With Its Advice
It was late Thursday night. I had just returned from Indy after visiting Jack and Owen. I went to my home office to check my emails and spent some time dealing with an online class that I was teaching. As I finished my work, I heard a noise in the living room, which was strange since no one lives with me, and I was not expecting visitors just prior to midnight.
I went into the living room and heard the sound more clearly, which was a muffled voice. It was not long before I realized that a large brass bowl, which had a glass top holding a potted plant, was talking to me.
It did not take me long to realize that I would have to remove the glass top and the plant to understand the brass bowl, which I did. Now, I could hear the brass bowl quite clearly, even with a slight accent.
The bowl was the kind that you would find in a Chinese market. It would hold a hundred or more pounds of rice, from which a merchant could sell smaller amounts to individual buyers. Intricate Chinese characters decorated the brass bowl. I wanted to know more about this elaborate rice container and sat on the floor in front of it to listen. It reminded me what I had done with the Tibetan chest.
Finally, the brass bowl began to speak again, "How long have you had me?" It took me a few seconds to count the decades. I had had it for about a half century and told the brass bowl that information. As I am writing this essay, I am embarrassed about my answer. The brass bowl has been in my various homes all that time. It clearly knew.
Then I asked the obvious question about why it had waited all this time to speak to me. The retort from the bowl came with some distain. "You could not have heard me. You were but a novice in life. It took all those years for you to become fully mature. Now, all the objects scattered around your home decided that you were ready to hear and to talk. The time is right in the twilight years of your life."
Initially, I felt that the brass bowl was talking down to me. Besides, I considered myself smart and engaged in life for most of my life, especially since I went off to college in the same year that Obama was born. Instead of challenging the brass bowl, I deferred without mentioning it since I wanted to know about its history. Therefore, I asked it about its history.
"I'm the product of Chiang Shih, a Chinese artisan of the late 18th century who lived in Lanchow with his family. In front of his house, he had an awning under which he hammered out his brassware and sold his creations to his customers. I did his most important work under that awning—teaching his only son the wisdom of their Chinese ancestors."
I interrupted the brass bowl about the son being taught by his father. The brass bowl continued, "As Chiang would pound out a design upon the brass, he would tell his son of some ancient legend or parable. From early in the morning to late in the evening, Chiang would sit cross-legged upon a woven mat, intently working upon a piece of brassware. All the while, he would instruct his son in the folklore of ancient China with the same determination as he applies to the brass. I feel sorry for children nowadays because they don't have that kind of wonderful educational experience."
I was about to interrupt again, but the brass bowl continued by mentioning Jack and Owen. "When your two grandsons come to your home for a visit, the various objects scattered around the house attract their attention. Owen likes to rub his hand on my shinny surface." I responded that Owen and Jack have a fossil collection, and Owen loves anything that is shiny.
The brass bowl continued his story without commenting about Owen. "If you look closely at the band of pictures at my widest point, you will find a fascinating story about life and death. Chinese characters tell of a fable about a man who feared death so much that he made a tragic choice in his life. This fear-filled man was a servant of a rich warlord who lived just outside Shanghai centuries before. The servant went to the city on an errand early one morning for his master. While wandering and winding his way through the city, he suddenly noticed Death in the midst of the milling crowd.
"The servant, seized with fear, thought that Death had gestured to him in a threatening manner. Fearfully, he quickly returned to the house of his master. The frightened servant told his master that he had just confronted Death in the city. He saddled a horse and fled to Nanking to avoid Death's grasp. As fast as he could ride, he rode off to Nanking, which was two hundred miles from Shanghai.
"The master, disturbed by the story, returned to the crowded streets where Death had last been seen. He found Death and confronted him openly. 'Why did you threaten my servant?' Death denied any threatening gesture whatsoever. Then Death added ironically, 'It was I who was startled by your servant. I had an appointment with your servant this evening in Nanking. I was surprised to find him here in Shanghai, miles away from where he was scheduled to die!'"
The brass bowl's ancient story enthralled me, and I told him so. "Chiang's son was also scared and stunned. Though he was a young child, he saw how fear caused the servant to ride right into the hands of Death. You can well imagine the impact this ancient parable had on the lad. Chiang stopped his hammering, turned to his son, and said, 'Do you hear what the ancients want us to understand about life? Fear cannot do anything to us unless we allow it by running away from it. Fear can kill you.'"
I told the brass bowl that it was a great story or legend, but it continued without a pause, "The story about fear resulting in death was Chiang's favorite of all the fables. This story was also the favorite of his young son. Years later, the son became renowned for saving Lanchow from the terror of the Mongols from the north. When all the others along the Huang River were ready to surrender to barbarians, Chiang's son rallied the local armies with that same story told to him many years before. The Mongols no longer menace that region nor does fear rain down upon them."
I told the brass bowl that his story was quite interesting. However, the brass bowl interrupted me midsentence with what seemed like a cough or clearing its throat. I paused. Several seconds later, the brass bowl continued. "Al, I would wish that you would share that story as I have shared with you."
I promised him that I would. However, the brass bowl added, "I would begin with Jack and Owen. Don't tell them the tale about Death's icy fingers. Nonetheless, tell them to address head on their fears and worries that they have in their lives."
Again, I promised the brass bowl and told it that I would do as he suggested. Then I added that I would write about our conversation and add it to my website so others will get its message also.
Then the brass bowl made that strange sound again like clearing ones voice and paused, then he in a most forceful manner uttered, "Old man, fear cannot do anything positive for us unless we allow it to do so by running away from it. Fear is a killer."
After another pause, the brass bowl bid me a goodnight and became silent again.
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