Of Ancestors and Angels: Happy Chinese New Year

If we approach new ideas, experiences, and people with a mind open to similarities instead of closed to differences, we may find that there are more similarities than differences and that the differences actually add value to, instead of diminishing, our lives.

When my wife, a Cambodian-Chinese-American, and I were first married, I resisted all of her families’ traditions, mostly out of fear that I would lose my identity if I conformed too much, too soon. This resistance and other such rebellious tendencies is something that has plagued my relationships throughout my entire adult life. For a while, Chinese New Year was no different, an opportunity for me to resist and express my unwanted, unkind opinion.

I would watch her and her family go through elaborate rituals early in the morning, scurrying around, cooking, organizing, putting food and drinks out, lighting incense and candles, saying prayers, etc.

They were doing all of this for their ancestors, it was explained to me. They laid out food and drinks for them. They lit incense and candles for them. They even prayed to and for their ancestors, inviting them in the home to bless it and them, wishing them peace and happiness in the afterlife. All the while, I would grouch around the house, scoffing. I am not proud of this, but it is what happened.

One day, as she does, my wife got tired of my crap. She asked me a few questions in a calm, schoolteacher-like tone intended to get my attention, make me pause and reflect, and reconsider my position (or else).

“Your grandparents, your dad’s parents, are gone, right? You loved them, didn’t you?” she asked.

“You know they are and, yes I loved them very much,” I replied.

She continued, “They loved you a lot as well, correct?”

“They did,” I said.

“They were very good people who tried to live right and who did the best they could for you, I know this,” she continued. “If there is a heaven, do you believe that’s where they are?”

“If there is, yes I do,” I said.

“So why wouldn’t you want to take some time to tell them you love them, to tell them about your life now and to thank them for making it possible? Why wouldn’t you want to take a moment to honor them, to give thanks, and to be grateful?”

Stopped in my tracks, I just said, “Okay.”

Since then, I have tried my best to embrace and find value and meaning in my wife’s cultural traditions. I have tried to look for the positive in them and to see them as an additive, not subtractive value in my life. I look for the good, for the lessons on how to be a better person.

How could being more grateful, more family focused, and more gracious possibly make my life worse? The answer: It hasn’t.

Happy Chinese New Year and thank you to all who have come before us, making our wonderful, bountiful life possible!

 Robert Van Valkenburgh is co-founder of Kogen Dojo where he teaches Taikyoku Budo and Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu

1 Comment

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