Death · Family and Friends · music

The Peony (or How Long Is The Path From Death To Birth?)

What wonderful virtue does the moon possess that allows it to rise each evening? Whether in Nairobi or Shenzhen, I see the same moon in the sky, just as I see the same sun rise and set in either city. If they are not the same, how many thousands of suns and moons trace a path from birth to death!

Chinese legends talk of the Archer Hou Yi, who shot down eight suns, sparing one to circle the sky. In their poems, the Tang poets Li Bai and Li Shangyin describe moons that link them with their families far away.

Once, long ago, I visited my father in a Nairobi hospital. The car he had been driving had swerved into a tree or another car. A passenger was dead, and Barack Obama Sr. had crushed several bones. My proud father lay broken on the hospital bed, his voice a ghostly baritone. I then realized hospitals are the transit stations of limbo, placed between life and death. Unlike a limbo’s nebulous constructs, they bleed with details: concrete hallways in drab colors, smells of formaldehyde and alcohol, the cries of patients and doctors’ barked orders. They tend to remind us of our mortality. One exits a hospital dead or as a specially challenged waif, reborn but self-censored. My father left the hospital, older and less resplendent, with a leg that would never fully heal.

It was under the moon that I first touched a girl. Actually, she tickled me and we rolled around on the grass. That night the pearl melted through the blue slate, and at that moment there was no past or future. It was like finding oneself lying on one’s back in a vast meadow and peering at a blade of grass, astonished at its beauty. The moon illuminates hopes and dreams, and perhaps this is the virtue that allows it to rise anew each day. With it, memories of my vanquished father and the girl live on, to bloom as I bloom, to vanish when I vanish.

I have a curious tendency to inflate the enjoyment of reminiscences. I don’t consciously exaggerate those moments, but they hold an inexpressible beauty, a scent, taste, or touch whose feeling lingers on the penumbra of my being, like a blooming flower just out of focus. When I reach the journey’s end, I am convinced there will be nothing left of me. What I remember and feel is who I am. The Hindus believe in a soul that is located in the vicinity of one’s heart. In the Bhagavad Gita the soul is described as one ten-thousandth part of the upper portion of the hairpoint in size. (BG 2.17) Were I to have a soul, what possible value could it have without the consciousness that marks who I was and what I saw, touched, heard and felt? At the very least, I am an atheist because I believe a soul must have a memory.


压径复缘沟,  yà;yā jìng fù yuán gōu,

当窗又映楼。  dāng;dàng chuāng yòu yìng lóu。

终销一国破,  zhōng xiāo yī guó pò,

不啻万金求。  bù chì wàn jīn qiú。

鸾凤戏三岛,  luán fèng xì sān dǎo,

神仙居十洲。  shén xiān jū shí zhōu。

应怜萱草淡,  yīng;yìng lián  xuān cǎo dàn,

却得号忘忧。  què dé;děi;de hào wàng yōu;yǒu。


By the ditch’s edge, crowding the path, grow flowers,

Even by the windows, and under glittering towers.

As this broken country your petals enfold

What need is there to seek thousands of pieces of gold?

The Phoenix and the Luan gambol on the fabled isles

In ten lands, the Celestial spirits have their domiciles.

You should command the forget-me-knots be few

So that memories may fade and our worries too



Musical Interlude
: Beethoven, Piano Sonata Op. 57 ‘Appassionata’ (Pianist: Mark Obama Ndesandjo)

An essay on destiny marked by strange accents, weird rhythms, an aura of sublimity, extreme dynamic contracts, and a seething impatience with time.

4 thoughts on “The Peony (or How Long Is The Path From Death To Birth?)

  1. Pardon if my response to your posts is usually silence. I do read and enjoy them. It is only that your thoughts and feelings are so complex I cannot put into words the effect they have on me so am unable to format a reply. Rather like the feeling one has while listening to music.


  2. Love and math are basically the only things we do in the moment. Everything else is thinking about the future or past. We rarely are in the now. Nice article btw. I like!


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