So I finally started reading The Bible. When God made man and placed him in the garden of Eden to tend and watch over it, He issued the man this warning: “You may freely eat the fruit of every tree in the garden—except the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. If you eat its fruit, you are sure to die.” We all know that later the serpent convinced the woman to eat the forbidden fruit, and the woman gave the fruit to the man to eat as well, and the man and woman knew shame as soon as they ate the fruit. For this transgression all three guilty parties were punished specifically for their part: they are doomed to behave a certain way because of their original sin against God. Not only that, they were banished from the garden of Eden because God became worried:
“Look, the human beings have become like us, knowing both good and evil. What if they reach out, take fruit from the tree of life, and eat? Then they will live forever!”
So the logical mind can’t help but presume the following to be true:
Knowing good and evil is godlike
God doesn’t want us to live forever
God doesn’t want us to know good and evil
God certainly doesn’t want us to know good and evil AND live forever, because then we will be gods. God doesn't want us to be gods.
The only difference between God and us is that God lives forever, and we don’t
And the next logical step for the reasoning mind is to ask why.
You know how our children sometimes challenge us by asking why, and they would not stop until we say, “Because I said so!” Sounds like when we say that, we are acting like a god.
When I was 19, besides Catherine from Rice University, there were also a couple of male missionaries who tried to bring the gospel to me. I listened to their words and read a few pages from the Bible they gave me. Then I asked them questions, and I remember that the burly men couldn’t answer my questions and said that they would get back to me. I honestly wanted to believe them, but I also wanted to test drive the product they were selling, and sadly the drive was a very indecisive one, and I reached no conclusion.
Then came a long period of stern rejection. Somewhere in my long foray into education, a powerful hand steered me away from God. Whenever I heard or saw people expounding or gesticulating, “God is good, God is great!” I changed the channel with contempt and impatience. How gullible some people are! How foolish! I thought to myself. There are no heaven and hell. We are all just going to die.
On March 20, 2019, my mom boarded the plane that took her back to China. I didn’t know that was the last time I was going to see her in person. We had parted ways on sour terms. She was lonely and depressed because I worked too much and wasn't nice to her, and I was fed up with her setting the “wrong” example for my children. We had scheduled a visit to China in April of 2020, but our flight was canceled because of Covid. In May of 2021 my mom turned 70, and because of Covid I still couldn’t be there to celebrate with her. She had started talking about coming back to visit us in the States again. She missed my 7yo terribly, who spent her toddler years sneaking into my mother’s bed every night. But then in July, she breathed her last breath without saying goodbye to us.
There is a Chinese song called “Matchstick Heaven”, and I first heard it back in 1997 when it first came out. I was still in China then, and I thought the song was beautiful. A few months ago when I was cleaning my attic I heard it again, and I found myself collapsed on the floor, convulsed by a pain that kept gnawing at my heart, tearing it to pieces. A rough translation of some of the lyrics goes like this:
Every time I light the matchstick and see that flickering light
I see the hope and I see the dream
I see mother speaking to me in heaven
She says, my child, be brave and stay strong
Don’t be afraid and don’t panic
For you will no longer be homeless from now on
Let me take your hand and bring you home
And sleep in warmth, among flowers, in heaven, heaven…
My mom died because we know good and evil. And she is in heaven, waiting to take my hand and lead me home.
I don’t know why it hurts so badly every time I think about the fact that I won’t see my mom again in this life. It just does. It puts everything in perspective. We were all so bad at one point that God brought the great flood upon the world to kill everything, and only the chosen were spared of God’s wrath. I was relentless in my own pursuit of “happiness” that I had neglected my children, my husband, and my own mother, and it took my mother’s death to jolt me awake.
She died to take my sins away so I can be good in this life.
In my heart I beg myself to not let this sacrifice go to waste. The knowledge of good and evil are intertwined with the inevitability of death. We can die good, evil, loved, loathed, and everything in between. We can be the chosen ones or condemn ourselves to eternal darkness. I want to hold onto my matchsticks, that faint light that illuminates hopes and dreams, and I want to be brave and stay strong. I want to feel the warmth of my mom’s hand again, and I think that could be in the hands of my children, my husband, my friends, or good-hearted strangers.
Wrap me up in the blanket of kindness and keep me.
The last picture of my mom and my kids taken on the day of her flight back to China on March 20, 2019. My then 4yo baby wasn't happy at all.