Robert & Roberta Adair

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The last few days felt like pretty big swings in seeing some of the beauty of Japan as well as some of her brokenness.

Lost: One snapshot is from my first Buddhist funeral. I’ve been to 3 other funerals, but they’ve either been at church or have been for a Christian at a funeral home-type facility. These funerals were somewhat similar to ones in the US with some singing, a short talk by a pastor, and family members sharing memories. I went to this Buddhist funeral, wearing the funeral uniform of a black suit and black everything else, to support my friend whose 98-year-old grandma passed. Although I prayed a short “please protect me” kind of prayer on the 2 hour drive there, I now see that I went with a somewhat touristy, curious mindset.

I don’t know if it was the dim lights, not understanding much of the Japanese (was it even Japanese?), the monotone chanting, the drums, or the incense (there was a lot of incense). I don’t know how much my reaction to it was spiritual and how much was physical. All I know is I felt really off – I couldn’t keep my eyes open or my head up straight, and I felt somewhat out of control of staying alert and focused with a bit of a headache afterwards (probably the incense?). I don’t like to overuse the term “dark,” but this seemed to fall into that category. I was glad that J stayed with R and was also glad when I could get fresh air.

I didn’t understand so much, but I did get that there were tearful apologies and goodbyes by some family members. This struck me as odd at first – I think we tend to share happy memories in the US, but we also tend to view the person as deceased and “gone to a better place.” In Buddhism, the person isn’t in a better place – the deceased stays with the oldest son and his family (hence tearful apologies by the 18- and 15-year-old grandkids?). There is so much I don’t understand, yet I do know that the vast majority of people who live here are lost. It’s devastating…overwhelming.

(I was so grateful to sit next to 2 church ladies that know my friend. I watched and imitated what they did when everyone was instructed to assume praying postures as the monks were chanting. As a foreigner, I can easily not do things and people will just assume it’s because I don’t understand or because it’s not my culture to do so; for Japanese Christians, I imagine they’re viewed as odd at best and disrespectful or subversive at worst.)

“All the lonely people…” Another toughie was last night (Sat.). I was walking home with my neighbor lady and her grandson who I ran into at the grocery store. About halfway home, we watched an old gent walking a bike grab his elbow and sort of fall over. I immediately thought of Matthew Cuthbert (of Anne of Green Gables) and thought it was a heart attack, so I stuck my hand out at the oncoming car (who was going super slow) and raced across the street with J in the ergo. “Ojichan! Ojichan! Are you okay?” …he was drunk. I was relieved that it wasn’t a heart thing (really, I don’t know what I would’ve done other than make a scene so someone else could call the ambulance).

I thought I’d walk with him until I saw that he’d be ok. He was polite, spoke clearly, and was all around nice to me as we walked slowly up the hill. He almost walked into traffic a couple of times, but he made it up, bowed, and said goodbye. I watched him go down a small road…and then promptly walk into a wall. I scurried after him, put my hand on his hand, and walked the rest of the way – another 10-15 minutes to a beautiful, large home that is where he (80 years old) and his wife live. He invited me in, but J needed to eat dinner and R was about to come home, so I said I’d come another time.

I know there are old, lonely, drunk gents everywhere – but Japan seems to have a lot more than its fair share of them (a lot. like a lot a lot. Sigh.).

And yet:

Generous. My friendly neighborhood grandma brought over freshly picked turnips on Friday. She gave us lovely spinach and flowers a few days before that. And my neighborhood flowershop lady played with J while I drank a cup of tea (I was there to buy a funeral envelop, which she doesn’t sell). When I got up to leave, she gave me a beautiful peony and a hydrangea-like flower. I left grateful for her kindness, hospitality, and generosity.

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Thoughtful. Then yesterday I went for lunch with my same-hospital mom friends. We are all first-time moms and all equally figuring this mom thing out together. They’re so funny and encouraging and…funny. After lunch, we were sitting around playing and chatting, and two ladies came in with a beautiful birthday cake for Joseph and 2 of the other babies with birthdays this month. I think the surprise and thoughtfulness of it got to me as I teared up a bit. Perhaps it had something to do with being in someone else’s home as I/we host 20 times more than we are hosted (at least), so having someone open up their space to me – a foreigner – felt like such a gift. (I used to feel resentful that we weren’t invited over more. Now I just feel grateful when it does happen.)

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I lost my last paragraph and other edits, but I have more I want to say about the consideration and kindness of many Japanese people – and not just the socially obligatory stuff. As we have a lot to do to get ready for our yearly mission conference/retreat starting tomorrow, I’m going to go ahead and post these scattered thoughts with the hope of adding additional thoughts later. Thanks for reading.

Originally posted on Adair Update...

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