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Park in Kumamoto

Park in Kumamoto

I have continued my busy life at a pace that seems sometimes unsustainable. I have caught myself looking back into the past, at times when I thought I was busy, and wishing for only that level of activity. I do need to schedule in some peace.

My Great Uncle Loren died a little over a week ago. I took Saturday to drive to Springfield to be with Great Aunt Nealie for a few hours. It was all I could spare (4 hours of driving plus 4 hours of visiting = day used up), and I hope it did some good. Sunday afternoon I spent with Arno, because we hadn’t seen each other for a week, and it’s so important to keep a relationship strong by being physically in each other’s presence when it can be arranged. (We’ve taken to calling the 60 miles that separate us the “6000 miles,” because sometimes that’s what it feels like.) Monday was a federal holiday, so I went out to see Grandma Trulove in the town of Sandy. Thankfully, she’s only an hour away in good traffic. I have a standing date to spend federal holidays with Grandma. At 92 years old, she’s earned my time.

Tara’s been working her athlete’s butt off every night, getting ready for a Choreographer’s Showcase this weekend, plus getting ready for the big Spring performance, Coppelia, that began rehearsals and meetings this week. All week long, I was working extra hours (don’t tell anyone: I work for the government and it’s not allowed), trying to get my bean count up. Numbers, numbers, numbers. It’s all our lives revolve around there. Then after work, I made the commitment to stay awake till my kid got home from ballet practice, make sure she got a healthy dinner into her, then gently push her toward homework (by this time it’s 9 pm, which is typically her bedtime, but I am forced to make an exception this week) before stumbling into my own preparations for sleep.

The funeral was this Saturday, only Arno had stayed the night and (as a result of the tremendous pressures at his own job because they have been working toward an important deadline) around 3 am got the worst migraine headache I have ever witnessed in a person – vomiting for hours. Wow. Awful. So I missed the funeral to take care of him. He took a nap at one point and I was able to begin page design on my Japan photobook. I am going to use the photo above for the cover. I sent my girlie out the door at 9:30am, and she didn’t get home till 9pm. What a trooper. The good news is, I had time to make a dessert to contribute to the ballet studio open house, and attend the Choreographer’s Showcase  last night.

But I still have things to do with Aunt Nealie (lots of VA paperwork I can help her submit), and I still have family members in Springfield I’d like to meet up with. So, I will take today and go down to Spring field a day late, and do what I can. I hope to get home in time to make a healthy dinner for my daughter, check in to see how much studying for finals she managed to do on her one day’s rest from school and ballet, and find 5 minutes of peace to get myself mentally prepared for Monday morning.

Maybe it sounds just like any other Soccer Mom lifestyle, but I want more. I don’t want to be always trapped in things I must do because I’m responsible. When do I finish writing my book? When do I finish editing the photobook and submit the software to the publisher? When do I pull out my oil paints and remember how to lay paint on canvas? I find unexpected bursts of time here and there, when I can do something to feed my peace-hungry soul: I take care of my sick man, I listen and encourage Miss T to rave about what a great group of girls she dances with. Tara and I even blow off dishes and homework sometimes and watch half a movie (it’s all we have time for).

I haven’t made a New Year’s Resolution yet. Maybe this is what I need to focus on: make time for peace.

Weird moment this morning on the bus:  That peculiar Jew guy got on, and I made room for him to sit by me. Because – and here’s the weird part – I was thinking, “‘Cause he’s Jewish; he’s from my tribe. He’s like me.” Huh?

I am not Jewish.

He’s socially awkward, with a chafing, too-loud, high-pitched voice, saying, “Hi, hi, thank you, hello.” and bobbing his curly dark hair to everyone at 5:57 a.m. when all of us on the bus are actively trying to avoid acknowledging anyone else in the world exists because we aren’t quite ready to begin the day yet.

The bus was unusually crowded this morning. A rumpled group of groggy-eyed city commuters interspersed with the strangling reek of chain-smoking addicts heading for the methadone clinic. This funny guy gets on and I saw there were barely any seats left. He’s one of the usual riders, so I am used to seeing him get on, and I know he’s different. I worried that others who recognized him might be less likely to scoot over than me.

