Tuesday, May 23, 2006

Staking tomatoes

Bro. Juniper mentioned to me that our visitor, Gordon Hu, had a rather long talk with the abbot, and after that, Bro. Sedwick passed the word, treat our guest as usual, yet please refrain from asking too many questions. I was back to my garden yesterday afternoon, tying some rather vigorous tomato plants to some stakes that I just pounded into the earth, when Gordon Hu appeared, seemingly deep in thought and watching my every move. I greeted him, yet held my tongue as Bro. Sedwick had suggested, and continued to finish tying with twine the last of the tomato plants. Gordon Hu suddenly spoke out, saying, "I hope those are 'real' tomatoes, and not those tiny marble things." I laughed at that, and assured him that I shared his feelings, for these were 'real' tomatoes, 'Brandywine' -- the biggest tomato seeds that I could find. He seemed to smile for a moment, then to my surprise, he began to sob. Not knowing why, I hurriedly ushered him over to a bench that I had constructed from manzanita limbs and branches. Not too comfortable, yet functional. He held his hand up, appearing to both halt any further words from me, and also to gain time for himself to regain his composure. "Tomatoes." The only word he uttered, again and again, until his voice gained strength and the tears dried on his cheeks. Then he told me the most remarkable tale, and I must confess, I spoke not one word for the next hour.

"Five years ago I returned to China to visit my grandfather for the last time, in fact, I spent five days with him before he died. I don't know what he died from, he still lived in rural China, it took a day-long bus ride from Beijing, the only doctor was not even in the village that week, so I never met him, but none of that actually matters. Grandfather's only real concern while I was there, wasn't his illness, but his tomato plants. He had me tending to them for that week, and I now remember what he said when I constructed out of bamboo, stakes to tie the tomato plants upon. He said, with a little help, one can stand tall, grow strong, and bear much fruit, without a little help, one is left on the ground for the insects to devour. I didn't think much about that, that is until the next to the last day, that was when he told me his story. I don't know if you know Chinese history, but when Mao came to power, the world of my grandfather was turned upside down. Then later it was further spun around, so much so that my grandfather was never again the same man. He said that whatever truth and hope that he had, he squeezed into a tiny ball, and then he hid that tiny ball inside himself. And then, forever more, he awoke each day and watched as all those around him lived in lies, in fact, they called lies, truth. And anyone who attempted to right the lies, were removed, 'reeducated' or simply killed. So my grandfather became a great actor, upon arising each morning he would don his mask, and for the entire daylight would live a lie. Then in the darkest moments of night, he would search for that tiny ball inside himself, and would for a moment let truth and hope shine upon his face. And the day my grandfather died, he thanked me, and said that this was the first week since his younger days that he didn't don his mask upon arising. He further told of his youth, when he attended for a short time the Christian missionary school, and it was there that the elderly man, a Mr. Gordon, who always wore a tweed suit, and a fedora hat, even in the heat of summer. Mr. Gordon taught him of Jesus for that short time. And as quick as those days passed by, my grandfather never again met a Christian. Then on his dying bed, he held back the pain for just long enough to say that he also discovered something inside that tiny ball that before he didn't know was there, inside was everything that Mr. Gordon taught him about Jesus, including how to tie a tomato plant to a stake for support."

With that Gordon Hu looked at me and smiled, then concluded with, "I changed my name last year, and I guess you can guess why. And isn't it funny, here I am telling this to you, a Christian ... and me? Before visiting my grandfather I called myself a Confucianist ... today? I don't know."

1 comment:

Moof said...

Thank you so much for sharing this. It was meaningful in ways I can't express.