RAINY FRIDAY AFTERNOON
I am sitting at the front window of my living room, which opens onto the front yard, and it’s raining a bit. This is the wettest August known, in my memory at least. In the “old days” we had the rainy season (tsuyu) which ended in the middle of July with spectacular thunderstorms. Then there was an almost unbroken time of good weather. Hot, sure, but you could go down to the river and cool your feet, put fat red tomatoes in the fridge for good eating later, and enjoy the concert of six or seven different cicadas. There was always a constellation of mosquito bites on my ankle. People wandered off to the beach and came back tanned and sandy, clutching their inflated brightly-colored water toys. The Buddhist holiday in mid-month brought the scent of incense and the sound of bongs, booms, and clacks from the various musical instruments in the temples.
Now they’re telling us this is a second rainy season. A front has settled over the Japanese archipelago, kept in place by high pressure systems to the north and south. There have been floods and landslides all over Japan. Crops used to a lot of sunshine and dryness, like tomatoes, corn and pumpkins, are quite confused. Other parts of the world, in contrast, have fires and droughts. Many places are devastated by the coronavirus’ pernicious new strain. (Since it’s named Delta, it must be the fourth type to be identified, if you know your Greek alphabet. Such small facts, fruit of years of reading and study, somehow comfort me, though they may not even be true, and are essentially meaningless in the face of this suffering. And no, I’m not going to Google it.)
This morning I moved about 10 wheelbarrowfuls of earth and reset about 20 large stones around our driveway. It’s a job that had been pending for a long time. The earth went on top of piles of weeds in the veggie patch, and was in turn covered with straw; I’m “resting” that part of the patch until next year. All that physical labor made me very drowsy, and I took a nap between 11 am and 1 pm.
Now, in the peaceful waterlogged world outside, a wood pigeon is calling, and farther off I can hear the inevitable crows. A small trickle of water somewhere. The cicadas are silent, probably sitting under some leaf drying out their wings. I can see colored dots that are the zinnias, still blooming, and I wonder if they will last till the next Buddhist holiday in mid-September. I have just clipped my toenails with a new clipper that I bought in Kyoto yesterday.
Why do I find it necessary to state that I got up today at 5 am, and that I washed 3 loads of clothes as well as doing the earthworks? And why must I think of something to do now, to “keep busy” in the midst of this peace? Why is sitting here, listening to the wood pigeon and feeling the gentle breeze coming through the window, not enough? It’s a mental habit of humanity to count up what has been done and to figure out when and how to do the work that needs to be done. Just sitting looking out the window isn’t productive (gasp).
I am not in lockdown, as many have been. The pandemic, though it has curtailed our movements, is not terribly scary here in the countryside. We keep masks in our pockets for when we meet neighbors on the way back from taking the garbage out. We scrub our hands and put our clothes in the laundry after a jaunt to the city. We enjoy watching movies that show life as it used to be; people hugging, rock concerts and ball games packed with bodies shoulder to shoulder. When the physical presence of strangers wasn’t a threat.
Things are different now. Our little planet is bursting with frustration and suffering. Somewhere refugees are escaping tyranny, closely packed inside airplanes, while others succumb to hails of bullets. People are standing watching their houses burn or sink in the mud. Animals are being abused, children are crying, someone is cowering in a corner. There is fear and there is incomprehension. There is manipulation and there is deceit.
So what can any of us do? I muse on this as I watch the ripples the raindrops make on our centuries-old stone pavement. I can’t stop either rain or fires. I’m not responsible for the abuse or the suffering. Yet I am part of it – I can’t pretend otherwise. Even in this peaceful moment I can feel it calling to me, like an unwelcome visitor outside my door, whom I will eventually have to let in. There are things I do to improve my own mood, as that is the only thing open to me, and that may help others as well. I do Tonglen compassionate breathing when I hear yet another tale of woe. I paint pictures while praying that the sufferers will find some relief.
Or I sit and look out the window. Hard times are coming – no doubt about it. I remember the conundrum that visits all new mothers: When the baby is sleeping, do you rush around doing all the jobs that you couldn’t do while he was awake and demanding something? Or do you stretch out yourself, in the welcome silence, enjoying a little respite? “Sleep when the baby sleeps.” This proverb does not translate well into Japanese, as I can recall from early days with a new baby in my mother-in-law’s house (which is now mine).
When things get really bad, as they will, I will remember this quiet rainy Friday afternoon with affection. The peace that this moment has generated – may others experience it too. If I am truly one with the rest of humanity, it should work both ways. I can choose to feel their pain, and they can choose to feel my peace.
The rain has stopped and a couple of birds fly across the yard.