Lace on stone

When I was young girl in China – former life – one of my favourite pastimes was listening to the stories of my grandmother. Most enjoyable were those heard on summer evenings while sitting in a rocking chair in our courtyard, gazing at the boundless sky of violet-black, and revelling in the cool, caressing breeze. It seemed that every heavenly body had a story; each one arousing the fancy of my heart. The following is one of the stories that remains poignantly in memory.

It was the evening of the full Moon. We could see the Moon clearly. Through a veil of white lace enshrouding ice-grey stone, the features on its surface appeared distinct, images with the shapes of dreams.

The Chinese believe that there is a temple on the Moon, surrounded by many trees, and that a beautiful woman named Chang’e lives there. She has a rabbit with her. It is cold on the Moon. Chang’e is very lonely. My grandmother asked, ’Do you know why she is there?’ Then she told me this story.

A long time ago, only good reigned in the world. Everyone was happy and carefree. Even so, Chang’e lived a more privileged life than most. Her husband was a supreme commander-in-chief on Earth, and he loved Chang’e very much. Since his duties took him far and wide, and his sense of responsibility was great, he was often away from Chang’e. Every time he returned home, because Chang’e was so exceptionally inquisitive, there were many questions awaiting him. Some were simple; some, complicated. These questions sometimes annoyed Chang’e’s husband. He knew that if he answered the first one, he would have to continue to answer many more, seemingly without end. To simplify matters, he just refrained from telling Chang’e anything about his deeds in distant places. He was not being cruel, he felt, but practical.

One day, Chang’e’s husband brought home two tightly covered ceramic jars. He instructed her never to meddle with these jars in any way. When he was summoned away again on urgent business, though, leaving the jars unguarded, the temptation became too much for Chang’e to bear. Succumbing to her obstinate curiosity, she opened one of the jars. At once, all manner of evil sprang forth from the jar. There was disease, greed, cruelty, hatred…you name it. In disobeying her husband’s wish, Chang’e had filled the world forever with menace. With the second jar still unexamined, however, Chang’e’s prying nature was yet unfulfilled; so she opened that one, too. Inside, she found what appeared to be a medicine. She thought that it must be special. Maybe it would make her more beautiful, and keep her young. Without hesitation, she tasted it. Immediately, she felt light, and she began to fly; higher and higher, farther and farther, away from the Earth she ascended. She was afraid, but she could not stop. Finally, she arrived at the Moon. She lives there still, and probably always will. Yes, she remains young and pretty, but awfully lonely and terribly cold.

Chang’e was just anxious to learn, I thought back then. How could that be a bad thing? If she had not been so obsessed with identification, though, and more entranced by mystery, she could have lived out her life with her husband, however stodgy he may have been, and the world would not be the soul-destroying place it is today.

Since I have grown up, I have come to realise that there is no beautiful but lonely Chang’e on the Moon. The lessons which her story taught me still linger with me. Everyone requires privacy; everyone has secrets. Concealment and invention are as important as honesty and reality. Explore through observation, rather than by questioning. Your senses and your feelings will never lie; the answers you get from others are seldom the whole truth, if the truth at all.

Actually, I like the Moon precisely as she appears to me in obscurity – filigree of silver-white on stone of icy-grey.