Melissa Block

A Welcome Reunion, One Year Later

Melissa Block and Wang Dan.

Melissa Block and Wang Dan talked over glass pots of aloe and pomelo tea, a year after their first encounter. Philip He hide caption

itoggle caption Philip He

Our time here is winding down, and as I think over the many people I've met and places I've been on this trip, I'm especially grateful for one encounter in particular.

I'm very thankful I was able to reconnect with a woman I met last year, two days after the earthquake. Her name is Wang Dan; she's chosen Diane as her English name. When I saw her again, we talked about what's happened with her family over the year since we met. (That conversation ran on All Things Considered on Tuesday.)

As I explain in the radio story, I first met Diane on the worst day of her family's life. She and her brother and sister-in-law were desperately hoping that three of their family members would be found alive in their crushed apartment building: Diane's nephew, not quite two years old, and her parents. I spent a long day with the family as crews searched through the debris and they waited for news. I watched as hour after hour, hope drained from them. By late afternoon, I witnessed their excruciating grief as they got word that all three of their family members had been found dead. We aired their story on All Things Considered that night.

In e-mails she's sent me over this past year, Diane has told me a bit more about her nephew who died, Wang Zilu. She told me her nephew would greet her at the door and bring her slippers to put on; that one of his favorite playthings was a little toy turtle he would pull around by a rope. He loved playing hide and seek, but would make little noises to give his hiding place away, then laugh in excited delight when he was found.

In those e-mails, Diane also told me about her great respect for her parents, who spent all of their savings on the best possible education for Diane and her brother, Wang Wei. She described her mother, a college graduate who was hard-working and liked things to be clean and orderly, and her father, an avid reader of everything from Chinese philosophers Confucius and Mencius to books on investing.

Diane's English is quite good, and in one of her emails she said this about the day we met last May: "I think you must be a very kind person, I saw tears in your eyes in that sad day." It's true about the tears, anyway. There were many times during that day that my emotions overwhelmed me.

Wang Dan.

Wang Dan, who's chosen Diane as her English name. Melissa Block/NPR hide caption

itoggle caption Melissa Block/NPR

When I saw Diane again last week, we chatted before dinner over glass pots of aloe and pomelo tea, with flowers floating inside. The family's sadness is still profound, and it pained me greatly to hear that her brother has deleted the photos of his son from his computer and cell phone, because he can't bear to be confronted by what he's lost. Her brother and sister-in-law are expecting a baby next month. Diane hopes the new child brings the family consolation. I do, too.

After I left, I sent Diane an e-mail, thanking her for agreeing to talk to me and to share her family's experience with our listeners. I think it's a brave thing to do, to reveal such painful, honest truths. Diane wrote me back that she hoped the story would have a positive effect: "Even if people live in different countries," she wrote, "all of them have the same feelings. If our cooperation can help to bring out those same feelings in many people, we will also feel happy."

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