Some time in the 7th century BC, Jie Zhi-tui was a modest sage in the court of Duke Wen of Jin (aka Chong-er), softspoken, unassuming, and easily overlooked. His counsel was taken for granted until he retired to the forest to care for his aging mother. Only then, the Duke realized how much he missed Jie’s wisdom, so he did what Dukes usually do, seeking to gain what he wanted by an overwhelming show of force. He ordered the forest to be set afire to drive Jie out from wherever he was hiding. But by an unexpected twist of fate (how could he possibly have foreseen this?) Jie Zhi-tui and his mother both perished in the fire.
For hundreds of years, The People commemorated Jie by not lighting fires for a full month in the dead of winter. But this was a hardship, especially for aging dowagers. So the Emperor, in his divine wisdom, decreed that the not lighting of fires shall be prohibited, except for a three-day holiday in Jie’s honor.
Today, Qing ming jie is a national holiday in China and a cultural holiday for overseas Chinese. It’s a time to remember the wise people in your life, parents, grandparents, mentors and teachers, who are no longer with us.
I’m remembering Mrs. Resnick, my Jr High School guidance counselor who covered for me and got me out of trouble when I was sarcastic to my 9th Grade geometry teacher, and who arranged for me to avoid the Pingry Prep School and accelerate through public high school instead. I’m remembering my Dad who quietly broadened my perspective while allowing me to make my own choices. I’m remembering Shamcher Bryn Beorse, a U.C. Berkeley professor of environmental engineering and a Sufi guru on the side, who caught my eye at a 1979 alternative energy conference and made a friend of me. I’m thinking of Sam Litwin and Nick Fisher, and Debbie Rogow, living friends who lent me their wisdom at crucial moments in my life.