About a year after we moved here, a neighborhood clay pot store went out of business. I stopped by their final sale and picked up some statues for the garden. It felt like such a splurge! We were still saddled with student-loan debt and lingering credit-card debt, and the memories of scraping by month-to-month, hoping we’d have enough for groceries after paying rent and bills, still carried the fresh scent of worry.
But I wanted garden statues. It meant something more than decoration: It meant settling in. It meant we planned to be here long enough to enjoy seeing this clay fish swimming in the lantana, the clay toad at the pond, and the cement Buddha beside the path.
This was over fifteen years ago. Two of the fish, unglazed and unfired, have crumbled. Lizards rest in the shade of their shards on hot summer days. The Buddha has a slow crack traveling up the base of the pedestal. The other fish is cracked in three pieces, and stands with pieces balanced on each other.
I don’t mind: The wearing of time brings me joy. We’ve lived here long enough for statues to crumble.
I’ve wanted a Quan Yin statue. I’ve seen a few in garden centers, but none are right.
One year, I found an ancient one–over 600 years old! It was in an import store, and I could afford it. It cost a lot, but by this time, we’d paid off the credit-card debt, and the memories of month-to-month scrimping had crumbled to dust and blown away. We even had a growing savings account. I was tempted. She was beautiful, carved from stone. In places, she shone from hundreds of years of being rubbed by the fingers and thumbs of those who loved her. In some places, the fingers had worn the stone down.
I imagined where I might put her in the garden. Then I imagined where she had been in Bhutan, before she’d been plucked from her home, crated, and carried off to this far away land. I imagined the lines of people who had walked past her, stopping to rub the hem of her stone gown for good luck and blessings. She had a quiet inner smile that brought calm. I thought of seeing that smile each morning.
I thought of her being seen only by me and Jim, the lizards, the birds, maybe my parents on their rare visits, or my sister, once a decade. Maybe, now and then, by a visitor. But we have so few visitors that aren’t feathered, furred, or scaled. Mostly, Jim and I are the only people in the garden.
Would this Quan Yin be happy with us?
I suddenly felt homesick on her account. She deserved to be back in the rainforest, with lines of beloved people walking by. My garden wasn’t her home.
I didn’t buy her. It felt wrong to me. I felt I’d be supporting a trade that had somehow stolen her from where she belonged.
I still haven’t bought a Quan Yin statue, though I look at the garden center now and then. I want one like our Buddha–made in the U. S. out of stained cement. One who will develop her history here, in our garden, and who will know this garden as her home.