Text: Well, ever since my mom’s brother suddenly died at the age of 62– two years ago, I think this proverb has continued to provide my mom with a sense of comfort and release. “All in life is a dream walking, and all in death is a going home.” She passes this on to anyone in need of feeling at peace with recent tragedies or deaths. I think that for her, it’s a reminder to feel grateful for the joyful parts of life and that…when death comes, one part has fulfilled their purpose.
Context: K is twenty-one years old and of Chinese, Japanese, and Jewish descent. She was raised in San Francisco, California. Her maternal grandparents are Asian immigrants whose culture she was raised with.
Analysis: K’s mother told her the quote above is a Chinese proverb. K would frequently hear proverbs from her mother while growing up, typically used and repeated as little bits of advice or reminders throughout a day. In Chinese culture it’s considered a sign of a good education to include proverbs in your writing or advice to others. Proverbs speak on a range of topics– often moral, like patience or kindness to strangers. They intend to provide wisdom to its listeners, and are meant to be respected by both the speaker and the listener even if not always successfully followed. Many proverbs are accredited to Confucius or Lao Tzu (although some are miscredited), but many don’t have distinctive roots with one speaker or author. The majority of proverbs were passed down in oral traditions among the peasant class in China, and were not written down until years, sometimes hundreds of years after their inception. Many proverbs still haven’t been translated to English. This makes sense why there isn’t much available on the proverb above other than the quote itself. However, its ruminations on the meaning of life, death, and dreams are not uncommon topics for proverbs. It’s also interesting to note that traditional Chinese medicine believes that one’s dreams are directly related to their physical health, hence the proverb’s association with dream and “life” or the living, bodily world.