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Book: The Moon In the Water, Reflections on an Aging Parent

Book: The Moon In the Water, Reflections on an Aging Parent
By Kathy J. Phillips
Reviewed by Brian Schell
Vanderbilt University Press, 140 Pages, ISBN 978-0-8265-1586-5
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Yesterday, we talked about Kwan Yin, the Bodhisattva of Compassion. I mentioned that there was a vast assortment of artwork based on her; one style of painting involves Kwan Yin sitting on some shore watching the moon in the water. Why is she looking at the water? What is she thinking about? That’s for you to decide. Sometimes she is sitting on the bank of a river, sometimes she’s on a jutting outcrop of rock over a stormy sea, sometimes the moon is all but hidden behind clouds or trees. But the same theme runs throughout many different paintings, drawings, and wood block prints.

This book is a collection of vignettes about the author and her aging father who sells his house to come live with her in Hawaii. As the book progresses, the father gets worse and worse until the inevitable end. Some of the stories are funny, some are sad, some are very poignant. There’s a real struggle going on, but the author seems to have limitless patience in dealing with her father, something she credits to Quan Yin (the spelling used in this book). Each of the vignettes is somehow tied in with an image of Quan Yin and a Moon in the Water image. Some of the stories have a reproduction of the original picture, but many do not.

The Good:

The author takes a difficult, heart-rending situation and manages to imbue it with spirituality and compassion throughout. She sees Quan Yin in herself, she sees Quan Yin in the nurse, in the pharmacist, in the neighbors, strangers on the street, and anyone else who compassionately helps her father in his unwinnable struggle. She finds solace in Quan Yin, and maybe the reader will find solace in knowing others have been in the same situation. If you aren’t dealing with an aging parent yet, this book may help you know what kind of things to expect. If you are dealing with this situation right now, it might be comforting to know you are not alone. If you’ve been through it, you’ll see a lot here that rings familiar.

The Bad:

The pictures are reproductions of Quan Yin’s Moon in the Water imagery, but they are all in black and white, and the reproduction is not well done. Some of the pictures are little more than hand-drawn images by the author, and others are too-light scans of wood block prints. The book would have been better (although more expensive) with full-color reproductions, or perhaps with no pictures at all. In addition, some of the vignettes really don’t have any connection to the specific Quan Yin image shown or descrribed in that story’s opening. Some of the vignettes feel like the Quan Yin stuff was just tacked on for consistency.

Dealing with a parent who is degenerating is taxing, both physically and emotionally. Compassion and patience can be hard commodities to find at times. Quan Yin is the very embodiment of compassion, and she fits in well with the struggle depicted here. If you are dealing with an aging, failing, parent and are looking for something to help you through the emotional roller-coaster, this might be the book for you. I wouldn’t really recommend this one ‚Äújust for fun,‚Äù but if you are in a situation similar to the author’s or know that you will be someday, it’s worth picking up.

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