Celebrating the start of this Lunar New Year with close friends, I discovered something I had intuited for a while – that I was not actually born during the Year of the Dog, as countless take-out Chinese menus had assured me. Their global description of my zodiac sign never quite fit. Having a winter birthday put me on the cusp, and this January, as we welcomed the Year of the Rooster, I finally learned that I myself am a Rooster. I immediately assumed this was good fortune, realizing my Rooster identity at this precise time. I quickly found I was wrong.
According to Chinese astrology, the year that is yours bodes ill – Horses have a hard time in any Year of the Horse, Tigers in any Year of the Tiger, etc. I took the bad-luck news very much to heart, because a couple of women I loved dearly were sick. I sensed in my bones that this Rooster year would be bitter indeed. Some friends challenged my fatalism and encouraged me to stay upbeat, whatever that might mean when things are plainly not going well.
My aunt – who after training as Catholic spiritual director decided to get ordained as a Taoist priest – insisted that in Chinese mythology, “the rooster is also a phoenix. Don’t forget that!” she told me. The phoenix does inevitably rise, but only after everything has burned down to ash. Beginning in spring, my husband Ben and I had three successive deaths in our family in three months. These were special people with whom we spent our holidays: Memorial Day, Christmas and Easter, and New Year’s – that New Year we mark on our Gregorian calendar here in the West.