Twice Goodbye by Ji Yun, The Emperor’s Librarian (1724-1805)

Lady Zhao, the wife of my second son, Ruchuan, was a sensitive and enchanting young woman—one of those people who make you glad to be near them.

My wife, Mistress Ma, continually boasted to others about Lady Zhao’s character and literary talent, as well as her needlework. She said that Lady Zhao talked with such charm that one could happily listen to her for a whole day. This was all true. We could not have hoped for a better daughter-in-law.

So, when Lady Zhao died at only thirty-three years of age, I received a wound that still aches when I think of her. But my pain was nothing compared to what Ruchuan suffered. For many years, he mourned pitifully. Then one year he was ordered to temporarily move to Hubei to undertake some professional duties. While there, he entered a new relationship.

The first time I saw this woman upon Ruchuan’s return, I was too shocked to speak. She looked just like Lady Zhao—the shape and length of her limbs, the flicker of her smile, how she moved—everything exactly the same. Ruchuan’s coworkers were as stunned as me and drilled him about the woman’s relatives and her birth details, suspecting that she was a reincarnation. But it turned out that the woman was born well before Lady Zhao died.

That two women should so resemble one another—down to marrying the same man—is a coincidence with a pulse and meaning. This is especially apparent when you consider their last point of similarity, which is this: only a few months after joining Ruchuan’s household, this new woman also died very young and unexpectedly. What can one make of these women’s similarities? Why does Heaven copy some things and then introduce them into our lives repeatedly so that we continually meet the same person or experience the same disaster? Surely there is some conclusion we’re meant to come to.

Note: Thank you to the Cincinnati Review for originally publishing this piece on Sept 18, 2019: