名家名译 | 王维东 译 对陌生人的责任
A World Without Strangers
在美国住了快十年，万圣节一直没有认真过过。众所周知，万圣节又叫鬼节。过节时大家扮成各种怪样子，装神弄鬼，吓唬人玩。其中最重要的一个节目，就是孩子们的Trick or Treat：天黑后孩子上门来要糖，你不给，人家就可以捉弄你一番。我对此一向不适应。想想看，大晚上的，陌生人来敲门，不断地下去开，又烦人又没有安全感。前几年住在纽黑文，那里治安不好，过万圣节就更无乐趣。
Never had I fully enjoyed Halloween before, despite having lived nearly ten years in the U.S.. As everybody knows, Halloween is also called the Ghost Festival, during which time people will put on weird costumes or paint their faces to look like monsters, frightening each other for un. Trick-or-treat, a favorite game for children, is one of the festival’s most important events. Imagine kids coming up to your house after nightfall, pestering you for candies and threatening to play a prank on you if you refuse to give any! I, for one, could hardly get used to such things. With strangers knocking on the door in the evening and you dashing back and forth to answer it, you might lose grip on your own security as well as life’s normal peace and quiet. In New Haven, where my family and I lived a couple of years ago, Halloween was even more lackluster because the city and a high crime rate.
今年搬到波士顿，女儿也长到5岁，渐渐懂事了。万圣节前一周，她就惦记着买服装，晚上去Trick or Treat要糖。去年的万圣节，这一节目是由妻子带着她和一群幼儿园的小朋友及其家长集体行动。如今新到一个地方，路都不认得，也找不到伴，为安全起见，只好由我带孩子出门。
This year we have moved here to Boston. My daughter, aged five, is now starting to understand things. A full week before All Hallows’ Eve, she was already obsessed with what costume to wear for the coming festival. Last Halloween, it was my wife who had escorted the girl, along with some of her kindergarten pals and their parents as a group. This time, however, since we were newcomers in this city, not yet knowing our way around and unable to find any company, I took her out myself for safety’s sake.
Outside, it was pitch-black with an ominous gloom filling the air. We were surrounded by what felt like an eerily precarious world. I took my daughter by her little hand as we trekked down the bumpy, dark road together. There was not a living soul in sight. “Is it OK to be at a stranger’s door asking for stuff at this late hour?” I wondered to myself. “Aren’t we being too troublesome?’
Not my confident daughter. Dressed up in pink and donning fairy wings, she looked like a perfect little angel. She volunteered to press the buzzer to the first house we reached. The door opened immediately, and we saw inside the splendid lights tearing apart the massive curtains of darkness, as if Paradise itself had opened its door for her. The host and hostess were delighted obviously delighted to see her. “Oh, darling, you’re so beautiful, so cute!’ they let us in, and tried to empty a small basketful of chocolate candies into her hamper. I hastened to stop them, saying that these were more than enough for her. This could not dampen their zest the least bit; they engaged the little one with questions like “How old are you?” “Have you started school yet?” “What do you love most in life?” “Where do you live, honey?” Their genuine hospitality made me relaxed, allowing me to share my daughter’s boy.
As we continued on our way, my daughter’s shyness completely disappeared. She rushed to the door of the next house and pressed down the buzzer. Only the hostess was at home. On seeing the angelic creature before her, she was no less generous in her praise. “My daughter is away in college now. when she was your age, she was just as beautiful as you are,” she added. “Well, which university does your daughter attend?” I asked casually.
“Harvard,” she answered. This instantly intrigued me. “Then which high school?” My thoughts were already wandering off to where I should send mine for a high-school education. The hostess saw what was going on in my mind. After learning that we were new in this city, she lost no time finding a pen to leave her phone number with me. She told me that she was a social worker in this community. “When later you are not sure about which school to choose for your daughter in this area, come to me.” She insisted. “When my daughter comes back next time, I’ll invite you over for dinner so we can have a good chat.” Before we left, she rummaged through her bookcase and picked out three books for five-years-olds for us to take home.
This of course boosted my daughter’s spirits, making her feel on top of the world. The basket in her hand soon got too heavy with all kinds of the candies she had been showered with, so we had to rush back home earlier than planned. My wife and I had paid much attention to her dietary habits from early childhood, making sure that she did not take in too much sugar. Hence she does not care much for it. On arriving back home, she did her brushing and washing, and then went off to sleep. Before that she said, “Daddy, I had so much fun today!”
While I fixed my gaze on her petite face in her sleep, a real love surged up in my heart for the street we live on and our friendly neighbors. I chewed on my own past experience of growing up, and the meaning of celebrating Halloween – whereby everyone stops being mortal and becomes a saint – finally sank in. My daughter and I were born and raised in totally different social environments. True, both of us have received love from fellow humans; yet she knows such compassion ca exist between strangers. She knows that, on a dark, seemingly dangerous night, she can get boundless sweetness from strangers. The way she is done unto now determines to a large extent how she will behave towards others later in her life. People of my generation, on the other hand, draw such warmth mainly from their own family, friends and relatives; to their mind, an emotional tie can hardly be forged between strangers. I still remember one of my grade-school teachers warning us not to eat the candy we saw on the ground lest a hostile element, better known in those years as a “class enemy,” might have poisoned it.
What impressed me most was the last family we intruded upon during our round of trick-or-treating. It consisted of only two members: a sightless lady aided by her loyal guide dog for day-to-day survival. At first I felt sorry to have bothered them, and my daughter, confronted for the first time with a blind person, looked a bit afraid. But much to our surprise, the hostess just an enthusiastically scooped candied from her table, all the while muttering, “you’ve got the voice of an angel, dear.”
“We pass your hose every day on our way to the girl’s kindergarten,” I hastened to respond. This pleased her even more. “So we’re old friends already,” she repeatedly exclaimed. I looked at the candies neatly laid out on the table, wondering how much time a visually impaired person like her must have spent preparing for the arrival of unknown little guests, and what solid faith must have lain beneath this simple act of opening her door to sheer strangers amid the darkness of night! It dawned on me, then, that even a suffering person can instinctively see where his or her responsibility lies in association with strangers.
There is, as pointed out by quite a number of American critics, a general lack of commitment towards strangers in East Asian societies. When I was still in China, I used to witness selfish unwillingness to help where life was imminently endangered, and I myself was one of the many who hld back. During my last visit in Japan, I once happened to be at the scene of a traffic accident. Among the large gathering of people there, the only ones who did help were, alas, two foreign tourists who couldn’t even speak Japanese. Didn’t Mencius teach us, in one of China’s earliest classics we still read today, that one should never leave unattended a fellow human in need? Sadly, we tend to forget these words in real-life situations. Ours is a close kinship-based society rather than one that features a vast, wholesome network of strangers, among whom there ought to be trust and affinity nonetheless. It must be admitted that we grew up in a very different way than my daughter. Our life experiences did not foster such an innate awareness in us.
“Thou shalt love thy neighbor.” Such precepts cut across almost every culture, but they are interpreted in wildly different ways in different societies. The challenge here is not whether to remember these words, but rather how to put them into practice in our daily life.