We sometimes talk about unintended consequences—unwanted situations that result from decisions we make. For me, publishing a memoir has led to two situations, not unwanted, but unimagined. I’m calling them unexpected consequences. Both of them have brought richness and joy, along with the reminder that we are stewards of what we have been given. Our responsibility is to pass on the gifts of our lives, releasing them to go wherever Life takes them, many times to places we will never know. The ones that come back to us, come as pure gift.
When I put my memoir out to the world, I assumed that I would hear responses from friends, relatives, and acquaintances, and I did. Beyond that I had few expectations, so when my friend Jing told me that her friend Xiaojing wanted to review my book in her blog, I was surprised but said yes even though I couldn’t imagine much interest from the Chinese American community. The review came and I couldn’t read a word of it. To say it felt strange is an understatement—my name and the name of my book tucked into illegible (to me) writing felt surreal. Pictures of me surrounded by Chinese characters were even more strange, a juxtaposition of the intimately familiar and the completely alien. What was Xiaojing saying? Jing gave me a general outline, but not a word for word translation and google translate is a rough approximation at best. I sent it to my niece, then living in Shanghai, commenting that she could probably read at least scattered words in it.
Then came the request from to do a shortened version in the Washington Chinese Daily News which Xiaojing’s husband, Yuanhe had helped to start years ago. Again, I said yes. Again, I saw my name surrounded by characters I couldn’t read. I tried to imagine the people who would read this, the sales racks or stacks where my picture might peek into shops in parts of Washington where I rarely hung out.
Then Jing, along with Xiaojing and Yuanhe, came to Harrisonburg for an overnight. In the afternoon, we visited the Brethren Mennonite Heritage Center, an organization that focuses in part on the experience of Brethren and Mennonite people during the Civil War. Sam Funkhouser, the Executive Director gave thoughtful responses to Yuanhe who was intrigued by Mennonite pacifist beliefs along with the historic emphasis on simple living. Our evening was spent in deep conversation about what is important to us in life.
A summer evening get-together with part of our family and local Kurtz relatives—as conversations flowed around us, Christopher pulled me aside to say that he had been reading my memoir and that one part caught his imagination. He thought a song needed to be written about it. He couldn’t remember the exact words, so it took us a minute to identify the right place, a quote from Judith Duerk’s book, Circle of Stones. I had written about a significant experience in my life that Judith’s words captured poetically, so I borrowed them (with permission) to illustrate my feelings (The Blistering Morning Mist, pp. 194-195). Since I am not a songwriter, making a song from that, or anything else, never crossed my mind.
A year went by, and I had mostly forgotten Christopher’s comment. One day a posting came from Christopher and Maria Clymer Kurtz about their newest recording project, “What If You Knew.” Hum, I thought, that sounds familiar. A quick listen to the snippet they provided confirmed that it is was the song that had called out to be written. I went to the backstories, to see what they said. Maria had taken Christopher’s challenge and written the song. Judith’s words had been given new life, and I was pleased to have had a small part in that. My day was crammed full of preparations for travel, so I said to myself, I’ll buy that later, when I have time to sit down and really listen.
Later came sooner than I anticipated. One day, in a rare moment of internet service close to Yellowstone National Park, I got an email from my son Geoffrey, telling of his surprise in hearing Christopher and Maria perform “What If You Knew” and its backstory. He sent me the track, so I sat down then and there and listened to it. I loved it! By the time I got home, they had posted their performance from the festival on their website where you, “dear reader”, can listen too.