Thinking of Others
Dear Family and Friends,
Last week I got a notice from the post office. It said I should call a certain number about a package. Telephones are difficult for me in Japanese, especially with recorded messages. But I braced myself and plunged in. The mechanical voice said to punch in the “suiseki bango”. I had no idea what that was. I could neither find it in my dictionary nor see any characters for it on the notice. So, I tried every number. None worked. I started all over again. I got the same humiliating results. What to do?
My neighbor is a good friend, so I dashed over to ask for help. Unfortunately, she was out. But luckily, I saw a delivery truck down the street. I ran to it and poked my head in. Of course, the driver looked rather startled. What could a frantic foreign woman want? But when I said, “Please help me. What is a “suiseki” number?”, he visibly relaxed. Then in a fatherly way, he took the delivery notice, circled the number, and said, “Here, this is what you want. And after you dial it, this is what will happen . . .” Relief flooded through me. I bowed my gratitude and raced back to make my important call.
Another very meaningful experience happened in Sendai Station. I was heading off on a four-day trip. When I travel, I do not worry about appearance so much as practicality. So, my clothes were very bulky, but comfortable. In the station I noticed a woman standing discretely in a corner. She had several bags neatly piled behind her and was eating a cookie. Where had I seen her before? Suddenly I remembered. She attends the Yomawari Group’s meal service for the homeless.
Later when I was on my trip, I discovered to my dismay that my phone cord did not work. That meant no photos, weather, health, or time. Needless to say, I was rather frantic. But the hotel receptionist immediately lent me theirs. The next day I hesitantly asked if I could borrow it, just for my trip. This time the receptionist seemed to be the manager. With a twinkle in his eyes, he said, “Of course, no problem.” To my amazement, he did not ask for a deposit. He simply trusted.
When I showed up four days later, he had the same somewhat amused twinkle in his eyes. I bowed deeply and said, “Everyday my gratitude to you overflowed.” He smiled again, took the cord, and then turned to help a customer. The matter-of-fact trust he had deeply moved me. Yet, every person I met in Iwate Prefecture had a purity and loveliness that evoked a sense of openness and belief in others. I was one among many.
I traveled in very rural places. That meant many train stations had minimal or no signs. The locals simply knew. One station was so small and unmarked that I thought it was an empty shop. But once again, a lovely man came to my aid. He had Parkinson’s, so he had trouble walking and talking. But even so, with head jerking and eyes rolling, he guided me to the teeny platform, and made sure I got on the only train that passed through. I feel a deep respect and tenderness towards that gentle, caring man even now.
A few days later, when I was back in Morioka, I took a bus to the city museum. We passed the municipal hospital. Coming out of it was an ancient couple, both very stooped over, ever so slowly shuffling to a waiting car. They were holding hands. That alone was very sweet. But then I noticed the man had tubes up his nose. The wife had a backpack. It held the breathing apparatus attached to the tubes. Why not a wheelchair? Proud Japanese farmers will stand on their own to the very end. I thought of the years and many experiences that had woven this precious couple together, bringing them to this very moment. That image was both beautiful and profound.
I returned home filled with the kindness and positive spirit of so many people. I hope I can live that attitude as my daily life resumes.