Thursday, March 10, 2016

Treasure in Heaven

When I was 10, my parents sponsored a Chinese family from Vietnam. A widowed mother with a 16 year old daughter and a 10 year old son.

They lived next door to us for a few years and I was intrigued.

They spoke Cantonese and I didn’t understand a single word.

They ate rice with chopsticks in a sitting/squatting position.

They burned incense and drank hot tea.

They were poor and they were grateful. So grateful to be in America.

Today, I attended the mother’s funeral.

It was different than any funeral I have ever attended in my life for it followed Buddhist traditions and rituals. And I was intrigued because I didn’t understand, and so badly wanted to. So I asked a lot of questions and they were so kind to teach me. Teach me about what they believed.

Before the casket was lowered into the ground, family members burned incense and made a fire using special papers which they carefully placed into a fire pit. I was told that this enabled the dead to take these belongings with the in the afterlife.

A boxful of assorted special papers of a few different colors and something that looked like faux gold bouillon were burned. Most of the “paper” included stacks and stacks and stacks of faux $100 bills.

“Why are they burning money?” my 4 year old whispered.

“It’s not real.” I noted.

“That’s good,” she replied, “because they could use that money.”

They also burned pictures. Pictures of their mother. The burning lasted for a while.

When all box of papers were burned, the family opened a stock pot that contained previously burned ashes. As they slowly poured these ashes over the last of the burning papers, I noticed REAL $100 dollar bills amidst the ashes, somewhat charred, but mostly intact fall freely from the pot and into the fire.

The bills were not a few in number.

My first thought made my eye grow big as saucers. Because this family would not be consider wealthy by any means. Certainly that money could be put to better use than be thrown into the fire.

Then I realized we don't take it with us anyway.

This family’s final offering was laying up for their mother, in the way that they believed, her treasure in heaven.

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