Sorrow looks back; Worry looks around; Faith looks up. – Ralph Waldo Emerson
It seems that every day for the past week has been filled with news and talk about the sickness running rampant through China right now. My wife’s family is nervous, my Chinese friends are worried, and my former students are uncertain what to do. Just as this barnacle encrusted bottle arrived on my beach last week, this sickness had landed in my life.
The long shadow cast by this unknown illness has peppered the newscasts of the world-at-large. There is a long history behind the mistrust of reports being issued. A culture of subterfuge has existed for centuries upon centuries. But now, with social media apps there is a seemingly endless stream of eye-witness accounts popping up and disappearing. Along with the worry and concern, Chinese people have a dark sense of humor in times like this. It is like the military veterans in my family – a sort of gallows humor to bring them hope in the darkness.
There is a steadfastness to the Chinese character. Having weathered incredible hardships in living memory, the people will dig in. I am not talking about political actions or propaganda, but the common folks. They endure, somehow. However what is missing is a faith in a higher power. Although I know several Christians and Buddhists, the vast multitudes have only a vague sense of an afterlife in which some portion of their ancestors’ spirits continue. In traditional beliefs we have two souls: Hun soul – a “cloud soul” – ethereal which leaves the body on death; and a Po soul – “white soul” which remains with the body.
This disaster befalling the Chinese comes at a time of the Lunar New Year when the ancestors are honored at the family meal. Incense is burned, while three cups of tea, three cups of wine are poured three times each before the food. The ancestors’ spirits eat first and for a time the two souls are brought back together – the heavenly and the earthly – and balance is restored. Chinese folk traditions put great faith in ancestral energy and not a higher power. Right now it all is out of balance. Faith can subdue worry and soften sorrow.
These days, I send encouragement to my family and friends. It is all I can do. Positive energy is restorative. Negative worry and fatalistic thinking has taken hold. So for now, I send out my prayers of hope. Have faith that if you do what you must to fight against this scourge: Your two souls will remain intact; Your smile will return; Your family will survive. We all need to have Faith.