It came as a complete surprise to me when I realized that I was feeling responsible for this man; this stranger. I have never spoken to him, never even made eye contact, and yet I’ve always thought of him as Jewish, based on looks alone. I could be totally, completely wrong, but there it is. Perhaps you can forgive my stereotyping. And, well, I earned my degrees at Brandeis University, surrounded by Jews, and I love and admire my Jewish Brandeis friends, and think of them as “my people.” And, though no one explicitly invited me, I consider myself welcome in their group. And thus, if this weird guy on the bus is Jewish, then he is “my people” too. And that means I have to be his people. And scoot over to give him a place to sit.

He wandered to the back of the bus, then came back, and yes, sat next to me.

That is exactly what “Community” is all about. That is why humans are drawn together at an instinctual level. Because together we are a force to be reckoned with. In our communities we look out for each other; we give and then take.  The larger my community, the more people have got my back.

Together we are powerful. We do great things as groups, even though individually we can be pathetic and weak. That is how we are able to love the people in our family who drive us crazy. And, that is how we are able to work toward peaceful goals with people who are really different than we are: because we allowed ourselves to get close, to feel a bond, to see them as though they are like us.

I recalled a time, last September, a little over a year ago. We were the first to set up our tents in an unfamiliar campground and I was full of anxiety about being in this place with other campers sure to move in as the day progressed. I get nervous around too many people. Then, a Chinese family moved in smack on top of us, practically. We were two large groups and were assigned adjacent campsites. And, though in theory it was precisely what I had worried about, I was so relieved. My thought, strangely enough, was the one I described above, “Ahh, it’s ok. These are my people.”

I am not Chinese.

See, in my neighborhood in Montavilla, I am surrounded by Chinese. They are my neighbors, they are the kids who bounce basketballs on the side of the street, waiting as I slowly glide past in my car, they are the ones who tell me my cat is not lost, but in their back yard, and who take turns hogging the street parking with me.

How remarkably simple it is to feel like family with people who are so different. All one has to do is be around a stranger for awhile, and that stranger becomes my neighbor Perry, or his brother David. And from there, it’s not much of an extrapolation to believe that Perry and David probably exist in every country in the world. Why can’t the whole world experience this little delight, and realize how lovely it would be to think of strangers as “our people” rather than hold them in suspicion at an arm’s length?

Nagasaki City Peace Hall viewed across the reflecting pool of the Nagasaki National Peace Memorial

My brother Ian and I agreed that Nagasaki was on our list of things to do. Friday I was free to spend the whole day out touring with Ian, so we made plans to take the train south along the western edge of Kyushu and see the famous city.

Rain crashes onto the train that will take us to Nagasaki

We were up early (Ian assisted by vestiges of jet lag), but we lagged in preparations because it was raining pretty hard outside. We went across the parking lot to the Harbor View Club for breakfast, but the rain continued. After some discussion, we agreed that rain or no, today was the best day to see Nagasaki.

Boy howdy, did it rain! We stopped first at the NEX (Navy Exchange) to buy umbrellas (I think I own six umbrellas now, since I kept getting caught without one). We slogged through the downpour to the train station. We bought tickets and climbed aboard absolutely soaked through.

Part of the Huis Ten Bosh European theme park

Japanese houses in the rain

Rice fields mature beside the tracks on our way to Nagasaki

The small train went slowly to Nagasaki. After an hour and a half we had arrived, and the weather had improved dramatically by the time we arrived. What a relief. Ian proved resourceful, and while I was still trying to think through how we should begin getting around, he found information on how to get an inexpensive day pass for the streetcars. We found maps of the city in English at the Information shop where we purchased the pass.

entrance of the train station

one of the streetcars that took us around the city

First stop was the atomic bomb museum. I was eager to compare this one to the one I had seen in Hiroshima. (Please see my blog post from my first visit to Hiroshima Peace Park.) Many people had told me they preferred the Nagasaki peace park/ museum complex. It is less polished than the one in Hiroshima, and for some that makes it more real.

twisted metal {click to enlarge}

from the church

I found myself less distraught at the complex in Nagasaki. Perhaps because I was with my brother and made an effort not to let myself get too emotional, whereas in Hiroshima I was with Tara, and we are comfortable crying together.

ruined bowl

What struck me the most in Nagasaki was seeing how much of their Christian community had been destroyed. Of course, Nagasaki was a wonderfully diverse city at that time, and contained worshippers of multiple faiths, but before this summer I would never have guessed how many Catholics were there. I wonder how many Americans knew about this after the bomb: we hadn’t vaporized alien beings, but Christians, and sacred Catholic churches and artifacts. This realization was consistent with the little bit of Japanese history I learned this summer when I read Shusaku Endo’s compelling book, Silence, about Jesuit priests that snuck into Japan in the 17th century to minister to the faithful who had to worship in secret under penalty of death if discovered.

