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Does a Person Have you Gently?

When I lived in Japan, I spent a lovely day on one of the beautiful islands near Shiogama. This island was called Nonoshima and I taught there for one month. It was quite the commute (a half hour walk from my apartment then a forty minute ferry ride with seagulls flying alongside and, lastly, a twenty minute trek on some gorgeous but isolated roads). I got up at four in the morning to make it on time (this wasn’t difficult since I’m a morning person). My placement in Japan had everything - a small city environment (twenty minutes by train to Sendai, a larger city) with a touch of the countryside. But it didn’t have my family and friends. The initial weeks in Japan made me realize what was really important to me – my close relationships. Japan was an incredible journey of self-discovery and adventure; it was amazing like the waves pushing against the ferry delivering me to my island school many years ago. And a phrase on a woman’s shirt has stayed in my thoughts: “Does a person have you gently?” I am fortunate to have several people who have me gently.  My family, my close friends. Does a person have you gently? Yes, yes, yes, I wanted to shout atop the curvy hills of Shiogama. Several people have me gently even complete strangers who showed me such gentle compassion without (or with very limited ability) speaking my language. For instance, when I was on the island, I missed one of the ferries going back to my place. My own fault really – I forgot to check the schedule and was having so much fun at the beach. So I had two hours to wait. Being naive (I hate to use the word ‘stupid’), I didn’t pack a lunch or anything. Well, that’s not entirely true – I had a water bottle – cheers to the sea! Cheers to the islands! Cheers to the gaijin with curly hair! Cheers to the kind woman lying on the dock resting while her family headed to the beach. At this point, I was really hungry but when I looked around, I didn’t see a food stall. Being ‘naive’, I thought the islands would have a hot dog stand or something (perhaps a beef tongue (a delicacy in Northern Japan) or a yakitori stand but no such luck!). Having already been to the beach, I decided to hang around the landing and take pictures. After a few minutes, the sleeping woman woke and smiled at me. She began to speak with me in Japanese and from what I could grasp, she was asking me if I’d had a meal. What were the chances that this woman would know I hadn’t had lunch? Maybe she heard my stomach growling! Or perhaps she was being motherly and if she was like my own mother, then food was a way to communicate or show concern, love, even friendship. How extraordinary that chance meetings often happen when you need something like encouragement (in my case, I needed sustenance and ended up getting kindness as well). I shook my head in reply to her question and then she pulled out a bag filled with food. I took some and bowed, thanking her profusely for her kindness. Before I had arrived to Japan, many people had described the generosity of the Japanese and when I was there, I experienced it firsthand. After I finished eating, we tried to chat a bit more but this was difficult to do without a common language – we smiled and nodded a lot! I managed to tell her I was an English teacher and showed her a map of Shiogama. She pointed to one of my schools (the one with the wonderful but hilly route going through the Shiogama Shrine) and said she lived in that area. When her family returned, I introduced myself (in Japanese!) and shook her grandchildren’s hands. They were so cute! Later when the ferry approached, the little one came up to me and asked, “What’s your name?” Her face was bright with pride at her English. I bent down and took her hand in my own again and softly said my name once more. Her grandmother emphasized, “Sonia-Sensei”. Then the young girl went to her mother and asked, “What’s your name?” Her mother replied, laughing, “Mama. My name’s Mama.” This mother had her daughter gently and vice versa.

Does a person have you gently?

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