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Sunday, July 31, 2011

Spirit House

I’ve had some tests this week and bad news about my health. I have been aware of living on borrowed time since a heart bypass 14 years ago and though I am still hoping that the marvels of medical science can improve my quality of living and life expectancy, I anticipate the bad genes I’ve inherited will be winning out sooner than later.

We found an idyllic spot for a summer house that we built years ago and it’s a place where we have had many memorials for our friends, and relatives. It started with the weeping willow tree for my dearly loved older sister who died tragically at 19 – it's seen a little left of centre in the sunset picture. Other commemorative trees, flowering bushes, and perennial plants have followed, remembrances for close family and dear friends. I’m beginning to think of what I would like as a memorial for when my time comes.

When we visited Indonesia in 1992, we spent a few weeks in Ubud, the cultural centre of the island of Bali. Most Indonesians are now Muslims but when they were conquering the islands centuries ago, many of the Hindu population fled to Bali. The Balinese still practice that religion in their daily lives and in their own way in many small thoughtful things they do. We stayed in a little cottage in the middle of a rice paddy where we had to walk over simple wooden interconnecting boardwalks to reach other buildings. Every morning when we woke and ventured out onto our wide veranda there was a gift laid there for us - a freshly picked flower, or a small piece of fruit in an artistically interwoven leaf....

In Ubud there were frequent parades of women dressed in their best, carrying decorated trays of fruit and flowers balanced on their heads. They walked to the temple in a long line and left their offerings in thanks for the bountiful gifts from their Gods. They had other rituals, simple lovely things they did and the one I remember most was that many families had a miniature ‘spirit’ house on a post in the corner of their garden. This was where the spirits of their ancestors lived and they seemed to visit the house on occasion to commune or leave small offerings of a pretty pebble, or maybe a crust of bread so a bird would visit….

Their ancestors were a presence in their daily lives, a reminder of their own mortality and probably a comforting assurance their own spirits would not be forgotten when they died. In our popular American culture there is no tradition of respect for elders and too often youth and good looks are held up as models to be valued. I think that needs changing and an aging population will help. I'll do my bit by asking that a spirit house be my memorial. Rie

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