During my visit to Boston, Violet and I visited this special exhibit at the Peabody Essex Museum called the Yin Yu Tang ancient Chinese house. According to the exhibit, this house belonged to a merchant and is typical of the mountain style. It was quite old and the family had been living in it for 200 years. But it had become quite a chore to keep it up, and the family was burdened by their obligation to their parents, grandparents, and other ancestors who had worked to maintain the house in the past.

The family caught a lucky break in 2002, when their family house was moved from china to Salem. The exhibit has a movie room where we watched a DVD on the deconstruction and subsequent reconstruction of this structure, and I found the film surprisingly moving. One of the most emotional moments was when the workers, about to take apart beams to pack and send to America, raised a ceremonial hammer and asked permission from the ancestors to move the house. The DVD showed the family and the workers taking care to honor the home’s heritage as they set about changing it.

In order for the house to survive, the family had to tear it up and rebuild it, an activity that feels a lot like what I’m doing right now with my psyche.

moving the house

With this image of the current generation asking their ancestors’ permission to change the house in order for it to survive fresh in my mind, I found myself at my parents’ gravesite only a few days later, telling them about how hard it has become for me to maintain my house and telling them that I must change it in order to survive. Although I was standing on a hillside in rural America, I felt as if I might have been standing on that mountain in China. I did not ask my parents’ permission, but I did tell them that I absolutely had to take action or I would fall into a terrible state. I asked their forgiveness and understanding, promising to not embarrass them or their memories, and with tears rolling down my face, I left the cemetery to try to keep the house strong for my children and for me and Mary Jo in the second half of our lives.