We could never get free
We could never get free
Thinking about a year ago around Thanksgiving and the circumstances that have changed and still remain since then. Tom and I had just landed in Hong Kong. We were swept away in a red cab into the city in good Hong Kong style and at the time it was refreshing to be away from Japan’s rigidity and stillness for the first time in months. We missed Thanksgiving dinner but made it out to meet an old friend from exchange at one of our favorite bars that overlooked the city’s skyline. We talked about what we were grateful for. I had been toying with this idea that though circumstances weren’t perfect I had enough to be fulfilled. This Thanksgiving I’m more than happy to be coming home with good news in hand and the hugest smile on my face in a few years, if that.
I was praying during worship last Sunday and an overwhelming and calming feeling came over me. For the first time since waiting to hear back, I knew I would have this opportunity if it was right for me. It wouldn’t be by my doing alone though.
Happy to say I will be a Kiva fellow in its 23rd class this coming Spring. Location TBD, which is part of the thrill.
The sunset over a day in Halimun forest, Indonesia 2012
feeling blessed to have another chance at happiness
Think of the long trip home.
Should we have stayed at home and thought of here?
Where should we be today?
Is it right to be watching strangers in a play
in this strangest of theatres?
What childishness is it that while there’s a breath of life
in our bodies, we are determined to rush
to see the sun the other way around?
The tiniest green hummingbird in the world?
To stare at some inexplicable old stonework,
inexplicable and impenetrable,
at any view,
instantly seen and always, always delightful?
Oh, must we dream our dreams
and have them, too?
And have we room
for one more folded sunset, still quite warm?
— elizabeth bishop
City of Angels, 2013
The first time I heard this song it was on a CD made for me by a 3rd grade junior high school student in one of my classes at Shiranuhi. This action followed a quickly put together, not very well thought out, music lesson I decided to do one Friday morning during my first few months in Japan. I thought, oh I want a way to connect the students to English that makes the language come alive in the way the textbook doesn’t allow…
So I played the 3rd graders The Cure’s Friday, I’m in love because naturally it was Friday and if no one else was happy about it I was at least. But for many students Friday wasn’t really the end of the work and activities they’d continue to do together throughout the weekend whereas I went on my way home to do whatever I pleased, most likely out for a drink and dinner with friends in the city on a Friday night.
I printed out the lyrics for them to follow along, showed them photos of these old rock dudes from a time before them and frankly before me. It didn’t go as well as I’d hope which was always the trick with lessons as I quickly learned. Some lessons you think will go well don’t and others do. You just have to keep plugging and playing.
But after class, this student came to the front of the class to take a look at the photos and I was thrilled. It seemed like he was interested in talking about music but our conversation was facilitated by the main English teacher who could translate for the both of us. I sometimes don’t think my JTEs realized just how unique a position they were in to be a conduit for bridging English and Japanese, foreigner with youth, in so many remote areas in the country. But again, my western eyes might see this as unique but who’s to really say..
But in any case, it was communicated to me that the student liked electronic music so I set out to put together some songs I wanted to show him. By the end of the day, after a full stack of classes I quickly burned a CD for him. I didn’t know his name but I knew he was the fastest runner in our school.
I went to his home room to see if I could catch him before he left. A few girl students found me and asked me what I was doing. I told them who I was looking for. They helped me find him. Until they realized he might be out on the field already getting ready to run. Within 15 minutes, word had gotten back to my English teacher in the staff room and they had called for the student over the school intercom. Now it was a big fuss.
When he showed up at the staffroom the delivery was pretty lackluster. I handed him the CD without even a cover for him. The girls expressed jealousy in wanting a CD, my teacher couldn’t get over how lucky he was to get a gift.
I can’t really remember how long after but he eventually made me a CD in return and decorated it beautifully…in good Japanese fashion. I plugged it into my CD player in my Toyota Starlet that night on my drive home from school. The CD player & sound system were surprisingly great for the state of the car. I didn’t know any of the songs on the mix but I noticed a recurring familiar band on the CD. I asked him about it eventually some time after.
This started a pretty regular CD swapping between us throughout the year, resulting in one of my most pleasant surprises one day at lunch sometime at the end of my post. I was eating lunch as usual with my 2nd graders, nothing in particular, and a song I gave this student came on the school intercom. It was Justice’s D.A.N.C.E. and I smiled real big because I knew there was only one possibility for the source of the song.
But I really am thankful for these little instances I had in Japan and to this student who allowed me to connect to Japan through music when I was at odds with so much in my daily environment. It is a country full of subtleties working in quiet ways. So much so, that I grew to appreciate any and every kind act I encountered from a Japanese person.
This student turned out to be someone who struggled more with English class than other students but made the effort in class to participate and I tried to help him as much as I could throughout the year leading up to their high school exams. And though we could never really communicate in English or in Japanese for that matter I can’t forget the music he introduced me to that I associate so closely with my time in Japan now.
You must learn one thing:
the world was made to be free in.
Give up all the other worlds
except the one to which you belong.
Sometimes it takes darkness and the sweet
confinement of your aloneness
anything or anyone
that does not bring you alive
is too small for you.
David Whyte (via oofpoetry)
San Francisco Treat
Coworker who spent the last year out in the field for two fellowships in Central America and Africa. Stay hungry guys.