Sitting on the same bench where I wrote seven years ago, where I drank sake under the cherry trees with friends from around the globe, 7000 miles from home – this is a place I will not forget. And not until today did I discover that the pond is shaped like a butterfly, the very symbol that flies through the pages of my book. Could this spot have lingered in my mind, its image wrapped in meaningful memories, so that it surfaced while putting the pen to the page?
All I know is that this place is beautiful. I’ve come in the rain, dragging a heavy suitcase down a gravelly path, droplets falling around me like the tears that swelled up inside when the customs official removed the Japanese visa from my passport. It’s a feeling of deep sorrow that jams its way into your gut, to return at unforeseen moments, after leaving a place you love, perhaps never to return.
Well, I’m back, and I’m here to make the most of it. Over a pint of Sapporo, my friend remarks, “things have changed,” and yes, I am taken aback by the flood of memories that appear, shadows of the past reflecting off doors, on sidewalks, as I greet my hostmom with a bow. With déjà vu at every turn, I am transported to a different time, observing scenes of a former life, and I see faces of old friends through windows and on bottles of beer.
I move to a different side of the pond and view it at a new angle. I see a stream I hadn’t noticed before, the soft trickle of water entering my ears. I was twenty three when I first came to Japan, a boy seeking newness and adventure, immersing myself in a new language and culture, fascinated by it all, from the kindness of strangers to the delicate designs of gardens and breakfasts. Now I see some place completely different. I see men and women commuting to and from work; I observe fathers teaching daughters how to fish for wild crabs in a lake; I see the same man at the sushi restaurant I went to back then, and he remembers me. But who does he remember? Does he see a ghost, a trace of his former self?
Leaving a place you lived and loved is like losing a loved one. Except that death is something we can all relate to, while feeling displaced in your own country is something few can understand. I am past my mourning period, but what is worse, to lament and yearn for the past, or to move on, knowing it will never be the same?
Though I gaze upon this garden with a different lens, as nostalgia sinks its teeth, I know that I am in Japan for the same reason I came before. To have fun. To enjoy the moments of a life we’re lucky to have. This country has made an indelible mark on the man I am today and I am grateful. While I have felt loss, I have also felt wonder, and though a side of me may still cling to the past, I know in my heart that I wouldn’t take back a single thing.
As the rain stops, and a radiant sun begins to emerge, I walk out of the park, suitcase in hand. I don’t look back.
April 28, 2015
When the Knicks had Patrick Ewing and Johnny Starks