Like a Daughter

Ten years ago (give or take), I decided to sponsor a child through Children International.  The first child they assigned me was an 11 year old girl from the Phillipines.

For the past ten years (give or take) I have watched this girl, and several others, grow from being a, well, young girl, into being a beautiful young woman.  We have exchanged a few letters.  I gave her a little life advice.  She told me some of her hopes and dreams.

I received a letter today that told me she has graduated from the program, at 20, and to be quite frank, I couldn’t be prouder.

I don’t think I’m giving out too much information when I say I have never had children – and it’s looking like I may never have children.  Even if I end up with someone soon, having a baby at my age is somewhat risky, and maybe adoption is the more responsible choice.  I don’t know.  But what I do know is that somewhere between then and now, I began to think of her, in some ways, as a kind of daughter.  She’s not my daughter, obviously.  She has parents and a family that are not me.  But, and I’ve told her this, I couldn’t be any prouder of her than if she were my own.

She sent me a very sweet letter, very grateful for the assistance I’ve provided over the years.  Maybe I did have a huge impact on her life.  But, and I’ve told her this too, it was my honor to do so.  I hope someday to meet her, and there is little I wouldn’t do for her if she truly needed it.

I sponsor several other children, and I feel much the same about them, though the relationship is different.  I began sponsoring them even before they could write – they were toddlers.  It’s different, but the thought occurred to me that they may not remember a time in their life where I was not, in some ways, involved.  That’s a very different feeling.  With the older girl, she knew when I sponsored her.  With the others, I..  am just there.  I’m a fact of life, like maybe their mother and father.  Their mother, father, and overseas sponsor.

And I couldn’t be prouder of them, either.

I’ve been assigned a new child, now that the first one has graduated.  She is about the same age as the first one was when I sponsored her, and I hope I see her graduate as well.  If this is the only impact I have on the world, well, it’s enough, I think.  Or, at least, it’s something.

I am a misanthrope.  I really don’t like people.  I’ve made no secret of that.  But, I must say, I think I love my overseas children, just as I would my own.  And what a gift that is.  For them, yes.  And for me, as well.

I do not Love Suzuka Nakamoto

I am something of a fan of Babymetal I do enjoy their music, even though I’m not usually a fan of metal. I think I’ve written about this before, so I won’t go into further detail

One thing I have notice (and I may be doing a little bit of this myself, unwittingly; forgive me) is that Youtube reaction channels seem to take off whenever they do a Babymetal reaction. There is this horde of fans that follow people around and give channels probably one or two thousand subscribers almost literally overnight. They like to say they’re “not a cult”, say Nakamoto-san is their “queen”, etc. I get that a lot of it is tongue in cheek, but not all of it.

This is a symptom of an actual problem, in my opinion I’m just using Nakamoto-san as an example, as it extends to many different people, in Japan and beyond. It applies to idols of all sorts, pop stars of all sorts, etc.

People think they love people when they don’t.

I do respect Nakamoto-san. I really do. She is quite a talent, a force to be reckoned with, and Babymetal wouldn’t be the same without her. I respect her accomplishments, and hope she has a long and fruitful career.

But I don’t love her.

I don’t know her enough to love her.

See, I know pretty much nothing about her when she’s not prancing around a stage and belting out music. I know she is… a woman. I’m pretty sure of that fact. I know she’s gotten pretty good at speaking English – her accent in “Kingslayer” is surprisingly good. I know that… she is a singer for the Babymetal band. And that’s it. Maybe she is a nice person – in fact, probably she is a nice person.

But I don’t know that.

So while I respect her accomplishments, I don’t love her. Not at all. Just as I don’t love Takahashi Minami, Sashihara Rino, Takeuchi Miyu, Mizuno Yui, or any of a thousand other people whose accomplishments I greatly respect. You have to be more than a good singer to make me say I love someone. And so far, no idle, no pop star, no movie star, no celebrity at all, has earned that right.

I expect there will be a few people who won’t read past the title of this blog and will attack me. I’ll only say this and otherwise ignore them – they’re the problem.

Sadness

When you’re gone, how can I even try to go on

SOS – ABBA

When I was young, my parents, myself, and my sibling were travelling to a city on the western side of Michigan. I remember driving down I-94, and they had the radio on. A jazz version of a song came on, with an interesting chord progression. I have always, always remembered that chord progression, even though I didn’t know the song.

Cut to years later, when some folks were having a pool party outside of the apartment I was living in in California, and a song came on with that exact chord progression. It was coupled with a song I did know, as my father worked for the company that made the “Super Trouper” spotlights, and when the release of the ABBA album came out, everyone got a copy of the record.

This was pretty much the only exposure to pop music I ever had as a child, and I found that I liked it.

So it turns out the song I’d heard was SOS, by Abba.

Abba was a very interesting band. They did not always write happy music. I guess in the middle of their heyday, they all divorced each other, and their songs from that era are just dripping with pain and loss. There’s “SOS”, a song about someone leaving. There’s “The Winner Takes It All”, which is probably one of the most tearjerking songs I’ve ever heard. It’s as if they take the pain of their divorces and put it right out there for everyone to see.

I don’t want to talk
If it makes you feel bad
And I understand
You’ve come to shake my hand
I don’t want to talk
If it makes you feel sad
Seeing me so tense
No self-confidence

The Winner Takes it All – ABBA

There’s so much sadness in this world. So much separation, so much loss. And it hurts. Because, deep inside, a part of us knows it shouldn’t be this way. The separation, the rift, the brokenness – it’s all broken.

There’s beauty too – of course there is. But the loss comes from the memory of beauty – from the destruction of that which was at one time beautiful. No one is hurt by a divorce from a marriage that meant nothing – the worst hurt comes from the broken promises, the severing of something that should never be severed. No one is hurt be the ending of a friendship that meant nothing in the first place. No one is hurt by something they are not, somehow, emotionally attached to being severed.

