Linda was reading the newspaper with Dad one morning, as she did almost every morning, when a story about a little girl, who had come from China to her Midwestern city for an operation, grabbed her attention. The little girl’s picture in the newspaper showed a very tiny five-year old. The reporter said that the little girl had been born with a hole in her heart that would kill her before she had the chance to grow up unless the hole was repaired. She needed a special operation. Such surgeries were very expensive, and the little girl’s family lived in a poor Chinese farming village that didn’t have a modern hospital or any doctors who knew how to perform such an operation. The doctors at Linda's city hospital had volunteered to do the surgery for free, and a church had raised the money to bring the little girl and her mother to the city for the operation.
Moved by the story of the little girl, which the reporter wrote about everyday that week, Linda decided to visit the little girl in the hospital. Linda didn’t know what she would say to the little girl or even if the little girl would understand her, since the little girl spoke Chinese and Linda spoke English. Linda had never been to a hospital before, and she couldn’t have explained to anyone why she wanted to visit this little girl.
At ten years old, Linda didn't have the words to say what filled her heart so fully, but her passion was strong. This would not be the last time that Linda would read something in the newspaper that would cause her to take action. Linda, it would turn out, had the ability to read stories that many people read and find in them a call to action, as if the writers were talking directly to her.
Perhaps Linda was influenced by the books she had read about famous nurses like Florence Nightingale, the English nurse who took care of wounded soldiers during the Crimean War. Or maybe it was the stories of Cherry Ames, Student Nurse, in a series of mystery books that Aunt Blossom, Linda’s favorite aunt, sent for her birthday and at Christmas. There was a whole set of Cherry Ames, Student Nurse, books, and Linda collected, read and loved them all.
It also could have been the lessons learned at home that motivated Linda to want to visit the little girl with the hole in her heart. Mom had taught Linda that she had a duty to be responsible, and Linda had observed the way that Dad helped people with translations and filling out official forms. Linda, as the eldest sister who was entrusted with the care of her little brothers, believed that she was also supposed to help other people.
Linda’s mom, Nancy, in her quiet way, understood her daughter’s tender heart and knew that this was something that Linda was determined to do. So, one night after work, Nancy and Linda went all the way downtown, taking two buses, and walking several blocks after they got off the second bus, to visit the girl with the hole in her heart. Linda brought a treasured doll of her own to give to the little Chinese girl.
The girl’s mother and Linda’s mother visited with each other, even though they did not speak the same language either, while Linda took the little girl for a walk down the hospital hall. The little girl let Linda hold her hand. She liked having someone who wasn’t an adult visiting her, because a hospital is a scary place with machines that beep and people in white uniforms rushing around. Linda couldn’t really communicate with the girl, but she could play with her like a big sister. Even with different languages, girls know how to play pretend games with dolls, and that is what Linda and the little Chinese girl did together. Linda made funny faces and made the little girl laugh and giggle. The little girl's happiness at her visit made Linda smile.
The hospital visit reminded Nancy of her own situation. Mom’s sisters and brothers still lived in the old country. Although Mom was very busy with her job ironing shirts in a laundry and taking care of Tim, Gus and Linda, she still missed the siblings with whom she had grown up. Linda once overheard Nancy say to another grown-up that she would feel like crying when a letter arrived in the mail and she could read about what her parents and sisters and brothers were doing in the old country. She would feel happy reading of their daily lives, but she would also feel sad, because their lives were so difficult in the old country. Then when Mom did not receive a letter in the mail for a few weeks, she would feel like crying, because she worried that things were not going well in the old country for her sisters and brothers, and she would feel sad that she wasn't there to help them.
The fact is, that Linda’s mother felt sad a lot when Linda was growing up, but those stories are ones we’ll save for another time.