Cai: A lesson from my roommate’s religion

Six a.m. Sunday, I woke up for some reason.

“Morning, roomie,” said my roommate, standing before her mirror, all tidy and dressed up.

It was more refreshing than coffee to see my roommate, who usually wears Case Western Reserve University sweatshirts and flip-flops, in an ironed blouse and flats.

And it turns out she was not the only one. All of a sudden a bunch of girls in fancy dresses and boys in suits were wandering around campus. Fashion revolution in Cleveland? Apparently not.

I soon learned that there was this ritual called “Mass”, for which many Christians dust off their long-forgotten fashion acumen and worship their god. My roommate comes from a very devoted Catholic family, and she has been worshiping her god this way as long as she can remember.

This is intriguing to me, for I never had such a routine as a Buddhist. I don’t have to go to temples weekly. I barely pray. Only the most pious ones like my grandma fast each month and cite scriptures every day, with others mocking them for being stiff. I don’t believe that there would be as many people going to Mass in China, were China to have as many Christians as there are here. I’m sure there are different ways to worship Buddha elsewhere, but the way we do it seems to be in accordance with our ancestors’ belief that as long as you capture the “spirit”, the “form” won’t matter. A well-known example is a tale about a benevolent monk who drank and ate meat and broke all his commandments, but still ended up becoming a god, because his heart was following Buddha and he helped a lot of people.

Seeing my classmates going to mass reminds me of something I heard a lot back home: “Americans throw a party for everything.” Of course, this is not true for all Americans, but is still makes some sense. In my three-week stay here, I have experienced more parties or collective events than in the past year in China.

I suppose there does exist a fondness for “parties”: the social events with foods, drinks and entertainment provided, or, in general, an idea of ritual and ceremony with respect to special dates or occasions. July 4 is for fireworks and national flags; October is when you make autumn decorations and watch scary movies; Masses are where you dress formal and 80s parties are where you wear leggings … Everyone seems to have a consensus of what to do for when and where. Everyone’s willing to throw a party or just carry out whatever form of ritual to watermark their time and ideas, just like how my roomie would drink five cups of coffee to start a day.

Living here, I started to like these rituals. Granted, we shouldn’t be confined by “forms”, but “forms” are where the “spirits” rest. The world is changing fast enough—wouldn’t it be nice if we could have something to attach our emotion to? We could always keep our patriotism, seasonal moods and religious beliefs to ourselves, but wouldn’t we feel a greater sense of  belonging if they were grounded in ritual?  

Substances that used to carry our feelings and hopes, like paper books, like letters, like tickets, are already dying away. We should cherish it while we are not having Halloween parties online.

Maybe I’ll go to the temple next time if I can.