My maternal grandfather passed away when I was one year old, and at my grandmother’s house, there is a Buddhist altar where my grandfather’s spirit and memories are honoured. Before each meal, a candle is burned, the meal is offered in a small portion and the family members burn an incense as a way to greet my grandfather.
When I was little, since it was shortly after my grandfather’s passing, this daily ritual was very present in the family’s life, and my grandmother in particular spent a long time in front of the altar offering a prayer once in the morning and once in the evening. She also used to keep the candle lit whenever she was inside the house.
One day, when I was probably about three years old, I was visiting my grandmother’s house with my mother, and as usual, I was roaming around the house by myself while the adults chatted in the dining room. I came to the Buddhist altar and sat in front of it. There was no altar at my family’s tiny half-dilapidated apartment, so I was very intrigued.
As I carefully observed the altar from top to bottom, my eyes settled on the yellow candle flame. I was immediately fascinated by its brightness and the way it gently swayed in the air. I had never seen a fire from this close in my life. I didn’t even know the concept of a fire at that age.
“What is that?” I wondered. “Why is it moving like that?”
After a while, I slowly moved close to the flame to have a better look. Then, I had a great idea.
“How does it feel if I touch it?”
No sooner than I had thought that, I poked my finger into the flame. To my surprise, my finger didn’t really touch anything but went through the flame, followed by a sharp pain.
I must have cried in a loud voice. Adults came running from the dining room, and as soon as they saw what had happened, they put my finger in the running water and covered it with a bandage.
“You silly girl,” said my mother after the incident was over. “Nobody puts her finger in the fire. It’s hot and dangerous!”
Sure enough, I have never spontaneously poked my finger into any fire every since. My grandmother also started to put out the candle after burning the incense whenever I was around.