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Posts Tagged ‘hope’

August 9th has been something special to me for quite a long time. When I was 24, August 9th was the day I arrived in Japan to start my adventure teaching English in a Japanese high school. I spent my first day participating in the nationwide commemoration of the 50th anniversary of the bombing of Nagasaki.

I was a long way from home, and I spoke to my grandfather that night to try to calm my nerves. He had always been reticent to talk about his experiences in World War 2, but that night, separated by thousands of miles, he talked about his own time in Japan. He arrived there in early September 1945, with orders to help rebuild Yokohama, which like much of Tokyo had been destroyed by US bombing raids. (We think of the atomic bombs in Hiroshima and Nagasaki as extraordinarily destructive, but the firebombing of Tokyo destroyed half the city and killed 100,000 people. The firebombing of Yokohama killed 35,000 and left every major building in the city destroyed or damaged.)

Until the war, my grandfather had been a farmer, and for much of the war, he was a radio repairman for Navajo codetalkers in the Pacific Theater. Following Japan’s surrender, he was repurposed again as an engineer and construction supervisor. While I was in Japan, I went to Yokohama, where I was able to visit a grade school and a hospital that dated to 1946, and almost certainly would have been reconstruction projects that he oversaw. Sadly I wasn’t able to meet one of the Japanese people he worked closely with, as he had passed away a few years before.

In Japan, I taught at Nagaoka High School, which was the alma mater of Admiral Yamamoto. While I wasn’t teaching, I wandered the countryside and wrote. I wrote so many things, including first drafts of two different novels. Japan is the place where I swore that if it was possible to write books, sell them, and get paid for the work, I would do whatever I could to get there.

It doesn’t hurt that when you’re snowed in somewhere between the Japan Sea and the Honshu mountain range with only 3 television channels, you have plenty of time for writing. The first winter I was in Niigata Prefecture, it snowed over 40 feet. No, that’s not a typo. Snow fall was really in excess of 480″. It snowed every day for four months, anywhere from a couple inches to dozens of inches.

When I learned that All the Ugly and Wonderful Things would be released on August 9, 2016, I was happy, even though it was too late to share that joy with my grandfather, who was the most bookish adult in my life as a child. That day will always carry the ghosts of those who died in Nagasaki, but it also holds a lot of powerful memories for me, including the bond with my grandfather, and now the day my publishing career was well and truly launched.

On this day I often think of the resiliency of humans, and our capacity to rise above obstacles and limitations. I think of my grandfather, far from his wife and newborn son, charged with a task that he was wholly untrained for. Handed a set of blue prints and assigned a Japanese translator and a crew of men, he helped build schools and hospitals. I think of those men, too, and their families, living in the aftermath of a devastating war. My grandfather was part of an occupying army, and yet those men treated him with respect and invited him into their homes, where he shared the modest wealth of his rations and their hope for a better future.

So many things in life are not easy. There is pain, suffering, disappointment, but there is also joy, success, and the bond we share with other people. I hope we can all remember that today.

Bryn and 3 students standing under a cherry tree

Celebrating the end of winter

(If you’re curious a what good old fashioned Nagaoka snow storm looks like, here‘s some footage from 1963 that’s even worse than what I experienced.)

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Dead butterflies

My friend Tracey took some of my recent kvetching and turned it into an eloquent blog post on the bitterness of hope. Her post in turn made me feel badly for not daring to post here more often. (And it is a question of having the nerve these days. Being brave enough to drag my corpse over here and write.)

My lament was that hope is like a butterfly. It’s beautiful and we chase it gaily across a meadow until … oops! We step over a cliff. Too bad about that.

In a year in which my book didn’t sell, my marriage ended, my agent left the business, my home remodeling project dragged on, and my personal relationships grew frayed or faded, my hope has turned into something else.

Stay out of the garage!

I remember going out to my grandfather’s garage one summer day and seeing a beautiful swallowtail butterfly at rest on the window sill. Kansas is a major through-route for migrating butterflies, so we see all kinds. Being a tenderhearted little kid, I got a step stool and opened the window so the butterfly could fly away. Only it didn’t because I was a day late. If I’d come and opened the window the day before, it might have flown free, but it was dead, its beautiful iridescent wings and drooping tail at rest in death.

These days it’s less that hope is a butterfly luring me over a cliff, but that I occasionally go into the garage and see its carcass on the window sill. Oh, I think, that’s right. I used to have hope. If only I’d come out here sooner and opened the window. Some days I accept that. I don’t even look at the next manuscript on my desk that I’m not yet brave enough to edit and query. Other days, I think that if only another butterfly would come into my garage, I would be there to open the window.

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