The Unwinding of the Miracle
Julie Yip-Williams
Contributed by Shemika Thormahlen
Chapter 1
Summary

The story begins in Tam Ky, South Vietnam when author Yip-Williams was only two months old. Since she was born blind, her paternal grandmother wanted her dead because she believed Yip-Williams would be an embarrassment to the family. On the fateful day she was to be poisoned, Yip-Williams describes being dressed in stained, old baby-clothes — in which she would die. Initially, her parents were in full anticipation of a newborn baby. But her misfortune had turned things around, and now she was on the verge of receiving a death sentence, all because she was not born fully fit.

At the time of her birth, the Cold War between North and South Vietnam had turned in favor of North Vietnam. Yip-Williams’ father worked as military personnel for South Vietnam and was on the verge of losing the few things that he had acquired. While working as a military driver, he experienced some of the most challenging moments of his life, such as the risk of losing his life to snipers, landmines, or even losing a limb like most of his mates. The author recalls her mother, alongside with two of her siblings, joining her father in the military service in Saigon. It was a relief when Saigon was overthrown because it finally marked the beginning of the end for the war. Yip-Williams was born and named Lijing, to mean “vibrancy, vitality, and beauty”. Because of her blindness, the anticipated joy for the family, on the arrival of a newborn, turned out to be a source of sorrow.

The second section of the book is written in the form of a letter in which she addresses her young girls, Mia and Isabella. In this comprehensive letter Yip-Williams affirms her two daughters that she has tried her best to ensure that even when she is gone, the duo will have a better life. Indeed, Yip-Williams has hired a cook and a dentist, catered for their tuition and violin classes, as well as provided directives concerning the ins and outs of their apartment. The author believes that by addressing such things as early as now, at least her two daughters will lead a relatively comfortable life especially now that she was about to die.

Yip-Williams wants her children to know that life has never been fair. While growing up, Yip-Williams thought that life was supposed easy and that everybody needed to be treated equally. However, she came to realize that it is only in well-established countries with numerous opportunities that one should think of fairness and equity. This is because matters of life and death are distinctly beyond human comprehension and are primarily determined by fate, luck or God. Yip-Williams reminds her daughters that even though she grew up with her mother, unlike them – who would grow without her, she still suffered in other ways. Growing up blind was a hard experience since she could not play with other children comfortably. The author continually affirms her daughters that indeed life has always been unfair since time immemorial; however, she lacks a comprehensive reason that best explains why things have always been this way. She, therefore, encourages them to strive beyond their limits, be healthy, and hopeful as well. Yip-Williams believes life has a purpose and human beings were purposefully made to experience every bit of life. Even though Isabella and Mia will sometimes experience loneliness and despair, Yip-Williams wants them to know that she loves them and at one point in life, when their time comes, their souls will evolve, and they will be awarded that which they never had.

Analysis

Society sets expectations that can sometimes be overwhelming, giving people little or no choice to be who they are. Being born with or without sight is an occurrence beyond a person’s choice, and people ought not to judge others based on such misfortunes. When Yip-Williams was born blind, it marked the beginning of her tough journey with people who should have protected her — but instead became the very people signing her death sentence. In this chapter, the author presents her struggles as a little child with a clear depiction of how society is chained on the belief that disability translates to inability. When she was born, Yip-Williams was expected to bring happiness to the young family. However, things went south when her grandmother ordered that she be given a concoction that would make her ‘sleep forever’ because she was born blind and, therefore, “would be a burden and an embarrassment to the family. Unmarriageable.”

The central theme, as brought out in this chapter, revolves around the struggles that people with disabilities go through right from the moment of their birth. People with disabilities are usually looked down upon, stigmatized, and neglected. Moreover, this chapter brings out how war disrupts the normality of life with people being forced to abandon their families, persevere through harsh environments, and even risk losing their lives behind enemy lines. Yip-Williams’ father actively participated in the Vietnam War, and the author acknowledges that every bit of it was a risky venture. He risked losing a limb or even his life unexpectedly.

The author writes a letter explicitly addressing her daughters. Yip-Williams feels that it is her responsibility to make sure that even as she leaves this world, her children still get to enjoy life. The chapter is filled with emotions and words of encouragement to Mia and Isabella. From an analytic point of view, it is crystal clear that the author wishes to ease the pain of her children growing-up without a mother, and one way in which she does this is by leaving them with a basic plan on how to live a good life. The theme of love and responsibility is brought out in this section. This can be seen from the deeds of Yip-Williams in hiring a cook and a dentist, as well as leaving behind tuition fees for her children. Even though she has no elaborate answer as to why the world is unfair, she wants her children to understand that things have always been that way since her childhood. Whenever they feel lonely or in despair, Yip-Williams wants them to hold on to the fact that challenges do not define the fate of their lives, just as she triumphed over blindness despite her parents being unsupportive. For instance, they would not let her learn Chinese because they believed she was not able to identify the Chinese characters. Yip-Williams narrates these events with the sole purpose of allowing her children to understand how life can sometimes be ruthlessly unfair for no particular reason.

As per the chapter, shortcomings can be harnessed into positive energy. The author notes that she “was deprived of sight. And yet, that single unfortunate physical condition changed me for the better.” She emphasizes that she would not let blindness lead her into self-pity, but instead having taught her how to be ambitious, strong, and resilient. With a strong belief that the purpose of life is to experience every possible moment, Yip-Williams believes that, from such experiences, human souls expand and evolve to gain an understanding of “what it means to be human”. She describes this aspect as “the evolution of the soul”.

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