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《Lessons for Elementary Schools (7)》__ Kong Shiu Loon (53)

No Defeat for Heroes

“Did you read a lot of books, Grandpa?” Nancy asks after school.

“No, dear, I did not have the opportunity. But I read about a lot of things when I was a printer. I read even more when I was selling newspapers.”

“Was that a lot of fun?”

“Well, I wouldn’t call it fun. I did so along with earning money to feed my family, and send your dad to school and university.”

“You are a hero, Grandpa.”

“Why? No. I am just an ordinary man.”

“You know what? We learn about a story of two heroes today.”

“You like to tell me about it?”

“Mr. Shaw had his friend Dr. Fu to visit us, to see how good we are.”

“It sounds like he is very proud of you guys, like a really good teacher.”

“He is proud of us for sure. Dr. Fu is a famous biologist teaching in York University. He said he studies life processes, from birth to death.”

“What has that got to do with this hero?”

“Dr. Fu said he might be the only real hero, although he existed in Greek mythology. He is Prometheus.”

“Oh, I’ve read a bit about him too. He was the Titan who stole fire for humanity.”

“That’s the neat part. But the story is about bravery, love and self-sacrifice; a very sad and touching story.”

“I am so glad that you are learning all these. Tell Grandpa about it, please.”

“Dr Fu said the Greek gods each had a job. The brothers Prometheus and Epimetheus were to create animals, birds and human beings. The latter gave animals and birds energies and speed and attacking facilities. So, when Prometheus created man, he had to endow them with something better to survive and to thrive. He gave man intelligence and creative abilities. He also braved himself to the burning sun and took a bit of fire for man to defend himself and to make homes and foods and other things. The high Olympian god Zeus was furious when he learned about it. He set out to punish Prometheus in the cruelest way for ever.”

“That is terrible! There is no reason to do so when Prometheus is so kind to man.”

“We all said the same thing too. But Dr. Fu told us that gods are more emotional than reasonable. By comparison, human beings are intelligent, reasonable, caring and courageous.”

“That is interesting. So, what was the punishment?”

“Zeus had Prometheus tied firmly to a rock and sent an eagle to pick and eat his liver everyday. The liver is the tenderest organ of our body; it is also most painful when injured. Zeus wanted the suffering to continue for ever. So he commanded the damaged liver to grow back at night, so the eagle could pick at it the next day and days after.”

“That is frightening!” Grandpa says. But he immediately thinks of something interesting. He continues: “What a coincidence. Our Chinese medicine believes the liver is the seat of emotions too.”

“Really? Tell me about it, Grandpa.” Nancy shows her usual excitement when she is curious.

“Well, we say a person who is often angry as someone with fires in his liver. So, our herbal doctor treats him with herbs that cool down the burning liver. If the Greeks knew Chinese medicine, they would have cured Zeus with his burning liver, and man’s hero would not have to suffer this eternal punishment.”

“I agree with you, Grandpa.”

“Would you be interested in studying medicine, Nancy?”

“I might. But I am not sure. There are so many interesting subjects to study.”

“Like what?

“Like Dr Fu is good in biology and philosophy and literature. He talked about this short novel by Hemingway, The Old Man and the Sea. It was really interesting.”

“I’ve seen it mentioned in newspapers. But I don’t know what it is.”

“It is a very simple story. But it was good enough for a Nobel Prize. A Cuban old fisherman is poor and alone, living in a shabby cabin by the beach, with a boy coming to see him now and then. He goes out to catch fish everyday, feeling proud of his skills. But, he has no catch for 84 days. On this new day he encountered a gigantic marlin. He battles the big fish for three days and nights before he kills it. It is a very big catch. The fish is so big that he can only tie it to the side of his small boat to bring it home. But, a school of sharks came and ate the marlin to its bones, leaving just a skeleton. The boy greeted the old man and saw the sad situation. He knew how hurt it was. He decided to keep the old man company while he slept like a log. He was really exhausted. In a dream, he was his youthful self again, strong as an African lion.” Nancy retells the story in one breath.

Grandpa listens very attentively. He enjoys his grandchild’s smooth narration, rendering a complex story with succinct clarity. In the end he says thoughtfully: “I suppose the story tells us that human beings are very accepting and also insistent. He persists in doing what he is confident of, day after day, with little regard to gain or loss. But we are subject to nature’s workings too; such as meeting sharks suddenly, and such as getting old and weak. Ultimately, we resort to dreams, where we could transcend time and space and the powers of Nature, to regain our finest conditions. In other words, we are able to hope and be satisfied and happy.”

“That is what Dr Fu and Mr. Shaw said too. You sound exactly like them, Grandpa.”

“Thank you for the compliment, Nancy. I am not a learned person like they are. I only feel like any body feels,”

“That is what they say too, when they explain to us how good literature touches the heart of all people, young or old.”

“How do you feel about this story?”

“I feel very sorry for the old fisherman. But I also admire his spirit of accepting bad luck. He was not mad about the sharks. He treats his disappointment by dreaming. He is still a lion”

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