melted rosary {click to enlarge}

Information board at the museum:

The Urakami district of Nagasaki was the site of Christian missionary work from the latter part of the 16th century. The people of Urakami suffered persecution constantly from 1587 when Christianity was outlawed until 1873 when the ban was finally lifted. Over the course of 20 years, these faithful people built a church, laying one brick upon another. Their labors were rewarded in 1914 with the completion of the grandest church in East Asia. The church’s twin 26 meter high spires were completed in 1925. But the explosion of the atomic bomb blew the spires down and reduced the church to a hollow shell of rubble.

inside the atomic bomb museum

Another very compelling sight was the famous image of the man and ladder “burned” into the side of a building at the instant of the deathly bright flash of the bomb burst, and also the image similarly captured by vines on a wall. These things make it very real: the tragedy, the instantaneous destruction, the power of the bomb.

“About 4.4 kilometers from the hypocenter. A lookout was exposed to the flash of the atomic bomb explosion after coming down from the roof of the Nagasaki Fortress Headquarters. The tar exposed directly to the flash burned and disappeared but that in the shadows remained.”

wood burned by flash of bomb, but protected where the vine grew

live vine

There are other things to see on location, so after the museum, we toured the Yataro Noguchi Art Museum. Works in the small museum were primarily by the named artist, but we found paintings by other artists that impressed us more than the impressionistic paintings of Noguchi.


Then we walked through the Nagasaki Museum of History and Folklore.

Finally we found the entrance to the Nagasaki National Peace Memorial Hall for the Atomic Bomb Victims. The hall is underground, and the entrance is through a water sculpture that creates a reflecting pond on the surface. Water only about an inch deep covers 70,000 tiny fiber optic lights representing the 73,884 deaths attributed to the atomic bomb and the nuclear fallout.

remembrance hall atrium

The underground peace memorial hall was cool, modern, peaceful. It is built for prayer and reflection and remembrance. Architect Akira Kuryu did an excellent job of creating the right kind of mood down there. In the main hall atrium, there are 12 lit green pillars that soar upwards to a skylight. At one end of the row of pillars is an equally tall column holding shelves with cards, each card containing the written name of a victim. There is a book for people to write in, on a table that also holds dedications. These often consisted of folded paper cranes for peace. The paper cranes are found all over the site here in Nagasaki, as well as in Hiroshima.

Our wanderings led us up and out of the complex after that, and we wandered back into the city to look for more sights to see and hopefully some food, as well. Sadly, we did not realize that the bomb hypocenter was very close to us, though hidden behind trees. Thus we did not make our way to that final sobering memorial.

Miss T laughing with an egg

Easter Sunday, and we’re enjoying a moment of peace. A precious commodity: peace.

I was startled into an unexpected revelation the other day. Talking with my man, I commented on how I have more peace in my family, more happiness and contentment, in my own home, than I can recall ever having in my whole life. It’s remarkable to me because this is also the worst financial times I can recall since I was a child living in a two-room cabin with six people and no running water and no electricity.

In those days, I knew what it meant to be poor. As I grew through my teen years I vowed never to be poor again. I committed myself to accept any suffering but poverty. I refuse to go hungry again (ha ha, I picture Vivien Leigh as Scarlett, shaking her fist at the sky, “I will never go hungry again!”).

My partner also had difficult times as a child. To him, poverty is being cold. When money is the source of my fear, I fear hunger. When it’s the source of his fear, he fears being cold. That’s what a poor childhood and winters in New England will teach a boy.

Flash forward to 2009. Here we are, poor again. Possibly as poor as in those days, but it’s hard to tell, because in the 80s people didn’t have the option to live on credit cards. If they didn’t have money, they didn’t pay the heating bill, or buy food. If we don’t have the money, we sigh and pull out the plastic.

In the intervening years I forged ahead to rapid financial success. I was able to send money to my mother. I stopped telling my father when I got new promotions and made more money than he did. The paychecks were good, but my personal life was a disaster. It became more and more of a disaster as time went on. Turns out, though I didn’t know him at the time, my man was also doing very well financially. And his personal life was also a disaster.

