The semester has come to an end, so I made a visit to the temple to make my thanks. I have been praying throughout the year for your safety abroad, and I've been praying for all of our friends and their relatives. I've been there so often that the aunties selling lotus flowers have stopped marketing them to me. I think they've seen me cross the road from the college too many times. They must think I'm doing miserably hahaha.
The other day, you asked me if I thought we prayed differently in temples than you do in churches. So I sat in the temple for a bit after I'd finished praying to watch everyone else pray. It's a little silly, but sometimes I forget the steps, like how many bows to do, or which direction to start in. My parents were never religious, so going to the temple was a matter of carrying out cultural traditions. But when I had gotten a bit older, my aunt had looked at my earlobes (apparently they were quite fat, like a Buddha's) and she decided to take me under her wing for a bit. My aunt is very religious. The kind of religious that maintains an altar at home and prays every day. She always consults her Buddha before any major event. She says that each Buddha invited into a home differs from the next and has their own personalities. And the Buddhas that sit in the big temples also have their own personalities. But in every case, you must know who you are praying to, and who your god is. One of my ex boyfriends (a buddhist from a different country) said that that wasn't Buddhism. Maybe he was right. Maybe what we practice is more folk-religion than we think. But this is how we pray.
We enter the temple grounds. Taking three joss sticks in hand, line them up neatly at the ends. Do it gently, so they don't snap. When they’ve been burning for long enough, shake away the flames in the breeze. Before entering the main hall, you make three bows. One to the sky gods, one to the gods in the hall and one to the big laughing buddha outside. In the hall, once you've gotten down on your knees to pray, be sincere and honest. You can tell the god anything, you can ask the god for anything, because that is your god. But you must never make any promises. We must never promise anything that we cannot fulfil, because anything owed must eventually paid at a price that we cannot fathom. So never promise anything.
I didn't mean to make it sound so intense. But it was really drilled into me as a child. When I started travelling more with you guys, my aunt also warned me of praying to other gods. She said to be wary of what I say to them, and that even the act of asking for peace is an act of asking for something. Everything that is given is thus owed, and everything owed must eventually be paid. So as before, to be safe, never ask for anything. If I must, I can do the rituals, but when I do, I should let my heart and mind fall silent, passing through their motions like a gentle breeze.
This talk about travelling reminds me. I'm running out of stamps, so you might as well help me convey my answer to ###. I'm also too lazy to mail two letters, and I know you two read my letters aloud like terrible bedtime stories. You're going to laugh at this next bit, I swear, but that idiot asked me if I knew what love was. He said he didn't know! Imagine, him, not knowing anything about love. I must've given him the craziest look of incredulity, because he looked a bit awkward after that. Honestly, I don't even know why he asked me. He was better off asking you. Only someone like that fool would ask someone without any marriage lines about the feeling of falling in love. Not that I put much stock in palm readings, or fortune telling, but its hard to ignore your own culture. The uncle who read my palm said that people without marriage lines are unknowledgeable in the ways of love and romance. Disinterested in marriage, their spouses are thus doomed to a cold and difficult relationship with them. That kind of description spells for a lonely life, even when I have found more solace in my friendships than my romances. And it hits a little too close to home.
Bah! Romance! But I thought about it, for him.
Looking back, I am quite certain that I don't know what love is because I haven't felt it properly yet. I liked my exes quite a lot, but maybe all I ever had for them was platonic love, which died out into anger and then eventually, the nothingness of a stranger. Even at my most passionate, I have always carried out affection like a duty. Every kiss, every embrace, even every tender whisper of affection or meaningful glance has been offered up carefully and solemnly. I've been praised for not being high-maintenance. You know that I've never asked for exorbitant gifts, and I've never complained, even when I felt neglected. I never fought back when I was mistreated. It bothered me for the longest time that even when I had been given every reason to be jealous or upset, I never felt it. But now I realise that I never asked them for anything. I never even asked them for peace. So maybe you know you're in love with someone when you can ask them for things without being afraid of what you may lose in the process. You know you're in love when you're not afraid of the possibility that they might not be yours.
I think that when I finally meet the person that I love, the realisation that I love them will come several years after they have been mine (and I theirs). At that point, I would feel free to tell them anything, and ask them for anything, and maybe time will have eroded the coldness in my heart and taught me to love. If they were mine, maybe marriage lines may begin to form on my palm, and it may reassure them. ( I heard they do that later in life.) Because if I loved someone, I wouldn't want them to marry someone unromantic and coldhearted like me. Hmm. I think, at that point, even if the marriage lines didn't form, it would be okay with me. When the time comes, I'll know I've fallen in love with someone when I have the courage to promise them the rest of my life and love. Even if the price may be too high for me to bear, I'd still make that promise over and over again. For their smile, I could work endlessly. For their time, I could forsake all my ambitions. For their peace of mind, I could carve the longest, best line into my own palm, over and over again until the scar stayed.
But this is how I love. He may love differently. It's fine. Tell him to take his time. There's no rush, and there's nothing wrong if it never happens. He'll be fine.
This is my last stamp. I hope we meet again soon.