By Qin Sun Stubis
(originally published in The Santa Monica Star)
Take a moment and think about the lotus. Most of us conjure up an image of pastel blossoms over a green pond, pale white, pink, or yellow pointy flower petals resting delicately on top of mirror-like water. Praised as the gentlest and purest of flowers, lotus blossoms have become the symbol of serenity in Buddhism and Chinese culture.
But few outside of Asia know that the Lotus hides another symbolic, as well as culinary, treasure below the water’s surface, deep in the mud where no one would think to look for it–its remarkable root.
Those who have never frequented Eastern markets have probably never seen a lotus root. Those who have, know that even after you wash off the mud, boil, and slice it, the pieces stay attached by some almost-invisible silky threads inside. Hence, the Chinese saying 藕断丝连 (ou duan si lian), meaning that you can cut a lotus into parts, but you cannot separate them. This ancient expression is often used to describe the strong, persistent family ties that connect people long after they have been separated by distance, disputes,
Chinese culture emphasizes the importance of relationships, especially family connections, and their binding effects long after the interactions are over. Like a lotus root, we cannot really let go of family relationships even if we live far away and don’t see the other members for years. In a way, it’s not up to us to sever relationships, for the memories of the past have already served as mysterious threads stringing us together with those to whom we are related. Like lotus roots, close relationships refuse to let go even after being cut off.
A few weeks back, I was surprised to receive an email from my sister Ping in China. She has severe macular degeneration and seldom writes. I usually call her every few weeks, but lately I have not been diligent about phoning. Worse still, with my busy schedule I didn’t feel the time passing.
When I read Ping’s first line, “How I have missed you, my dear little sister!” feelings of guilt flooded over me. I imagined her fumbling at the keyboard as she typed. Ping was obviously feeling melancholy and her heavy words grabbed my heart as she expressed feelings of emptiness at not having me there.
She told me how she envied other sisters she saw walking in pairs to the theater or dinner, jealous of their closeness and laughter. Although we keep in touch, our few minutes on the phone once a month are over before we can really explore any important topics, and the all-too-rare one-week visit following a long separation is never enough to fill in the missing years.
All of sudden, I realized that my relationship with Ping has been in a sort of state of suspended animation for the past 20 years. Much of our sisterhood has been hanging by the threads of old memories we shared. Luckily, we have those sweet old times that have bound us together for life. The day she wrote to me I realized this, picked up the phone, and called her.
We talked until we were happy and satisfied, and Ping no longer felt jealous of other sisters. I swore to myself that I wouldn’t let so many days go by without giving her a ring, and would visit her in Shanghai more often if the future allowed.
During this new year, don’t forget to reconnect with those who have crossed your life’s path at some memorable point, whether it is a long-forgotten friend or a relative from whom you’ve grown apart. They are still bound to you by the threads of the past.
Remember, the past doesn’t disappear. It is in you all the time, just like the silky threads inside a lotus root, which sometimes become more visible after being cut.
Thanks for reading my column. You can reach me at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Qin Stubis is a regular columnist for The Santa Monica Star. She lives in Bethesda, MD.