I am happy to have a mom that insisted I come home for Christmas. Traveling Japan or going to exotic beaches sounded so much cooler than Lindenhurst, Illinois and so for a brief moment I felt sorry for myself that I was spending my time in the place I'd been living at for 22 years. This quickly passed when I found myself in the company of those who know me. It was a perfectly timed break, both for leaving and coming. Getting out of Japan was essential, just as essential was coming back here.
A friend from college was visiting a former exchange student of our college for New Year's. However, this former exchange student--Tomoka--now works in Tokyo and had to get back to it the Monday following New Year's. So our friend--Sophie--came and lived in Yamadanosho with me for a little over a week.
I had to go back to work too but it wasn't so bad. Classes didn't start until January 8th so I took long lunches with Sophie. During her week here Sophie rode my bike around the beauty that is Oku, Okayama. During lunch I'd get my fill of our delicious concoctions as well as her stories about her travels.
She told me about the cranes, who seem made for a world that passed hundreds of thousands of years ago. She told me about some really beautiful shrine that was both inviting to her curiosity and off-putting given her foreignness and unfamiliarity with such things.
On Friday the 9th she came with me on one of my kindergarten visits and then to lunch at Oku Junior High School. Five months ago I was lucky if one of the students said a barely audible "Hello" in response to my greetings. But as Sophie and I approached school, a group of second year girls ran up to us shouting "Hello! How are you?" and "Nice to meet you" to Sophie. All of this unprompted.
When I met one of the P.E. teachers this summer she wouldn't speak English to me. She was very kind and remains one of my favorites but she just isn't into English. I understand. I hate chemistry. I don't hate chemists, I just hate the subject. Sophie and I stumbled upon her in the locker room where I hang my coat. The P.E. teacher looked directly at Sophie and said without any coaching or encouragement from me, "Hello. My name is Mayuki Masamoto. Nice to meet you."
Living each day, each week, I've missed the change that's been happening at Oku Junior High School. Things can always be better. They can always be easier. But that shouldn't cloud my ability to see things as they are today.
Over break I went to see "The Curious Case of Benjamin Button" with my parents. I loved it. It's not for everyone, but I was in love within the first 15 minutes I think. Brad Pitt's character was born old and grows younger throughout the movie. It's just his body; he goes through all the other stuff like anyone else, he's just in a body opposite from the normal aging process. Anyways, another character asked him what it's like to grow younger instead of the older. He replies, "I don't know. I'm always lookin' out my own eyes."
And that's just it, isn't it? Having people in our lives isn't just nice, it's essential.It gives us a chance at a perspective we couldn't have without them. No doubt, it was fun being back at school. There was a holiday spirit in the air and I was genuinely happy to be in the company of my co-workers and the students again. But without Sophie I wouldn't have had the chance to see the beauty in a life that can be seen only from the outside.
And I, like all of us, will continue living my life looking out my own eyes. But what a blessing to have the company of others, the view of someone else. Simple things like crane sightings and enthusiastic "Hellos" seen through another's eyes.