There’s only a few more days until Thanksgiving is celebrated in the US, which has brought to all its inhabitants a life full of nourishment and happiness in its land of democracy, freedom, fairness, charity and, particularly, the right to life and equal rights. Everyone in American society is privy to these rights no matter what their means were before they came to the US in search of freedom. Americans are all entitled to protection under US law, regardless of from where they arrive or what citizenship they previously held. No matter what, personal and communal rights as well as religious freedom cannot be deprived. Such global protection is nearly unparalled in any other country..
This is a chance for family to come together to give thanks to our ancestors and parents for their sacrifice to raise and teach us to become useful members of society – for giving us a comfortable life free of hunger and deprivation. It is often said: If a husband or wife dies, they can be replaced. If a child dies, one can give birth to another. But if a parent dies, they are irreplaceable. Stepparents are the closest substitute. Everyone who grew up in southern Vietnam (1954-1975) memorized by heart the following: “A father’s sacrifice is like Thai Son Mountain, a mother's affection is like an unending stream, honoring our parents is children's obligation forever.”.
Today, we would like to present some rare events drawn from a story by the author Daikynguyenvn / NTDTV forwarded by Tuy Phuong. In a moving tale that has moved countless people worldwide to tears, a boy named Derby who lives in an orphanage in Germany is determined to find his mother. Following this story, the author then shares his own devotion to his mother who has been confined for decade with dementia in a nursing home on the outskirts of the US capital, Washington, DC.
Mother! I have searched for you for so long. I ask of you, please don’t leave me again.
February 1994, a baby was placed under a tree outside Yite Luo orphanage in northern Germany. Luckily, a 50-year-old nun, Terri, went outside the gates and heard the child crying. She immediately rescued him and placed him in the care of the orphanage. Growing up in the orphanage until past the age of 9, the child (named Derby) always dreamt of finding his mother and in his heart always thought: “Mother, I have long searched for you. Please don’t leave me again.” One warm day, the nuns took the children out an outing near the river where Derby overheard another parent telling her child, while pointing at Derby and the other orphans: “These children’s parents abandoned them. If you don’t listen to me, I will also put you in this orphanage.”.
Incredibly hurt upon overhearing this warning, Derby immediately asked one of the nuns: “Why did my parents leave me? Did they hate me?” His injured voice was full of pain, unlike the tone of other children his age. The nun was alarmed, and asked: “Where did you get this idea?” Derby replied: “That is what I hear others saying, that we have all been abandoned by our parents.”.
The nun comforted the boy, telling him that though the nuns never met his mother, surely she loved him. “In this world, there is no mother who does not love her child. The year your mother left you here, surely there were difficult circumstances that pushed her to do so,” the nun said. Derby listened quietly, asking nothing more. But since that day, his outlook changed drastically. He regularly looked out of the orphanage’s windows longingly at the nearby Rhine River, hoping the currents would carry his affection to his long-lost mother..
On Mother’s Day, 2003, the festive mood around the holiday touched the ever-present chord of longing in Derby to meet his mother. All the television channels aired images of families at play, including one ad of a six-year-old struggling with a lawn mower, while his mother looked on her child’s efforts with tears in her eyes. “Sisters!” Derby called out. “Do you know where my mother is?” The nuns met his question with silence, having not heard a word from them since Derby was found at the orphanage..
Soon after, when Derby was 9, he left the orphanage to attend a school nearby. Whenever he helped someone, if they thanked him, he then asked them to help 10 others – as that would be the best way to express gratitude. Upon hearing the request, people were touched by Derby’s selfless compassion and pledged to honor his request..
One day, the director of one of Germany’s largest television channels, Rick, was out walking by the river when his heart gave out on him. Unable to get out his heart medications from his pocket in time, he fainted. Derby, who was fishing at the river nearby, realized Rick had collapsed and called an ambulance to the scene. The timely ambulatory care rescued Rick. When he recovered, Rick found Derby and clasped both the child’s hands, saying: “Young man, how can I ever thank you? If you need money, I can give you plenty.” Derby simply replied: “If you can help 10 others who need your help, then you will have amply thanked me.”.
