I met Angie in December 1993, on a cold, cloudy day, on the train destined for Beijing, after attending the funeral of my father in my hometown, the City of Lanzhou, some 1,200 miles west of the Chinese capital.

As the wind howled and darkness descended, the steam engine–powered train puffed and blew its way eastward, heaving, as it seemed to me, in inconsolable pain, much like my own sorrow. I started a trip to the city called “guilt” and loaded myself up with blame.

I dreaded and agonized over how I could pass the 34-hour journey as my mind was flooded with memories of my father. My father, the multitalented poet and artist who walked his way from an impoverished village to the provincial capital to become the first university graduate in his home county. My father, who was persecuted many times because he had received a university education prior to the Communists taking power and because he had married the daughter of a landowner. My father, who single-handedly raised me after my mother had perished during the Cultural Revolution. My father, the dedicated educator who poured his heart into nurturing the growth of his students whenever he could steal precious freedom from the political persecution imposed on him by the communist government. My father, who claimed to have had an elastic stomach that “shrank” so that his children could have bigger shares of meals when food was scarce. My father, who was proud to finally see his four children graduate from universities after the reforms made his background less of a liability in their careers. My father, who spent many sleepless nights following the situation in the Middle East, when I, his only daughter, covered the conflicts that stormed the Arabian deserts. My father, who, with much courage and understanding, accepted my decision to marry a white, English-speaking Canadian, even though he himself did not speak English and could not communicate with my future husband.

I wondered how life would go on without my father. I regretted not having written to him in response to his last letter reaffirming his blessings on my pending union with Mike, my future husband, whom I had met in Kuwait during the Gulf War. I was angry with myself for not having called him on the first-ever telephone installed in his own apartment. I chided myself for not having had the courage to hug him when I saw him last, as public expression of emotions between adults, including family members, was scorned upon at the time in China. Most of all, I felt guilty that I had not rushed home to his bedside when he became very ill and instead wasted precious time waiting for news from the Canadian Embassy on a visa that would eventually allow me to join Mike across the Pacific.

A nonbeliever in the supernatural, I found myself praying that somehow I could be given a chance to make up for my failure to give back to this extraordinary man who had nurtured me and hundreds, if not thousands, of other people. I would do anything for such a chance to return the love I had received!

Soon after the train started, the loudspeaker broadcasted a shocking piece of news: “A baby girl was found deserted on the train. The Captain appeals for help from doctors or nurses among passengers.”

Although neither a doctor nor a nurse, I felt I had to see the baby and offer help.

There she was! A beautiful baby girl with a round face, a thick head of black hair, dimples on her rosy cheeks, and big, sparkly eyes. A bundle of smiling joy, surrounded by a circle of strangers curious about her predicament.

A young woman, presumably the mother, had left the girl in temporary care of a passenger for what was supposedly a short visit to the washroom. The woman never returned. The baby was wrapped in a small cotton quilt, with half a bag of milk powder, a bottle, a few cotton diapers, and RMB50 Yuan (US$6.00). No name. No address.

As most of the other passengers returned to their seats, I volunteered to care for the baby for the rest of the journey, with the help of another passenger, a gentleman named Qi.

We decided to call her “Yuan,” or “sent by destiny.” In English, “Angie.”

The stewardess arranged for a cabin in the sleeping car, which Mr. Qi and I converted into a temporary haven for Angie and where I spent the 32 most rewarding hours of my life.

I fed Angie when she was hungry. I cried when she cried, and I smiled with her when she smiled. I told her stories that my father had soothed me with when I fell sick in my early years. I recited to her poems my father had intoned to inspire my interest in literature as a student.

Mr. Qi, a man who had never had a chance to take care of his own children when they were young, took on the duties of washing diapers, which never seemed to dry fast enough before the baby was wet again. Mr. Qi, whose name meant “complete,” decided to adopt Angie on behalf of his niece, who had been trying unsuccessfully to have a baby of her own.

Angie seemed to be in a lot of pain, yet she responded to my stories and poems with the broad and carefree smiles of a true angel.

As minutes and hours passed, the burden of guilt with which I had boarded the train left me. In its place, a sense of joy, love, and promise enveloped me. The huff and puff of the steam engine became the symphony of comfort and an affirmation of life.

Neither Mr. Qi nor I realized that the baby was born with a fatal disease, and Angie died a few days after we reached Beijing.

Brief as it was, my encounter with baby Angie taught me an important lesson: The best way to honor my father was to live life as he did, as an authentic, dignified, hard-working, and caring human being. The meaning of life lies in nurturing others.

** This article is one of 101 great articles that were published in 101 Great Ways to Improve Your Life. To get complete details on “101 Great Ways to Improve Your Life”, visit http://www.selfgrowth.com/greatways3.html

Author's Bio: 

Haiyan Zhang is a certified management consultant (CMC) whose mission in life is to contribute to and facilitate the success of others through attitude, aptitude, and action. Combining Western business disciplines and Eastern philosophies, Haiyan’s advice is grounded on insights gained working with senior leaders in a variety of organizations and on her personal journey living and working in China, the Middle East, and North America. Haiyan holds an executive MBA, MA (Shakespeare), and, as a professional speaker, makes frequent presentations in English, Chinese, and French. To find out more, please consult http://www.3alife.com.