Going to Hell in a Handbasket
And the Tibetan Mask

Several weeks ago, I was talking to GiGi, who lives in Buena Vista, GA.  She is concerned that Forrest might have to return to the U. of Chicago Hospital around Christmas time.  Understandably, they are both concerned, especially Forrest.  GiGi has heard me talk about dancing with death many times and how those experiences are not pleasant.  

I then asked whether I could talk to Forrest.  He and I talked for a while about his return to the big city for tests.  I told him about a dozen various tests that I have gone through in the past couple of months.  I also said that I was worried about doing the dance again, this time would be the third time. I told Forrest that I had just had additional blood work done to determine whether I had either Brucella Ab IgG or Brucella Ab IgM.  I had never heard of Brucella, so I looked it up on the Internet.  It is an infection that I could have picked up while in Myanmar from either unpasteurized milk and soft cheese.  That is a stretch for me, since I was in Myanmar nearly two years ago and did not drink milk or eat any cheese.  Besides, when travelling in SE Asia, I picked up food poisoning several times.  When you eat some bad food, it takes only a couple of hours to react, not two years. 

Forrest laughed at blood test and even the name, Brucella.  Then I told him that Brucella has been called various names in the past such as Scottish delight or Maltese fever.  He thought that it was funny that I am Scottish and could have had Scottish delight. 

Forrest thanked me for my concern and gave the phone back to GiGi.  She appreciated my talking with Forrest since he had been rather depressed.  She said that he used a phrase that his father said all the time, "It was like going to hell in a handbasket."  

GiGi said that she never really understood what that phrase meant.  I had to admit that I had no idea of its origins other than it meant when things go from bad to worse.  Hence, going to hell in a handbasket related to one's demise due to immediate circumstances.

I told GiGi that I would google it and did.  What I found was that there is no universally accepted etymology for that phrase.  However, many scholars think that it developed during the time that the guillotine was used.  The idea being that the head would drop into a basket after the guillotine severed the head from the body.  Hence, the criminal's head was on its way to hell.  I also found a citation that someone spoke of "going to hell in a wheelbarrow."  Interestingly, at St. Mary's Church in Fairford, Gloucestershire, England, there is a stained glass window called the Great West Window.

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The Great West Window

If you were to look at the bottom of the second row of windows on the right, you would find a blue devil pushing a woman in a wheelbarrow to hell.

Description: Part of the great west window showing the last judgement in St Marys church in the Cotswold town of Fairford, Gloucestershire UK Stock Photo

The blue devil and the woman in the wheelbarrow

I told GiGi that sometime we need to journey to England and see the blue devil at work.  However, in the meantime, I asked her to call if and when they needed to come to the U. of Chicago Hospital.  We wished each other well and said good-bye.  Nonetheless, it was not a half minute before one of my Tibetan masks started to talk to me. 

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"I couldn't help hearing you talking about a handbasket, wheelbarrow, and death.  Here I am on the wall having been decorated by you for Christmas.  Sometimes, you humans are a bit too much."

I apologized to the mask and expressed that I did not mean anything divisive.  I just thought that the Christmas bow would add something festive.  Besides, I had provided the mask a khata of white silk years ago.  The khatas are given in Tibet as signs of respect.  The Christmas red bow is just an additional increment for the mask.   

The Tibetan mask's quick retort was, "What do you know about masks like me.  You have another one in what you call the Zhðngguó Fáng, which means, in your language, the China Room.

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I responded that I had been to Tibet twice and had visited the Tibetan refugee center in Dharamsala, India.  I added that I care a great deal for the Tibetan people.

Finally, the mask relented and calmed down a bit as he went on about himself.  "I am Mahakala, which in your language means great time.  I have three eyes, which means that I understand the three bodies of Buddhism.  The five skulls are for the five poisons: pride, desire, ignorance, anger, and jealously, which have been transformed into the five wisdoms: absolute truth, wisdom, equality, discernment, and all-accomplishing wisdom.    I am a protector of all creation including all sentient beings like you, Forrest, and GiGi.

"All Tibetan Buddhists have a mask like me near the front door of their homes.  It is there to protect them from illness and disease.  Forrest will be fine.  In the meantime, Christmas will be arriving in ten days.  Then would you remove the red and white bow tie from me?  It seems silly."

I promised him that I would after Christmas.

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Visit the Darkest Before Dawn page to read more about this topic.

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Visit the Dancing with Death page to read more about this topic.

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Visit the Talking with Objects page to read more about this topic.

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Visit the Best and Worst of Times page to read more about this topic.