The Joys of Silence and Bewilderment
by Jane Kramer, California
Yesterday I went with our Japanese obaachan, aged 87, for a massage. I didn’t know for sure if we were really going because my Japanese is primitive. But at 8:15 she emerged from her machiya [traditional wooden house] carrying a bag with polka dot material. I thought that it was the pajamas that she told me to bring for the massage. We walked past a love hotel and a shamisen maker.
Because we cannot communicate verbally, I realized how often we fill sound-space idly. When someone passed walking a dog I told her that I had one at home, yet all I could say was ‘cat’ (neko) and mispronounced it at that. So I pointed to the dog and said ‘niku‘ (meat). Obaachan looked at me quizzically. The moment passed. I realized that it didn’t matter if I tell her that I have a dog in California.
I live in a constant bewilderment in Kyoto. Having the time to enjoy bewilderment is a great luxury.
We arrived and were ushered into a big room. Obaachan put the bag with the polka dot fabric on her cot. Curled on her side she smiled and I saw her eyes without glasses for the first time.
My massage over, I picked up the bag, which I presumed were the pajamas that obaachan had brought for me. Obaachan and my masseur share a laugh. The masseur translated. “They are your son’s underwear which had blown off from your roof. She is returning them to you.”
Walking home, I take obaachan’s hand. I wonder what she is thinking. I think, rare are the times when silence and space are given the honor they deserve.
And holding hands with a woman at the edge of time, I am grateful.