From Chicken Soup for the Volunteer's Soul

A Cure for Restlessness

Love cures people —both the ones who give it and the ones who receive it.

Dr. Karl Menninger

Last year, when I went back to China, I paid a visit to Xiaotao, my college friend. He wasn’t home, but his wife, Malan, greeted me warmly and led me into their home. As I answered her questions about my life in the United States, I glanced at the expansive living room with elegant furnishings. I knew that what I had heard over the years was true. As China continued to prosper in the last decade, so did my friends.

Half an hour later, when Xiaotao still had not returned, I asked, “Do you think he had to work late?”

“Ah, no,” Malan answered pleasantly, pouring tea into my cup. “He’s at the orphanage this afternoon.”


“Yes,” she nodded with a smile. “He began volunteering there three years ago.”

During my visit, I heard many things about my friends: Zhang attained wealth; Li obtained a divorce; Wang was laid off . . . but volunteering in an orphanage sounded alien. I wanted to ask her why, but I didn’t. The look on my face must have betrayed my amazement because Malan began telling me the story.

In 1987, she and Xiaotao married. She worked as a copy editor at a magazine, while he taught at our alma mater. Malan gave birth to their son a year later, and their life was good.

But when the government began to allow private enterprise in 1992, Xiaotao became restless. He wanted to make money—lots of it. Borrowing funds from his parents, he quit his job and opened his first restaurant. He was very good at what he did. No one knew how he had learned his business savvy—both his parents were teachers.

After the triumph of the first restaurant, he opened another, then a clothing store, an ice-cream parlor and a string of other successful enterprises. In five years, he became a very wealthy man.

Malan momentarily paused. Her smiling face quickly turned somber as she continued. “But trouble began soon after that. Xiaotao’s businesses were thriving, and he had more free time on his hands and more money in his pockets than he knew what to do with. He began to frequent bars and discos and spend less and less time with me and our son.”

Pausing to control her emotion, she continued. “Then one night he didn’t come home. The next morning, he walked in reeking of perfume and liquor. That’s when I asked for a divorce. He was so angry that he stormed out of the house, got back into his car and drove away. As he was driving to a nearby village, he hit an old woman.

“That was another turning point in our lives,” she said. “The old woman suffered a fractured arm, and Xiaotao visited her every day at the hospital. He was fond of her. They exchanged their life stories, and before long, we called her Aunt Liu.

“On the day she was released from the hospital, Aunt Liu suggested a cure for his restlessness. She told him to spend some time at the orphanage where she worked. He laughed loudly, patted her on the shoulder and assured her he would donate plenty of money. Aunt Liu shook her head and told him that spending time at the orphanage would be more helpful to him than to the orphanage.”

Then, looking at me with a proud smile, she said, “After his first visit, he embraced it with his heart and soul. He helped to make cribs and additional rooms for new arrivals. He held the babies when they cried and played with the older children, spending most of his free time there.”

An hour later, Xiaotao came home. “Sorry I’m late,” he said, shaking my hands with a vise-like grip. “I was about to leave when an abandoned baby girl was brought in.”

“What did you do with her?” I asked, my heart in my throat.

“I held her and rocked her until she stopped crying.”

Swallowing hard, I tried not to cry. We visited a while longer before I had to take my leave.

The week before my departure, I got a call from Malan asking me to attend Xiaotao’s mother’s funeral. When I arrived in the old neighborhood, the procession for the funeral was already a mile long and the cry was heard a mile wide. Colorful paper money flew about in the breeze like butterflies. Some things in China will never change, I thought.

As I entered the courtyard and bowed in front of his mother’s coffin, Xiaotao came over to shake my hand.

“Thanks for coming,” he said. He looked somber and pensive.

“My condolences,” I said softly.

He nodded. “My mother lived a long life.”

“I want you to know something,” I said. “Of all the things new in China, what impresses me the most is how the orphanage helped you to regain your life and how you are helping these children.”

His lips quivered. “The night before my mother died, she told me about a secret she had kept,” he said, staring into the distance. “One night, thirty-seven years ago, she found me lying in a basket on the doorstep . . . of an orphans’ home.”

Linda Jin Zou

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