I honestly don't know why somebody is sending me People Magazine. I never asked for it; I don't pay for it. But an even bigger mystery is why I haven't yet figured out I could simply relegate it straight to the recycling bin. Instead, I dutifully flip through, as if the trees used to make the pages will somehow be less wasted if I at least glance at them.
Tonight, though, I was glad I did. In a L'Oreal, Women of Worth ad, I saw a tiny picture of a young Cambodian woman and stuck on the name: SreyRam. Could that be our SreyRam?
The SreyRam we knew was born in the Killing Fields during the Cambodian holocaust, and when she and her parents escaped they ended up in our town, Corvallis. Hers was one of several Southeast Asian refugee families who came to work on our small farm during harvest, and factual bits of her story became a part of my novel, Children of the River.
SreyRam was, for me, one of the most memorable of the children who played on the farm while their parents picked raspberries and cherry tomatoes, and lately we have actually been talking about her, because we could not get over how she sat in our kitchen at the age of three or four and studiously, ambitiously poked a wire into each heliochrysum flower for drying. We were astounded at her dexterity, because our son, close to her in age, could not have managed that in a million years. Neither could our twins, later on. But now, Miles's son, turning five yesterday, has that same phenomenal dexterity, which has given us cause to recall SreyRam with fair frequency.
We knew she had done well, graduating as Valedictorian of one of the local high schools with perfect SAT scores. The last we'd heard—and this was just a rumor—was that she had passed up a full ride to Harvard in order to go to Oregon State and stay near her ailing father.
So, tonight, when I started Googling, I found myself experiencing one shivery moment after another and repeatedly tearing up. Because—guess what--the little girl who'd sat in my kitchen speedily wiring flowers with her astoundingly nimble fingers had become a surgeon! She'd gone to med school here in Oregon and capped off her studies at Yale. She was now in Houston, having garnered more scholarships and awards than I could write out here and is reportedly known for doggedly putting her energies towards helping vets, women, and all medically underserved populations.
When I wrote in Children of the River that my main character, Sundara, wanted to become a doctor because she'd been inspired by the kindness of a doctor who'd helped her family of refugees, I was basing that on an interview with someone other than SreyRam, who was too young to interview when I was doing my research. But I love hearing that she too was inspired by a Red Cross surgeon who had operated on her and her mother after they were injured by a rocket propelled grenade in a Thai refugee camp. Apparently her mother had hammered that story home with the admonition to pay back by helping others when she could.
As I've said before, at our house we are very pro-refugee, pro-immigrant. What could be more amazing than a baby born into Pol Pot's killing field surviving against all obstacles and actually thriving to become a surgeon?
Who knows what contributions to our society might ultimately have been made by seven-year-old Guatemalan asylum seeker Jakelin Caal Maquin who died at the border under the heartless policies of Donald Trump?
Can't we please get back to being the good guys? The ones who send out the helpers to inspire the next generations?