtesy. I truly meant what I said. The next day, I said goodbye to this friend, not knowing if I could ever see him again. But the little warmth that he gave me has been keeping my heart throbbing with gratitude.
The length of my days will not be unlimited. However, whenever I look back on my brief past life, I find a beacon illuminating my soul and thereby lending a little brightness to my being. That beacon is friendship. I should be grateful to it because it has helped me keep alive up to now and clear away the shadow left on me by my old family.
Many people forsake their friends in favour of their own families, or at least draw a line of demarcation between families and friends, considering the former to be many times more important than the latter. That seems to be a matter of course. I have also seen with my own eyes how some people abandon their friends as well as their own careers soon after they get married …
Friends are transient whereas families are lasting — that is the tenet, as I know, guiding the behaviour of many people. To me, that is utterly inconceivable. Without friends, I would have been reduced to I don’t know what a miserable creature.
Friends are my saviours. They give me things which it is beyond my family to give. Thanks to their fraternal love, assistance and encouragement, I have time and again been saved from falling into an abyss while on its verge. They have been enormously generous towards me.
There was a time when my life was miserable and gloomy. My friends then gave me in large quantities sympathy, love, joy and tears — things essential for existence. It is due to their bountiful free gifts that I also have my share of warmth and happiness in my life. I accepted their kindnesses quietly without ever saying a word of thanks and without ever doing anything in return. In spite of that, my friends never used the epithet “self-centered” when referring to me. They are only too generous towards me.
I visited many new places and met many new friends on my recent trip. My time was mostly taken up by looking around, listening, talking and walking. But I never ran into any trouble because my friends had done their utmost to make sure that I would be short of nothing. Whatever new places I called at, I always felt at home as if I were back in my old residence in Shanghai which had already been raged to the ground by Japanese troops.
No matter how hard up and frugal my friends themselves were, they would unstintingly share with me whatever they had, although they knew I would not be able to repay them for their kindness. Some, whom I did not even know by name, showed concern over my health and went about inquiring after me. It was not until they saw my suntanned face and arms that they began to smile a smile of relief. All that was enough to move one to tears.
Some people believe that, without writing, I would lose my livelihood. One of my sympathizers, in an article published two months ago in the Guangzhou Republic Daily supplement, gives a full account of the conditions of my life. He also says that I would have nothing to live on once I should lay down my pen. That is not true at all. It has already been proved by my recent travels that my friends would never let me suffer from cold and hunger even if I should go without writing a single word. There are a great many kind-hearted people in the world who never attach undue importance to themselves and their own families and who never place themselves and their families above anything else. It is owing to them that I still survive and shall continue to survive for a long time to come.
I owe my friends many, many kindnesses. How can I repay them? But, I understand, they don’t need me to do that.
Recently I came across the following words in a book by a French philosopher:
One condition of life is consumption … Survival in this world is inseparable from generosity, without which we would perish and become dried-up from within. We must put forth flowers. Moral integrity and unselfishness are the flowers of life.
Now so many flowers of life are in full bloom before my eyes. When can my life put forth flowers? Am I already dried-up from within?
A friend of mine says, “If I were a lamp, I would illuminate darkness with my light.”
I, however, don’t qualify for a bright lamp. Let me be a piece of firewood instead. I’ll radiate the heat that I have absorbed from the sun. I’ll burn myself to ashes to provide this human world with a little warmth.