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A beautiful encounter

A beautiful encounter

Howard Ren ’20 February 16, 2021

Sometimes, this world may seem dirty and dark, but there is always something beautiful and sweet that outweighs the bad.

Fall 2017. I had failed the first accounting block exam. For the second one, my plan was to study two hours each day for several days instead of cramming all night before the test. The night before, I studied from 5 p.m. to 11 p.m. I did two practice exams.

Illustration by Ronald AcklinThe result came out magnificently poor.

I began to doubt my intelligence.

Then she came, “Grandma Karen.” She placed her hand on my head and said, “You can do it kiddo, don’t give up!”

Confused, I looked up; I saw a grey-haired lady giving me a heart-warming smile. She told me, “My son used to fail exams all the time when he was in college, but I told him that there is always something bright over the finish line. You just gotta trust in God and push through it, young man! He can do it, and so can you. Here is one of my favorite chocolate bars! Have it and go kill that exam.”

It turned out her name was Karen Slattery ’13, who worked in the Marianist Hall learning space where I was studying for another exam.

I was a dazed. She is so good! Why would she say this to me? After she left, I tasted — besides the chocolate — what she had said. In those years when I came from China to study in the United States, I was confused, anxious, depressed and insecure. I feared the disgrace of bad grades. Grandma Karen’s words gave me hope, as if I found a flashlight in the wilderness.

I took a look around and checked the time again. It was midnight already. On a Thursday night, my American friends were at a party. The whole learning space was empty. I was alone, very alone. After a while, I felt loneliness and hope were two titanic forces wildly tumbling in my heart.

I ended up staying longer; it was almost 2 o’clock when I got home. I got up at 6 a.m. the next day to review for two more hours. I took the exam calmly, without thinking too much. A week later I delightfully found out that I scored 91 out of 100 points on the exam. I was very happy. After I got the result, I just jumped all the way home, like a childhood feeling — that was the first time in my life that I felt blessed from my hard work.

Gradually, Grandma Karen and I became friends, and she gradually got to know more about me. I heard that her son was interested in buying her a new iPhone, but she was reluctant to spend so much. I told her that I would buy a Huawei phone for her next time I traveled back to China. When I saw how she nodded happily, it warmed up my heart. The indescribable warmth — isn’t this the kind of réen qíng wèi (the taste of human warmth, friendliness, kindness) I have been looking for in the States? Wow! I found you, how fun!

Sometimes, when I felt tired, I would take a nap in that study area. Sometimes as I slept, it seemed as though someone was coming to my table and then leaving. I would wake up and see her curved back slowly fading away. And left behind on my table were coffee and chocolate. It always brought me a smile.

A while after graduation, after I had returned home, I woke up one morning and checked my email. There was one message with the title, “Congratulations.” It was from Grandma Karen, who sadly had lost her job as an effect of the pandemic.

I wondered how did she know my mailbox? Then I remembered. That day that I received the results of the 91-point exam, I had wanted to thank her. So I bought her favorite sandwich and gave it to her and left my email address written on a piece of tissue. She had kept it, and, this morning much later, she sent me that simple warmth with which I am most familiar from the other side of the ocean. She was far away, but I felt her presence.

How nice, how awesome, how happy.

Sometimes, this world may seem dirty and dark, but there is always something beautiful and sweet that outweighs the bad.

Thank you, Karen. I miss you, take good care of yourself.



Haitao “Howard” Ren graduated from the University of Dayton with a degree in international business management.

Finding my way home