From that moment on, Rick felt greater happiness and saw his life take on greater meaning with each person he helped. Recuperating his strength, he returned to work at the station, telling the entire national audience (a sizable one, given the station’s prominence). “Perhaps no one will believe this is a story that is 100% true, but it is an experience that has brought me much life strength. I would then ask you to help 10 others when they need your help. You will then understand this magical feeling I describe.”.
Rick’s show, which was broadcast nationally and beyond, touched many. Many called in to let Rick know they were ready to selflessly help 10 people who requested their assistance. Many also expressed their desire to hear from Derby directly to see the face of a child with such a giving spirit..
January 2004, Derby appeared on Rick’s channel to share his story, which prompted viewers to ask: “How does a child so young develop a perspective so mature?” Derby controlled his emotions to be able to tell his story; many were moved to tears by the child’s limitless love for his mother. Rick immediately hugged the child’s small frame, telling him, “Your mother loved you immensely and you will find her.” German’s citizens remembered Derby’s story and followed his example of doing 10 selfless acts of compassion. While before, they treated one another with indifference, now they had meaningful interactions – and each hoped they were helping Derby’s mother. Derby became famous, and the channel did its best to locate his mother, but she was nowhere to be found..
Nguyen Manh San exercises with three orphans from Duc Anh Nguyen Tri Phuong orphanage, Saigon, before 1975..
February 2004, tragedy befell Derby in the impoverished neighborhood he called home. Because of his fame, Mafioso groups believed the child now was wealthy. On the evening of 16 February that year, on his way home from school, Derby was surrounded by a large group. Frustrated upon finding that the child did not have any money on him, members of the group stabbed him in the stomach, piercing his liver. As Derby lay in a pool of blood, the group left him for dead and he wasn’t discovered until two hours later by the police..
Arriving at the hospital in trauma, Derby called out: “Mother, mother, mother”—again and again. Rick’s channel broadcast live news of Derby’s stabbing, eliciting the public’s collective prayers. Dozens of university students congregated at Alexanderplatz high school, held hands in a circle calling out: “Mother, mother, mother”. The group’s chanting moved bystanders who joined the circle, turning it into an ever expanding heart-shape circle as more and more joined.
Rita, a high school teacher in Munich, cried as she reflected on how sweet-natured Derby was, and what an honor it would be to be his adopted mother. While he had one biological mother, hundreds called into the station requesting to adopt Derby. Station managers discussed among themselves and chose a woman named Judy to be his adopted mother. She lived in his part of town and, more so, her voice even sounded like Derby’s, both factors that would help foster intimacy between the strangers.
The morning of 17 February, after days lying in a coma, Derby opened his eyes to see Judy with flowers at the foot of his bed. “My dear son, I am your mother,” she said softly. His eyes suddenly widened and shined in surprise, “Are you really my mother?” Judy tried to hold back her tears as she nodded. What she held back spilled forth from Derby’s eyes in two hot pools of tears. “Mother, it has been so long that I searched for you. I ask that you don’t leave me again, please?”.
Judy nodded and gently reassured her newfound son, “My precious son. Rest easy, I will no longer be far from your side.” And with that, a small, long-sought, smile appeared on Derby’s young face during his last moments alive in his world. He slowly closed his eyes again, as he permanently left this life, yet his hands still clung tightly to his newfound mother’s..
While recounting this story until the final lines, I could not withhold tears that repeatedly spilled forth, forcing me to stop writing multiple times to wipe dry my tears. There were parallels in this story that reflected my own mother’s love for her children, especially for me during my youth alongside my mother and three sisters for many years in Duc Anh Nguyen Tri Phuong orphanage in Saigon. My situation was entirely different than Derby’s who had to live alone without parents. Derby’s description of his love for his mother made me uneasy, making me question at times if I had done something enough, if I had demonstrated sufficient filial piety to my dear mother who sacrificed her whole life as a young widow for us?.
