(First Day of the Year of the Rat)
Each lunar new year for as long as I can remember, I have to go & see two friends.
When I was young, these friends didn’t ask about my school results.
When my lack of mobility kept me from childhood games, I often leant on one of them or sat at their foot while others in the courtyard played.
When I entered my 20s, they didn’t care if I had a boyfriend.
When I got older, they were not bothered that I was unmarried and living with cats.
Over the years as my hair turns grey, their magnificence gains significance even while the panels they were painted on are splintering at the bottom.
This morning as I gushed about this pair of painted temple door gods to my cousin’s lovely wife as she indulged me and graciously took our pictures, a temple visitor’s interest was piqued.
The man took out his cell phone and started photographing my ancient childhood friends. I smiled gratefully.
Running my fingers over the patterns on their robes and the outlines of their accessories, I felt their total acceptance of me.
My relatives are often amused and slightly puzzled by my almost compulsive need to take pictures with these silent sentinels of an old temple, year after year.
Besides honouring the pair that had watched me grow up and now growing old, these yearly pictures with them is perhaps my response to impermanence.
For how could I assume that this temple will always be here, or even if I will get to visit it next lunar new year?
And because temple drawings are usually too massive and too complex to be easily replicated or casually replaced, the temple guardians have also become visual markers of my private journeys, just like two trusty childhood friends who are there for you, regardless of what you have become.
For the first time as the youngsters gathered around me to pose with my oldest childhood friend, I wished that they may also find the silent support and grounding they need in their life’s journeys.