Luckily both he and I have managed to do some learning, growing, maturing in those years. About the time our financial worlds began to fall apart, we were also making strides to become better partners to whomever we ended up with in the future. We’re far from where we want to be, but we are happy to be together.

I’ve been wanting money all my life. Now, when I don’t have it, I am happier with my partner than I’ve ever been. There must be a lesson in there.

Still. It must be possible to be happy with my man AND to buy groceries.

Hope tugs at me relentlessly as it has done to all humanity since Pandora’s egregious behavior. We will get through this together. At least we are together. And we’ll provide a beautiful loving home for our daughter. We will all eat enough and stay warm. Somehow.

eggs and kitty

It’s Easter Sunday and the tall young woman who used to be my baby sends sparkles of delight through the house with her childlike glee. She played with every single item in a heaping Easter basket, and went outside in the rain to find eggs. Like I did so many years ago, she’ll beg us to re-hide them for her all day long.

Now it’s after the egg-hunt. After breakfast. After calls to Daddy and Gramy. We’re content and safe and loved. And as much as we struggle, this truly is a beautiful life.

Maybe it makes me as racist as anyone, but I didn’t think America was ready to elect a member of a minority group to that office. I should have known, Americans have chosen a minority candidate in the past. Kennedy was elected even though he was Catholic, for example. That used to be a big deal to voters.

I’ve just been feeling so completely disempowered. As an earlier post shows, I had come to the opinion that it doesn’t matter at all what the people think, because rich and powerful old school cronies will buy the election. I might as well stay home and eat popcorn.

Maybe it’s because I completely misunderstood the appeal of President G W Bush. I just couldn’t imagine that any person who thought it through wisely could really believe he’d be the best man for the job. After the first four years, I had full confidence that he would lose based purely on past performance, and I was ASTONISHED to see his second election. I don’t know who my fellow Americans are, I guess. I certainly don’t understand what their priorities are.

So… it was with bewilderment that I heard McCain’s concession speech.

(by the by, the man garnered more of my respect during that beautiful speech than during any other election action he had taken. His status as a veteran and POW has me feeling deep respect and gratitude, but that concession speech made me actually connect to him as a man who could lead others.)

I felt hope last night. It was a crazy feeling – to have an election give me hope.

Don’t misunderstand me… I’m as frighteningly bitter and disillusioned about my country’s government as ever. I don’t believe that this election heralds the kind of change that everyone’s talking about.

But something earth-shatteringly important did change. A black family in the White House. Oh my god. Maybe there is hope for peace in the world after all.

I can just hear my father’s panicked cries already: the new President is a Marxist, his wife hates white people, there will be laws about the superiority of people of color, our national language will change to Spanish, we’ll open our borders and invite everyone else in the world to live here free of charge… while he foots the bill and lives in perpetual fear of losing the right to own his hunting rifle. If we could only drill in Alaska, he says, if only we could get a crack at that liquid gold before the cheatin Russians and Japanese suck it all up from the other side of the oil field. Yup, my father is terrified of Obama – or, more accurately, of what Obama represents to him – and I am suspicious that many other Republicans are. But maybe after a few years, he’ll find out that his fears of the man do not come to pass, and maybe he’ll relax. Or then again, maybe he’ll spin it however he needs to spin it to keep the world the same in his own perceptions.

In any case, despite my bitterness about my lack of power against the government machine, I do have great faith that change is in the air. How many kids will grow up now without noticing a correlation between membership in a minority group and politics? I’m already poisoned in my mind, because I can’t help but see differences. But putting a wide variety of Americans into political roles at the very highest levels will subtly destroy our country’s white hegemony. When a new generation no longer goes through the motions that keep people in their places; then people can move about with fewer restrictions. In other words, as we are all fully aware of, when we don’t notice minority status, we will be able to see the person.

I feel as though I am unwell inside, that I can’t help but look at Obama and feel particular joy because my President is a black man. I’m excited for the other victories, such as being a little more reassured that Roe v. Wade will remain in effect for a couple more years, or that we won’t drill in Alaska for a couple more years. I wish I didn’t think of him as my first black President.

But like I said, I am already poisoned by society. My great hope is that the legacy of the United States of America can build off this momentous occasion toward a future woman who sits in her living room blogging about a President and doesn’t consider the color of her skin to be a relevant point.

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