Статьи Скотта Гормана (Scott Gorman)

January 13, 2009

Some I met as a Pilgrim

I got up early the day I went to Peace Park in Hiroshima, on the already-busy streetcar, prepared for a day of mourning. But as I was standing in the children’s memorial area, among the many origami (one from me included) that people leave as offerings, a perfectly composed older Japanese woman looked down at my shoes and then kindly back up at me.

“Your shoelace is untied,” she said in a kindly fashion, and added “take care.”

In the shadow of the blown-away city dome left unreconstructed as a memorial, 50 feet from the exhibits and within shouting distance of the flash point, she was worried about me, and my shoelaces, concerned that I might stub my toe or scrape my knee, while I had been worried about whether as an American I should even be there.

It is a complex relationship, that between the people of coexisting and sometimes competing nations. But it is also as profoundly not complex as her simple concern and my gratitude.

In many ways the entire experience of spending six months in another country, living in rural Japan and traveling throughout the country, boils down to these sorts of encounters with people; some in ways that seem memorable at the time, others that become significant later, upon reflection. There will be other things to write of now that I’m home, I’m sure. But while is all fresh and not yet overanalyzed, here are a couple other close human encounters.

I WAS walking with my friend George on the area behind the michi no eki (the road station) in Kisakata and came upon a group of preschoolers. In their pink caps, with their open expressions, they were priceless. Needless to say, to many of the people in Japan, and particularly of course to children, I was seen as a giant. But I am happy to report my relationships with the kids of the town were just great, as I got to know many helping in their schools, others as I became close with their families. My attitude upon first meeting a group I didn’t know was to wave and say hello in Japanese with a big smile. That was usually a good start.

In this case, overlooking the sea, it led to a stampede. About 25 kids were all over me in flash. Everyone wanted to shake hands, and to clap with amazement when I spoke to them in simple Japanese. Soon I was kneeling down and many of the kids were pulling on my beard to see if it was real. There are some pictures that professional photographer George took of the beard-pulling and they are almost too cute; what fortunately wasn’t in frame was the young boy who grabbed me –well, by the essentials — and gave a good squeeze just to make sure people all over the planet are plumbed alike. Apparently satisfied, he dropped the experiment, just before real pain would have set in.

I SPENT a lot of time in Tokyo during this sojourn, on business mostly, but sometimes to meet or send off people who had come to visit Japan while I was there. I got to love the city, and most of the people, but some seemed more than a little cold and distant. I was on guard with my emotions; one must not be too much of anything if peace and harmony are to be preserved in a city larger in population than New York City. And the women in particular seemed so cool, perfectly dressed, reserved except with their friends. Unlike Kisakata, where I was treated like home folk, here I was kept at arm’s length and tried not to stand out too much. But when I went with a dear friend to a movie in the city’s fantastical Shibuya section, both ends broke down.

The film was “The Man Who Cried,” a deeply emotional, gorgeous movie by Sally Potter. It has so much about truth and love and dependence, about human nature and tragedy. It even has Jews lost in a new world, and the heroine is a young Russian Jewish girl seeking her way with courage and grace. I could not help crying, even crying out despite my embarrassment, at certain points. When the movie ended, I was standing in a hallway line for the bathroom and a beautiful young Japanese woman stopped in front of me. A clearly loving nature shone through her own sorrowful expression. “Are you all right,?” she asked me in Japanese. I nodded. “This was very sad, yes?” Yes, I said, it was. Then she astonished me. She reached up, traced a path with her finger on my face where my tears had been, looking at me intently. She said something then I wasn’t able to translate until weeks later, thinking back.

“It’s so good to see a man who is unashamed to feel out loud,” she said, and walked away.

I have no choice but to feel out loud, even in a culture that might sometimes frown on it, like modern urban Japan. But that it moved her made me very happy, in a sad way. Things that made me happy, in a sad way. Things that made me sad, in a happy way. Such was much of my experience in Japan, my place of mid-life pilgrimage, where I learned and was given much and tried to give something of myself in return.

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