A Return Journey In Many Ways

As many know, I was commissioned by Sue O’Halloran of Race Bridges to write and perform my mother’s story titled ‘Bittersweet’. It was performed in Chicago twice this past April and on Orcas Island as part of the Smithsonian’s Journey Stories traveling exhibit. Soon, I will perform it at the National Storytelling Festival in Jonesborough in October.

How fitting it was, then, that I was traveling to China for Eth-Noh-Tec’s ‘Nu Wa Storytelling and Cultural Exchange’ program. I brought the 2nd half of my mom’s ashes to be scattered here where the happiest part of her life was spent, and particularly at her Yenching University, now called Beijing University or Peking University in Beijing.

And so, Robert and I came early and found our way by bus and subway to the famous landmark lake and water tower within the campus. Robert, carrying and rolling his video camera and photo camera, along with mom’s ashes, we roamed the shore of the lake looking for the perfect spot. We found it!

Full Circle of The Spirit

My Mom’s ashes are on the island within the lake in an opening left of a marble boat. The view takes in the lake, the many willow trees along the shore, the sitting gazebo, the water tower that is built like a pagoda, and of course, the marble boat. I placed her ashes along the roots of a beautiful willow tree that leans over the water’s edge, and then continued pouring the ashes to make a path along the rocks and shore of the lake until I made 2 circles of her ashes: full circle for her trip to China as a young girl for her education, and now back to China, and full circle for her birth and then her death in America. It was perfect weather. A mild 76 degrees, a lovely breeze, and we actually saw some blue sky and clouds vs. smog.

The lake and the trees were so green and lush. A white butterfly with black markings kept us company for the hour it took to give her family messages, to scatter her ashes and to reflect. Perhaps you might know that white butterflies are symbols of the departed spirit of those who have passed. I also, like the butterfly, wore the same two colors: I wore white – the Chinese color of mourning and respect, as well as black – the Western color of mourning and respect. The white and black butterfly flitted and flirted all around us during this time.

Ash To Ash…

As we sat afterwards, a young girl had her picture taken against the willow tree and as she left, tracked some of mom’s ashes as she continued her walk along the lake. Then a dog came and lightly stepped on one circle and then tracked some more of mom to walk along the path of the island. This will keep happening while some ashes will sink into the ground; the ashes along the tree roots will become part of the tree forever.

It was such an honor to do this for my mom, as it was to care for her in her final months and to write her story. And if she can know what is happening, and I believe she can, she is happy and content for how it all turned out – this her story, her life of bitter and sweet. It was all very lovely and quite extraordinary.

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