Reading: Temple of Earth and I 史铁生《我与地坛》
作者： 来源：Hujiang English 2013-06-05 09:56:37.000
In a number of my stories, I’ve referred to an antiquated park: in fact, this is the Temple of Earth Park. Some years ago, before tourism had developed much, it was as desolate and neglected as a wasteland. People seldom gave it a thought。
The Temple of Earth wasn’t far from my home, or perhaps it’s better to say my home wasn’t far from it. All in all, I felt I was related to it by fate。
It had reposed there for four hundred years before my birth, and ever since, when my grandmother was a young woman, she had taken my father to live in Beijing, my family had lived near it: in more than fifty years, my family had moved several times, but always to a place in its vicinity. Each time, we moved closer to it. I often felt this was something foreordained—as if this old park were waiting especially for me: it seemed it had been waiting for four hundred years—through all the tumultuous changes of those centuries。
It had waited for me to be born, and then it had waited for me to be suddenly crippled in both legs during my wildly ambitious youth. In those four hundred years, it had been denuded of the colored glazes on the eaves of its old temple, the glorious vermilion of its gates and walls had faded, the high walls had collapsed, pieces of jade inlaid into the pillars had loosened and scattered, yet old dark green cypress trees surrounding the altar had become more and more serene, and everywhere, weeds and vines flourished with abandon。
It was about the right time for me to come here. When the park was finally ready for me—a man at loose ends—I maneuvered my wheelchair into the park for the first time. The sun—on its ancient, unchanged path—was just growing bigger, and redder. In the still rays of light suffusing the park, it was easy for a person to see the time, and easy to see his own shadow。
Beginning with that afternoon when I happened to go to this park, I’ve never been away from it for long. I understood at once why it was there. As I said in one story, “In a densely populated city, it’s as if God painstakingly arranged for a place as serene as this。”
The first few years after I was crippled, I couldn’t find work: I had no future; all of a sudden, it was almost as though I couldn’t find anything. And so I wheeled myself to the park almost every day: it was another world, one where I could escape this world。
I wrote in one story, “With no place to go, I used to spend the whole day in the park every day: other people went to work; I went to the park. It was an abandoned park. When it was time to go to work or time to go home, people took shortcuts through the park, and it became animated for a while. Afterwards, it was still。”
“In the dazzling golden sunlight, the park’s wall provided shade: I wheeled myself over there, put the back of the wheelchair down, and—either sitting or lying down—I read or thought. I would break off a cypress twig and drive away the insects who didn’t know any better than I did why they had been born in this world。”
“A bee like a tiny piece of mist hung on in midair; an ant was deep in thought, its head wagging and its antennae quivering, and then, all of a sudden, it must have come up with the right answer, for it turned back and scudded off; the ladybug climbed around wearily, stopped to pray for a while, and then, flapping its wings, suddenly soared to the sky; on the tree trunk there was one cicada, as lonely as an empty room; dew rolled around on the leaves of weeds, and then coalesced, weighing the leaves down until they broke into thousands of rays of golden light。”
“The whole park was astir with the sound of weeds, bushes, and trees growing, all shattering ceaselessly。” This was all true: the park was a wasteland, but far from going downhill。
Aside from some buildings that I had no way to enter, aside from the altar that I had no way to reach but could only gaze at from every possible vantage point, I had been under every tree in the park, and my chair’s wheel-prints were left on almost every meter of grass. I had spent time in this park in all seasons, all kinds of weather, and all times of the day。
Sometimes, I stayed only a short time and then went home; sometimes, I stayed until the entire ground was alight with moonbeams. I don’t remember which corners of the park I was in then.
For several hours in a row, I was totally absorbed in thinking about death, and just as patiently, I pondered why I had to be born. This kind of thinking went on for quite a few years until I finally understood: a person’s birth isn’t a question for debate, but is the reality handed to him by God. When God hands us this reality, he has already incidentally assured its end, so death is something one needn’t be anxious to bring about; death is a festival that is sure to befall you.
After thinking this through, I felt greatly relieved: nothing would ever be so frightening again. Let me put it this way: just think, when you get up early and stay up late preparing for an exam, and suddenly it occurs to you that—just ahead—a long vacation is waiting for you, don’t you feel a little better? And aren’t you happy and grateful for this arrangement?
All that’s left is the question of how to live, but this is not something you can think through in an instant, not something that you can solve once and for all: you have to think about it your whole life, however long that is. It’s a demon or a lover who is your lifelong companion。
And so, for fifteen years, I had to go to this old park, go under the old trees or next to the neglected weeds or beside the dilapidated walls, sit in silence or think blankly, break through the feelings of chaotic disarray that were all around me, and peep at my soul. In fifteen years, people who didn’t understand this old park had wantonly altered some of its design and structure. Fortunately, there were some things that no one could change about it。
For example, when the setting sun moves to the spot inside the stone arch of the altar, its rays spread across the ground and each rough spot on the ground is resplendent in the sunshine; or at the loneliest time in the park, a flock of swallows comes out and sings, their desolate song filling the space between heaven and earth; or the footprints children make in the snow in the wintertime, always leading people to wonder who they are, what they are doing there, and where they are going;
For example, the dark old cypresses: when you’re feeling melancholy, they are standing there sedately, and when you’re feeling happy, they are still standing there sedately—they’ve stood there since before you were born and will go on standing there until you are no longer in this world;
Or a sudden rainstorm in the park touches off a pure green and muddy earth scent, giving rise to memories of countless summer occurrences; or the autumn wind suddenly arrives, and there is an early frost, and falling leaves or tottering singing and dancing or calm and quiet sleep: the park is pervaded with an atmosphere of tranquility and a little bitterness。
Atmosphere is the most difficult thing to explain. My words can’t convey this atmosphere; you have to be there and smell it for yourself. It’s hard to remember, too: only when you smell it again will it bring back all the feelings connected with it. And so I must often go back to this park。