Thoughts On The Mountain Pass To Anxi

Image by KM Cheng, Hong Kong
Image by KM Cheng, Hong Kong

Everyone sees Beauty and the Ugliness that comes into being with it.  Everyone knows Good and the Evil it creates.

High and low.  Hard and easy.  Heavy and light.  Last and first.

The Sage teaches without words.  Sees the duality of the world and knows that the beginning and the ending endlessly follow one another. 

         — Lao Tzu, Tao Te Ching

In China, the beautiful sits right next to the ugly, the pleasant next to the disgusting, the divine next to the profane.  Yin and yang exist side by side in this country.

That is a challenge to someone like me.

My attention tends to focus on those things that I judge to be poor or dirty, ugly or wrong.  My desire has been for all to be “good,” and I’ve invested huge amounts of energy imagining the “bad” could be different, or at least be gone.  This was an unconscious habit, at least until Sunday.

The day started with a phone call home to Carol; there was a distance in her voice far greater than the 7000 miles the telephone transmission had travelled.  I was brooding on the ugly parts of our marriage as we began the 2 1/2 hour drive from Xiamen to Anxi.  I reached for my iPod to be alone in a van full of people.  On a silent inspiration, I keyed the “Luv” play-list to feel closer to my distant wife.

The best discoveries are the ones you don’t expect

Never having travelled to Anxi before, I wasn’t prepared for the majestic beauty of the mountains in that region.  At first the mountains thrust up like great green teeth in the distance, visible behind the dirty, tumble-down houses and the muddy, hard-scrabble fields that vied for my attention.  The road snaked along the valley floor and the traffic did its usual crazy dance, honking and weaving to and fro.

But as the music in my ears softened my heart and stilled my thoughts, the road began a steep, winding climb up a long mountain pass.  The hillside thrust skyward to dizzying heights, the slope bordering on cliff-like angles, yet completely covered with trees and lush green vegetation.  Small brooks tumbled in cascades and waterfalls down the steep mountain sides.  Occasionally, a small shrine or temple with colorful, ornate roof tile decorations shaped like dragons or fish sat serenely by the bustling roadside.

And as we travelled higher and higher, I could focus on the beauty and feel great joy and wonder.  At first, I was merely aware of the negative, without allowing it to diminish the positive.  But as time went on, I realized that both belong together.  They co-exist; you can’t have one without the other.

This gave me a new understanding – I can’t really call it respect – for the undesirable that I see here in China.  In a sense, this country is more honest than mine.  The dirty and the ugly exist in America too, but thanks to zoning laws, real estate prices, and a host of other societal controls, we can separate the rich from the poor, the coveted from the undesirable.  We can concentrate them into the ghettos and the fringes of our communities where we never pass and therefore never need to think about them.

And what of the undesirable in my life?  The perfectionist in me wants it all one way, can’t abide the half-empty part of the glass.  But without the lows there can be no highs; too much good is no good at all.

The exotic sights of the mountains mixed with the familiar songs in my ears that day, and set my heart soaring up the steep hillsides.  Even though we were separated by so great a distance, I held Carol close in my thoughts and prayers throughout the day.

I’ve not told her of my change of heart, and it’s doubtful that she’ll ever read this post.  Still, the warmth had returned to her voice in the next day’s phone call.  Asleep in her bed, did she feel me move closer that day?

The winter of our relationship is once again thawing.  Endless, the cycles of life.

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