This is something I have wondered about, secretly, for many years now, as an only son who grew up with three sisters. Every time I visit my mother in a nursing home where she lies in a hospital bed, and feed her, I feel anxious about her aging, debilitated state. Until now, I haven’t found an obvious answer to my questions I have carried with me for decades. The one point that offers me a small measure of comfort is that I know my mother is proud to have an only son who has a spirit of charity, who loves the poor, ill, and unfortunate. I have always been ready to assist where asked. Understood scientifically, my nature is passed through the bloodline from my parents to me..
I remember when my father passed away, my mother was only 26 years old, young and beautiful. There were so many high-placed society members during this time who wanted to marry my mother, but she rejected their offers, determined to stay single and work hard to raise her four innocent children until they formed their own families..
I will never forget the time when we were still in Hanoi in the years before 1954. When my father passed away, while I was 10 years old, every day, my mother made fried Caravat cakes, dropping them off at convenience stores. On weekends I helped her sell these cakes from 7:30pm until 1:00am. I could barely wrap my arms around the big box of fried cakes as I ran after my uncle, the musician Hoang An, the younger sibling of another famous musician, Hoang Trong. My uncle played the accordion and saxophone at a dancing bar for the French in order to earn more money for my mother to raise her four children. There were some nights when I was scared senseless when a number of French men got drunk and tousled with one another to compete for women on the dance floor – getting into brawls right at the discothèque..
In 1954 when we migrated to southern Vietnam, my mother became the director of the Duc Anh, Nguyen Tri Phuong orphanage in Saigon, which housed nearly 200 orphaned boys. There were abandoned infants alongside older boys who were homeless. The school-aged children were placed in schools. For the ones old enough to work, my mother helped them find jobs and wives. My siblings and I lived alongside the other boys for many years, as a large family in this orphanage..
During this period, to earn extra money for the orphanage, I formed my musical band that performed together with my 3 sisters’ oriental ballet group composed of Tuyet Le, Tuyet Lan and Tuyet Loan. We performed many times at the Thong Nhat Saigon theatre and in a number of southern provinces such as Can Tho, Vinh Long, Chau Doc and My Tho. Living alongside the children in the orphanage helped me understand the sadness and longing of orphans. When I entered society to work, I was attracted to volunteerism, impassioned to help in the capacity given to me by the Lord Jesus Christ. Anytime anyone asked for help, I never knew how to say no. Instead, I rejoiced in my heart, forgetting any time or toil it took to fulfill a request. Because apparently that is the most precious trait passed down to me by my parents, embedded in my DNA and flowing through my veins.
For example, during the years I taught conversational English at Taberd Saigon high school, on weekends, I volunteered to drive the school van with Father Algilbert Nguyen Van Cach for doctors and volunteers at the school’s health & social committee (abbreviated COMITA) into communities of the working poor in the outskirts of Saigon to offer free health care, distribute medicines and give free haircuts. As I said earlier, my concern is with my now bedridden mother. I don’t know if there any of my behavior could be interpreted in the moment as disrespectful in any way (or bereft of filial piety) in any way, or incommensurate (not comparable) with the great sacrifices my mother made for me? In regards to my volunteerism, based on past and current feedback, through the privilege granted to me by God, I am satisfied that I have done all I can to serve others in the past 60 years from when I was a backpack-wearing 15-year-old student.
Sometimes sitting quietly alone, reflecting on Derby’s life in the orphanage – with neither mother, nor father – I see a life filled with sadness and wounds until the day he closed his eyes and escaped from scraping by in this life. On the other hand, I only lost my father when I was young, yet still have my mother to this day. And while I lived in an orphanage like Derby for many years, why have I received so many blessings, beyond any expectations? Truly, this is a mystery that only God and God alone knows. I solemnly bow on my knees to thank an eternal God for the gifts that He has given me and my family.