Turtle Tale

Ngoc Son Temple (Turtle Tower) , Image by Nguyen Do from Pixabay
Golden Turtle God Courtesy of Casablanca1911 at Vietnamese Wikipedia, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons

Turtle Tale

Indonesian writer, Norman Erikson Pasaribu’s short story, So What’s Your Name, Sandra? * continues to impact my life.

As a reminder in the last two posts, I wrote, “My identification on so many levels with the main character, Mama Sandra, who is Indonesian, supersedes our cultural differences. We are moms who have lost our sons to suicide while we still live and defy the natural order.”

The author’s portrayal of the raw, radical truths associated with losing a child forces me to revisit the sinkhole in my heart where the extensive pain awakes and prompts the delusional demon in the brain to reach for a lethal injection.   

Simultaneously, the theme of how a bereaved mother keeps her stride while forced to the very edge of grief’s plank is prevalent in Norman’s work. He illustrates sorrow’s underside through the main character’s encounter with a sacred giant turtle, the Hoàn Kiếm turtle or, the Golden Turtle God, on display at Ngoc Son Temple in Hanoi, Vietnam. The landmark stands on a small islet inside Hoan Kiem Lake downtown.

Norman writes, ending his beautiful masterpiece:

Then Mama Sandra was there in that room, face to face again with the giant turtle corpse behind glass. She circled the case a few times, eyes fixed on the gigantic reptile. Wikipedia had told her that the Golden Turtle God had lent a sword to Vietnam’s king at the time. The sword had been used to liberate them from China. According to the legend, the king had returned the sword to the god. Now it lay tucked away in the depths of the lake.

“Can’t see it, but it’s there,” she’d mumbled a few days ago when the tale had sprung to mind, as she stood in the toilet at Kuala Lumpur airport gazing into the mirror.

Now, in the temple, Mama Sandra began crying again. Bewildered, the people around her began to stare. She turned to find the Tiger Beer woman standing beside her, hand in hand with her little boy. The child was dressed in a blue jacket. His cheeks were smudged with chocolate.

“This is my son,” Mama Sandra told the woman in English, pointing to the turtle in the glass case, tears streaming down her face. “This is my son.” She felt the woman would understand somehow. “This is my son, you know.”

Standing next to a mother holding her alive child’s hand, Motherless Mama Sandra takes on the mummified turtle’s identity as her child. Her son. The legend behind the turtle and lake represent a hidden sword in the lake that possessed magical powers to change the country’s fate. Faith, after all, is believing in things you can’t see. Mama Sandra latches onto the turtle legend as a form of faith, helping her brave the fact that she lives defying the natural order.

Norman captures accurately the lynchpin of grief between me and Mama Sandra and, likely, others in these unnatural positions in life. One blog writer, a young widow and mother, that I tremendously admire, once wrote about her deceased husband, “he is nowhere and everywhere.”

I also believe the description of the sacred turtle symbolizes her son–and my son–as well, once a “symbol of independence and longevity.”

Faith journey | grief journey escorts us to places where our sons are EVERYWHERE. Sometimes in the least expected places.  One recent example that happened to me last week occurred not in a sacred temple in front of a sacred turtle in Asia, but in Aisle #15 at the lighting department in Home Depot.

The lyrics from a Moody Blues song I hadn’t heard since before the tragedy wafted between me and the friendly store clerk who examined each bulb and socket on the hunt for a halogen flood light to replace the dead one I showed her in my hand.

 I know you’re out there somewhere

Somewhere, somewhere

I know you’re out there somewhere

Somewhere you can hear my voice

I know I’ll find you somehow

Somehow, somehow

I know I’ll find you somehow

And somehow I’ll return again to you

Inhaling the Home Depot air filled with sawdust, metal and an underlining industrial odor, I had to do everything in my power not to become tearful like Mama Sandra. Before me, my imagination superimposed my son’s face on every halogen flood light bulb that the clerk removed from the package to show me.

I know I’ll find you somehow

And somehow I’ll return again to you

I tried to consciously block out the music. Grateful for my face mask, I pulled it as high as I could as I do quite frequently in public on the occasions when I attempt to cover unrestrained tears.

The store clerk handed me one last flood light unaware, smiling. Whether it matched the dead bulb in my hand or not, I could not bare my faithless eyes to peer too close.

Only in my mind I heard Mama Sandra’s proclamation. “This is my son, you know.”

I inhaled and exhaled through my nose, grabbed the bulb, my son. Wiped the final streaming tear.

“I’ll order one on Amazon. Thank you.”

The clueless clerk smiled another smile. I made a beeline for the front entrance through the crowd, passed the key aisle. In my mind’s eye, I visualized a six-foot turtle god hovering over the key copy kiosk. The turtle god captivated me like a prism of green colors. I found no reason not to put faith in the turtle god. I had a sudden impulse to jump onto the key copy kiosk. Point to the invisible turtle god. Shout, announce to the Home Depot crowd. “This is my son, you know. When he was 18, he made keys at a privately owned hardware store in the neighboring town. He was my son, you know, the one the kindergarten teacher shamed so much because of his lack of fine motor skills that I had to transfer him to another class. At 18, the keys he copied fit every lock that he made them for.”

Instead of words, tears streamed again. Advertisements instead of music echoed through the towering ceiling, soiled with sawdust and alive with wild finches that had escaped the outdoors.

The turtle god vanished.

My son now is everywhere, and he is nowhere. It’s a double edged sword that penetrates things seen and unseen like the dust dancing in the Home depot aisles closest to the windows, visible at sunrise and invisible at sunset.

*Read Norman Erikson Pasaribu’s entire short story, So What Your Name, Sandra?

Faith Muscle

7 thoughts on “Turtle Tale

  1. You slay me with your writing about grief, Stacy. So many phrases – tear at my heart. Your description at Home Depot oozed with tears. As a bereaved mom, I know about those moments you’re describing. Being everywhere and nowhere – that is the tragic conundrum of loss.
    I am very glad you gained so much from Indonesian writer, Norman Erikson Pasaribu’s short story, So What’s Your Name, Sandra? Mama Sandra has become your beacon in the darkness.

  2. Hi Stacy,
    I see a trip to Indonesia in your future (and hopefully mine too) 🙂
    Your son is indeed everywhere you go, as he is in your heart! This made me think of one of my favorite poems by e.e.cummings:
    i carry your heart with me(i carry it in
    my heart)i am never without it(anywhere
    i go you go,my dear;and whatever is done
    by only me is your doing,my darling)
    i fear
    no fate(for you are my fate,my sweet)i want
    no world(for beautiful you are my world,my true)
    and it’s you are whatever a moon has always meant
    and whatever a sun will always sing is you

    here is the deepest secret nobody knows
    (here is the root of the root and the bud of the bud
    and the sky of the sky of a tree called life;which grows
    higher than soul can hope or mind can hide)
    and this is the wonder that’s keeping the stars apart

    i carry your heart(i carry it in my heart)
    Many blessings to you! ♥♥

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