An old Buddhist monk once told me: flowing within your hands is the blood of your father and mother, their fathers and their mothers, and their fathers and their mothers before them; therefore, the palm is a time map of that rhizomatic network of connections.
The human skin is but a flawed membrane; cracks, chips, scars and unwanted defects weave this malleable vellum. Mountains and rivers are revealed in the field of blemishes and between the folds of the skin. As the imperfect hands touch the milky bowl, gaps and voids take shapes between the spaces of inadequacy. Yet, these misconnected fissures are not empty, for flowing within are sweat and blood, labor and love. What give life and what nourish is not the content within the bowl, but the touch of the hands that offer: the hands that cradle: the hands that feed.
But how can I calculate the volume between the creases of the skin, count how much sweat spilled, measure how much love was given to me? How can I quantify the unquantifiable? I do not have an answer, but in the Vietnamese tradition, there is a famous poem that any child could recite: Công cha như núi Thái Sơn, Nghĩa mẹ như nước trong nguồn chảy ra: A father’s labor likens a high mountain, a mother’s love likens a ceaseless spring.
And so, on November 17th, 1990, I began the daily ritual of cradling a bowl a day, held on to each tenderly until the marks of my hands imprinted on the bowl’s silky surface. Blue ink and sweat seeped like water and poured to cover the surface of the bowl. These marks paint a map of the spaces where nourishment lives. They are marks of the moments of connection between the giver and the receiver to form an ever-changing atlas of labor and love.
It has been 28 years since; more than 10,000 bowls touched.