Knowing me, knowing you
There is nothing we can do
Knowing me, knowing you
We’ll just have to face it this time we’re through
Breaking up is never easy, I know
But I have to go
Knowing me, knowing you, it’s the best I can do

Knowing me, Knowing you – ABBA

Why is the world like this? Why is sadness so baked into the formula of this world, and even from a young age, we need to learn to deal with it and cope with it? I understand that’s the way it is, but why is this, in any way, acceptable? Why are we not raging? Why are we not angry? Why are we not, with every fiber of our being, fighting against the brokenness, the despair, the anger, the sadness?

Do not go gentle into that good night,
Old age should burn and rave at close of day;
Rage, rage against the dying of the light.

Though wise men at their end know dark is right,
Because their words had forked no lightning they
Do not go gentle into that good night.

Good men, the last wave by, crying how bright
Their frail deeds might have danced in a green bay,
Rage, rage against the dying of the light.

Wild men who caught and sang the sun in flight,
And learn, too late, they grieved it on its way,
Do not go gentle into that good night.

Grave men, near death, who see with blinding sight
Blind eyes could blaze like meteors and be gay,
Rage, rage against the dying of the light.

And you, my father, there on the sad height,
Curse, bless, me now with your fierce tears, I pray.
Do not go gentle into that good night.
Rage, rage against the dying of the light.

Dylan Thomas

We could fight. We can fight. We can say that when we make a promise, we keep it. We could say that things like marriage aren’t to be entered into selfishly. We could understand that our actions affect others. We could fight the sadness, we could fight the brokenness, we could fight the hurt, the pain, the sorrow, the tears. We can fight it every day, every minute, every second, in how we live our lives, in how we treat others.

But we can only fight so much, because in the end, no matter how we rage, the light dies.

There is a beauty in sadness, there is a beauty in tears. It’s an odd kind of beauty, as it is a sad beauty, but it is a beauty nonetheless. For the tears of separation always come from the beauty of joining – they are a marker of what once was and is no longer. But what once was has its own beauty. Tears are not a shame, tears are a joy, in a way. They are the release of pain, the shedding of hurt. The only shame is that most of us have to shed them alone.

I listened to an ABBA album once, driving through the southwest American desert to see an ex-girlfriend. I think I loved her in my own way, and our time together was, in its own way, special, if not very long. I can think about the loss and the separation, I can think about the pain of our eventual breaking up. But I can also think about the time we spent together, and… and it was in its own way, beautiful. You can’t have tears without beauty, without love, without something positive that is broken. I’ve moved on. That was years ago. But there are many more tears to be spilled, because there is much more beauty that is gone.

I long for the day that tears disappear. But tears will only disappear when pain disappears, and pain will only disappear when there is no longer separation, brokenness, anger, fear, or hatred. I lose hope that that day is ever coming. For even in the best efforts of those who hate pain and tears as much as I do, they invariably create their own, for such is the way of life.

空気

I’m going to try a different approach to posting today.  Let me know if you like it.

I have never been to Japan, but many things come to mind when I think of it.  I imagine the crisp air of fujisan.  The roar of trains, such as the shinkansen, as they come whooshing by.  The fragrant smells of sakura petals as they fall to the ground in spring.  The greenery of a small island nation that gets more than its share of rain, and the fragrant smells of grasses and blossoms on the hills, meshing seamlessly with the smell of traditional Japanese food, such as fish and rice.  Even the tall buildings of Tokyo seem to come with a certain kind of refreshing energy that I haven’t really found in American downtown cores.  Of course this is all in my imagination, but I’m not talking about reality.

I also see the darkness of a culture that values conformity over individuality.  I see a darkness that is difficult to fathom for me, a society that seems to have a lot of very flashy lights, amazing culture and food, and underneath is a vein of darkness that takes your breath away when you even begin to see it for what it is.

In my mind, Japan is a very beautiful, and a very dark, country.  Both the beauty and the darkness sometimes bring tears, and each defines Japan completely in its own way.  I don’t think Japan would be entirely the same without its darkness, just as it would not be the same without its beauty.

But to understand Japan, one must understand its darkness.  Yes, one must appreciate the wonderful things about Japanese culture – their almost boundless creativity, their respect for living things and the land around them, their ability to persevere and even triumph in the face of what seem sometimes insurmountable odds – but to see Japan through the eyes of their entertainment and tourism industry is to completely misunderstand who they are.

As I learn more I have come to respect them for what they are, and I’ve also come to a profound sadness.  They are an ancient and beautiful culture, and to solely define them through the entertainment they present to the world is to disrespect them profoundly.  To truly love something, or someone, you must understand their failings as well.  It is a profoundly sad thing when you realize that the person – or culture – that you love is flawed, imperfect – even profoundly so – but until one understands the warts, one cannot truly love.

This has been a difficult thing for me to grapple with as I’ve been studying Japanese and learning about the Japanese culture.  The veins of darkness are very dark indeed.  But even so, I am not too different from them, and they are not too different from me.  The darkness runs through all humanity, not always taking the same form, but being just as dark all the same.

Maybe someday I will see the beautiful white and red trees with the sakura petals falling, and I will remember that, for the Japanese people, the blooming of the cherry trees indicates graduation, the passing of time, and new beginnings.  And I will remember that the darkness does not have to stay dark, and the next year, the petals will also bloom, no matter what the previous year has brought.  And I will see all of the people hanami, and perhaps they will have a similar thought.  They are constrained by their darkness, but they are not defined by it.

And perhaps, not just in spite of their darkness, but because of it, I will grow to love them.