In Loving Memory — 王愛金 (1932–2022)

I ponder on the fragility of the biological balances that sustain human life. How many micro-miracles are being orchestrated in our bodies to maintain functionality? A harmonious symphony can immediately shut down. 阿嬤 seemed as strong as usual in the days leading up to her death, but suddenly her breathing stopped. Thank God she passed peacefully, in her own bed, with family around.

Ever since we were kids, whenever we came to Taiwan, we knew we were going straight to 阿嬤 (Grandma)’s house. To us, Taiwan was synonymous with spending time with 阿嬤, speaking Chinese, eating good food, and being taken care of. I will always remember climbing up the hard stone stairs to the top of her house, which felt so big!, and picking sweet mangos from her tree. 阿嬤 was a good cook, and I only started to enjoy eating fish after having the kind that she prepared for us.

阿嬤 was an encyclopedia of Taipei’s bus routes! I remember realizing that when I did a summer internship at 北科大(NTUT). When I asked her to direct me there, she immediately told me three different bus routes I could take. In fact, that internship is something I have 阿嬤 to thank for. At that time, I was struggling to find any internship even in our hometown. She knew someone there who was willing to give me a shot. When I look back on it, I ask myself “How important was that opportunity that she helped me get?” After that point, other job opportunities came easily — people were impressed that I had international research experience. I know life is the sum and intersection of many experiences, but surely some of those events are inflection points in the journey.

Another key inflection point was in 阿嬤’s early years. Growing up in rural southern Taiwan, she should have joined her siblings in working on the farm, but her father said that because she was too small physically, she needed to focus on going to school. After completing school, she was brave enough to move on her own to the capital and seek work as a nurse. That is where she settled, bought a property in what is now considered a prime location, and built her family. In my work in Ghana, it is front of mind that I am only two generations removed from poverty’s crushing hand and that a single decision to prioritize education laid the foundation for generations to come. Just as 阿嬤’s life paved the way for me, I hope to help others build the foundations for generations to thrive.

In the lobby of the brand new high-rise built in place of her old house

阿嬤 was strict. Many remember the harshness she employed in raising her four girls as a single mother. I choose to remember the marked softening of her heart in her later years. As life became more fragile, and the sense of control reduced, I saw her opening up to receive love and grace. If I am stubborn, (Example: refusing everyone’s advice to stop trying to take on the challenge of building a nonprofit org in education in Ghana), perhaps I can attribute it to her 😊.

Chatting about life

It’s hard for me to disentangle 阿嬤’s life from my understanding of Taiwan as a country. To me 阿嬤 embodies the evolving identity of the Taiwanese people, the pursuit of a better life that led to massive economic development, the resilience of a people who have always lived under threat from a rotating cast of power-hungry people, the stubborn adherence to tradition juxtaposed with a fluid evolution of identity to meet their changing life realities.

It is through her that I have the most direct contact to the history of Taiwan and understanding of where I come from. I wonder how much of my heritage I’m now unable to access and appreciate in its original form. The language that I spent my Sunday afternoons as a youth learning in Chinese School is my grandmother’s third language. Having now been immersed in Ghana, a formerly colonized country, for a few years, it seems to me that the colonially imposed language presents an artificial layer on top of society, which must be penetrated before one experiences that which people long to express. I regret that I’ve labored to learn Mandarin, but I can barely understand Taiwanese. To what extent am I abstracted from my heritage because of this layer that’s been imposed on us?

I have a lot of questions. But as a mixed-race person, I have always known that the benefits I receive from deriving identity within man-made systems are very limited. By God’s grace, I have come to find my true identity in Him and I welcome the peace that comes therein.

In 2018, 阿嬤 had a critical health condition and we were all worried that that would be her end, especially since she didn’t know Jesus Christ. In fact, for years she always blocked any discussion about Christianity that friends or family members sought to raise. It can only be counted as a miracle that just a few months ago, she came forward on her own and asked to receive Jesus as her personal Savior. God’s timing is the best and He is in control.

I reflect on the missionaries who established the church that 阿嬤 was invited to visit as a young child. The people and their attire intrigued her. Those seeds which were planted took more than 80 years to bear fruit, but by God’s grace they did. May those who are laboring in the fields be encouraged.

I wish I could still call 阿嬤 and chat about life. But I know that her legacy lives on in each of us. May 阿嬤 rest in perfect peace with her Creator in heaven.

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Heather Beem

Heather Beem

CEO & Founder @PEN_ed // Engineering Faculty @Ashesi. Building systems to enable hands-on STEM education on the continent.