Tag Archives: Japan

participation

I’m a sucker for Vows, the couple the NY Times features in its wedding announcements. The course of true love runs smooth or it runs into obstacles, but the couple overcomes and joins together in a great and joyful wedding. The happily ever after possibility gets me every time. Which brings me to something in the travel section this Sunday….an article about Japan, about how it’s doing since the tsunami, which was a year ago. Resilience, self possession, and community mindedness are what the writer sees in its comeback after such a blow from nature. You need those for a marriage, too, I’m thinking. And these two ideas, which the writer says the Japanese are able to hold at the same time: Happy moments in life cannot erase losses; nor can losses ever keep one from knowing happiness. I quote: “To see that life means a joyful participation in a world of sorrow, and that suffering is not the same as unhappiness is one of the singular blessings this seasoned country still has to offer.” Maybe that’s why I like to read about vibrant weddings and love overcoming all….

for my son, whose middle name is edward*

*(This was among the first posts I wrote in this blog. I wrote it in 2008, and I think it bears repeating. Hope you agree……) 

I called an old soldier for Memorial Day. Elgin, I said, how are you? Karleen, he replied, it’s so good to hear from you.

Tell me about the war, I said. Oh, baby, he answered, I don’t like to talk about that. War is ugly, you know. And so we talked about his vegetables. In his mid-80s, hale and hearty, he’d just come in from the garden, which is full of squash and zucchini and tomatoes and onions and bell peppers.

He was stationed in the Philippines for two years in World War II. Old sepia-colored photographs show a lean, slouching, hawk-faced young man standing with a rifle slung over a shoulder near a pile of dead Japanese. A recent PBS documentary reminded that the battle for the Philippines was hard fought, often hand to hand, against a formidable and determined enemy who almost beat us.

I asked about Edward, his brother-in-law, whose old high-school, senior-year portrait, gently watercolored as was the style in those days, I have on my altar. Edward is handsome and young and smiling, seventeen, I think, in the portrait. He wears a suit and tie. His hair is neatly parted on one side. He too had been in the Philippines, but he was part of the three-month Battle of Bataan, which was lost. And he walked the long, hard, harsh, killing miles of the Bataan Death March, prosecuted as a war crime after the war ended. He survived and was on a unmarked prison ship on its way to Japan, when it was bombed by American forces. So he survived combat and a death march to die at sea. I think he was nineteen when he died. The baby of the family.

The news came to a little town in East Texas called Troupe. His mother lost her sanity for a time when the news came, and when she recovered she was never the same. That’s family legend anyway. Edward was my son’s great uncle. And Elgin is his grandfather………

My note this 5/29/11. Elgin, at 90, soldiers on. He lives by himself, drives himself around the little town in east Texas near which he lives, and tends his garden. He still won’t talk about the war. War scars and maims. Men who live on the brink of death bond in a way that is immediate and soul wrenching. Is there a war story in your family? How have the men in your family been impacted? How has that impact reverberated down? And what about the women?

karen blixen

Mother and I were watching Out of Africa, or I was watching and Mother was dozing. It was the scene where Denys has died and Karen  is about to throw clods of dirt into the grave, and my mind went tumbling back to my friend Robert’s death last summer, to our throwing dirt on the grave, to how long it had been since I’d been to a funeral, to how final the gesture is, an extraordinary gesture that puts what has happened into sharp focus. And then I was thinking about Karen Blixen and how amazing her life was. Do you know her? Isak Dinesen was the writing name she gave herself and I’ve read  two of her books of short stories, Out of Africa and Shadows in the Grass, and many of the exquisite overvoiced lines of the movie come from those stories. The stories are discreet, but her life wasn’t. Or maybe that’s the wrong paint color. She didn’t live soundlessly, in the box decent women were supposed to lie (and are still supposed to lie, for that matter). She loved a nobleman who didn’t love her back, married his twin brother for a title and security and who knows if spite was in the mix, went with her husband to Kenya to raise coffee, contracted syphillus from the philandering  husband, started a school for native children, refused to stay home and knit when war came, and loved an English nobleman’s adventurer son, Denys Finch Hatten. I didn’t like Out of Africa when I first saw it, thought too many dramatic moments were crammed into the story, so that it was all drama, without valleys, but I was intrigued by her, and I read her biography and her letters, and I learned the director had recreated what truly happened to her….that her life in Africa had been full of drama and full of real life, loving hard, loving badly, hard work, doing what she wished when society around her disapproved, failing, losing her health and home. I cried some tears from a seldom visited place in me for what the ending of the movie brought up–she began another life as a writer, but she had to say goodbye to a life and people she loved to do it–anyway, I cried from a place that was deep and that it hurt to cry from. And my thought was, the fragility of love and life, the smoke and mirrors of it, it can’t be grasped and held tightly, love itself does live, die, change, transmute, and I thought, to everyone young, be tender in your love, be courteous to one another, revere the sweet green…..

To Japan: faith and courage and may all the gods watch over you…..

A science fair for my granddaughter’s school’s third grade: hilarious: brilliant: horseshoes with springs so horses run faster; bandages with art on them so they look prettier; mechanical dogs for people who have dog allergies; a goldfish crackers’ cruncher so you can put the crumbs in your milk…..need I say more…..America is in good hands……..and how was your week?