It is not yet the beginning of the day and the men in my life are still sleeping. I’ve been relishing the perfect light, blue-gray and only slightly seeping through the window. Save for the birds outside, it’s quiet. Already I’ve read some scripture, written a letter to a friend in Japan, checked my email (about three times) and enjoyed dipping buttery jammed baguette slices into my morning mug of instant coffee. Waking up at 5am has all of a sudden made a very strong case for itself, but I’m trying not to get too comfortable. Next week I suspect that i’ll be back to my normal wake up routine. Normal, meaning whatever time Noah decides to saunter out of his room with a carefully selected book or toy in hand, an item that will quickly make swift and hard contact with my head. Sometimes there is no toy. Sometimes, he decides to just body-check my head instead. I’m not sure which I loathe more, the hardcover corners of Pete The Cat being repeatedly jabbed into my eye socket, or 28 pounds of small-person wearing a urine soaked diaper using my face as a trampoline. Trust me when I say that toddlers make for really crappy alarm clocks.
But hey, none of that is happening this morning thanks to two weeks of daily duckling swim lessons. Swimming, i’ve only just discovered, is like kryptonite for kids. 25 minutes a day of red-light/green-light and chop-chop-timber and your child is rendered powerless to things like sleep. It’s actually pretty awesome, and i’m savoring the extra shut-eye and longer mornings even if it will all be over as soon as the lessons run out.
My more rested mind has been thinking about Japan. We’ve been back now for just about a year, give or take a week. It’s contract turnover season and Facebook is alive with posts of friends still in the country going through the same departure rituals we did not so long ago. It’s a strange form of deja-vu to see pictures of farewell parties and send-offs that mirror your own album snapshots right down to the people in them. It makes me miss everything there so much more, especially the Japanese friends and neighbors that I struggle to stay in touch with. I can’t help but wonder what an extra year in Japan would have meant for our family, but I don’t wonder about it too long because deep inside I know on so many levels that it was time to go. I’ve had a year to mull it over and it feels good to finally come to sound conclusions based on experience and fact, rather than roller coaster emotions and the fear of what if. Coming back put a lot of noisy voices in my head to rest, and as in flux as our lives always seem to be these days, there is a great amount of peace that has come with it.
Life moves on. Some things here are different (like people) and other things never change (like people). Little reminders of where we’ve been are scattered around us. Miso in the fridge, the word genkan which we still use to describe the place we put our shoes, a pretty blue and white dress that lovely Maiko gave me and I wore for the first time since leaving, just last week (It still fits, thank God). These are just small attempts at keeping a beloved place alive in our day to day. Probably futile attempts really, ones that will get old or that we’ll outgrow, but they feel right for now.
A few weeks ago we drove to South Dakota for a cousin’s wedding. We stopped at a gas station halfway there, and as we pulled up to the pump I spotted two Asian-esque individuals in conversation across the lane. Before we’d even stopped, I knew they were Japanese. It was the distinct body language, the head bows, the way they spoke without barely moving their lips from a perfect polite smile. To be sure, once the car was turned off and the fuel was flowing into the tank, I cocked my ear to try and hear any hint of language I could recognize. They spoke so softly, so unlike the American volumes I had readjusted my hearing to, it was practically a dead give-away. So finally I just decided to go for it and called over a happy Konnichiwa! Their look of shock and then confused smiles gave me a lot of satisfaction. We spoke for a few minutes, a little in Japanese, but mostly English. I switched over after a few sentences, ashamed at the effort it took to dig up simple phrases I had once known so well and that I was at present clearly butchering. All of us were excited to find ourselves in each others company. Even so, we kept it brief and said goodbye without even knowing what they were doing there.
Driving away, the car was quiet. I silently kicked myself for not having offered them something. Anything. A granola bar, an orange from the bottom of my purse, some token of welcome to this country that wasn’t even my own. It’s what they would have done for us had the tables been turned. A little later we pieced all the details of what had just happened into an amusing little story, retelling it for our own amusement, then reminiscing of times even further back in the Japan that we both missed and loved. There was warmth and joy in the nostalgia. And I couldn’t help but turn to look out the window at the passing endless fields of soy and wind turbines, thinking over those few words shared in a language I am surely losing, with strangers I will likely never meet again, who somehow made me feel so complete in such a short and fleeting moment, and then I cried.