A-Ma’s Light

I’m an American Caucasian woman who married into a Cantonese family. My husband’s relatives are from Hong Kong and some of them reside here in the states. The first time I went to the family home I was asked to go to the ancestral shrine and give incense. I was very confused and didn’t understand the customs, the symbol of my action, or if it was even proper to do so without an understanding of my gift. But, I did as was offered… and all of my husband’s family hugged and encouraged me after having done so.This has been the catalyst for my deep desire to embrace and integrate with the customs of my new chosen family. Seeing the light in their eyes as they listen to me attempt Cantonese at the dinner table, spending time in the kitchen learning to cook traditional Buddhist vegetarian festival dishes with my mother-in-law… and best of all, practicing my Cantonese with my new grandma, A-Ma.A-Ma lost her husband last Christmas to Alzheimer’s. Grandpa was an amazing individual and a kind father/grandparent. He had spent countless hours with the grandchildren on his knee teaching them important proverbs and Buddhist doctrine through parables. My husband speaks of A-Yue (grandpa) almost daily.We have pledged to be there for grandma as much as possible (even though she lives several hundred miles away)… we travel at least once a month to go with her to A-Yue’s grave and give incense there… and all three of us hold each other and talk lovingly of Grandpa… I can barely understand Grandma… she doesn’t speak very much English. She can understand me, but I can’t have personal conversations with her without the aid of an interpreter. Recently, she came to visit us at our home! Probably the only time this will happen. She was delighted to see that we had put up some of A-Yue’s calligraphy in our own ancestral altar… and we keep pictures of them on our walls.Later in the visit, I had some personal time with A-Ma… but we were at a loss because we couldn’t communicate well. I had an “a-ha!” moment and went to my bookshelf for some Chinese flashcards. A-Ma’s eyes lit up… and we happily practiced my Cantonese together for about a half hour. I would show the card, she would say the words… and I would repeat. It is the longest time we’ve spent in conversation since we’ve met each other 3 years ago. I don’t know if this is any act of kindness on my part… I simply want to know and be loved by the people who raised such a fine person (my hubby)… and if I can bring his grandmother any comforts, I will do anything in my power to do so. I respect and love his parents and grandparents as my own… and I will continue to learn the language and customs of the family. I have benefited so much from their generosity… being able to have a conversation at the dinner table with them is the least I could possibly do.

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