It was even too twisted for a Stephen King novel. I got the text from my husband and the waves of pain from southern California hit Kunming China like a tsunami. A friend lost his second son in eighteen months.

To make the nightmare even worse,  both deaths were the result of suicide.

The second son,   like his brother, pried open the portal to the next world, slipping through a secret door hoping to find happiness, escaping pain that friends and family could not comprehend…feel.

But leaving behind friends and family with their own pain.

The news made it hard to breathe, like I was doing my morning crunches. Then I thought of my friend and his daughters, realizing that for the rest of their lives, they would be experiencing that deep gut pain, from the moment they got up to the time they went to bed. Every breath excruciating.

Really, God? You added this to my plate? Wasn’t losing one son enough?

Even Job wouldn’t walk in these shoes.

I didn’t know what to do. What do you say when you felt like you said it all the first time a friend experienced unthinkable tragedy?

You say nothing.

Instead, you pray in  a Buddhist temple.

Some might consider me a heretic, especially those who think my faith is floundering since I once blogged about being a nose drops junkie, for what I did.  But at times like this, I’m willing to call on all gods and deities from every belief system. Call them the Avengers or swat team from the spiritual world.

And I knew where to call on them. The Bell Tower at the Golden Temple.

Our school is located on the same hill as the Golden Temple in Kunming. I can hear monks chant as I walk up the mountain to school, their throat singing sounding like a chorus electric toothbrushes.

It’s Feng Huang or Golden Phoenix Hill.

Thanks to having good guanxi with the the guys who operate the cable cars, I got a free ride to the top of Feng Huang Hill.

As I rode the cable car up, I thought about the mythical creature that the hill was named after.

The phoenix has several lives, returning from the ashes stronger each time.

I hoped the two brothers would return stronger in their own way, coming back to give the rest of us courage to move on.


I got off the cable car and made my way thought a series of heavenly gates, each one removing a bit of the burdens I brought with me.  A few raindrops fell as approached the bell tower. I wiped one from my brow thinking even the gods were crying.


The spiral inside the tower was daunting.  But I made it to the top, to a small shrine glowing beneath a huge copper bell.


I nodded at curious onlookers as I placed a crumpled yuan in the donation box. I lit three pink incense sticks, for the brothers, their parents, and their sisters, then and knelt and prayed as I watched their glowing flame turn into  smoke.

I thought about the quote for Lao Tzu, a famous Chinese poet:

The flame that burns twice as bright burns half as long. 

A fresh breeze came through the window, bringing the scent of pine and Cyprus trees with it, and carrying away the heaviness  of the incense.


And hopefully, carrying my prayers back to the flip side.

In memory of Hayden.



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