It was not a trip I planned. But of all the “crazy” decisions I have made, this was one of the best. On New Year’s Day instead of running a race and jumping into the lake, I jumped on a plane andflew to Japan.
It all started on New Year’s Eve and a last conversation with someone I’ve been talking with for the past ten years through all of the changes, transitions and stepping into fear that is my life. As this was our final meeting, Carter told me he usually doesn’t say much. But as he has done numerous times before, he broke his own rule once again and said aloud, “Come on man! It sounds like you are either going to come see me next week and gripe about what you did not do or you are going to figure out a way to get to Japan.”
I went back to the office and called Tsuneko.
She’d been in Japan a week for the big New Year’s preparations and feasts. As I’ve understood, it’s kind of like Christmas, Easter, Thanksgiving and the Fourth of July rolled together. For preparation, there’s a day of house cleaning and another day of cooking followed by three days of feasting.
She answered the phone, “Hey! I’m standing here in my office on New Year’s Eve wondering why I am here and not there with you. What would you think if I flew over to join you?”
I continued, “I miss you and I want to meet your Dad and brothers. What do you think?”
One thing I really like about Tsuneko is that she doesn’t let others put her in the position of deciding what they ought to do. As she’s told me more than once, “I just don’t get it. If you want to do it, do it. Don’t make me decide what you should do.” I wanted to go to Japan. I wanted to meet her Dad and brothers. And most importantly, I wanted to see the place she was from and see her in her own culture. I knew if I didn’t go now, it would be a year before I could.
We’d each had our reasons why I wasn’t on this trip with her now. But whatever reasons there were, I couldn’t remember any of them now.
Once in a while in my life I have been knocked sideways by a dream that “makes no sense.” I saw a postcard for a writer’s retreat in Iceland and knew I needed to go even though I had never wanted to go to Iceland and had made other plans. I took sailing lessons because I felt this weird urge that I needed to learn to sail even though I’ve never liked boats or being out on the water.
Sometimes, I’ve ignored the urges and hunches, but more often now I have learned to trust in them. I see them for what they often are – a call to step out of my familiar and into the new. I hear in them the beckoning of God.
There’s a parable that Jesus tells about a man who sold everything to buy a field: “The kingdom of heaven is like treasure hidden in a field. When a man found it, he hid it again, and then in his joy went and sold all he had and bought that field.”(Matthew 12:44)
I felt like that man. It felt like it was one of those times that I needed to just go and buy this field.
Back to my New Year’s Eve phone call. Tsuneko soon had to get off the phone and go back to the festivities with her family. I got on my computer and found a flight over the next day and a way home on her same flight a week later. I made a reservation. Cancelled it. I called her again to try to get her to tell me what to do.
“If you come,” she said, “you should be here for the last of the three days of the holiday. After that, everyone is back to work.”
“That means,” I said, “I need to leave tomorrow and I am not a free man. I have your cats and fish to take care of while you are away.”
“So what do you think about my coming?” I tried again.
“What does Jesus tell you?” she asked.
Jesus? I had not thought of consulting Jesus.
I made a grand speech of letting her decide yes or no, should I come or not. She said “Happy New Year. Send me pictures of the race.” She hung up.
I went to bed. I woke early the next morning thinking about running three miles and jumping into the lake. I thought of being here all week disappointed that I had chosen to step away from something I knew I needed to do, I wanted to do. I had only a few meetings on my schedule the next week. My colleagues had agreed to cover a few obligations for me. I had no excuse not to go.
The day before I had talked with my sister, about a sermon she had heard on the need to not just say your prayers but to put your prayers into action. “It sounds like what you are doing,” she said. It was. I jumped out of bed and called Tsuneko. I called her seven times that morning. Emailed her. I never heard back.
I thought of Mary Oliver’s poem, “Wild Geese” and her reminder that “You do not have to be good…..You only have to let the soft animal of your body love what it loves.”
I checked out my “crazy” idea with a trusted friend who told me it was not so “crazy”.
I heard Jesus.
I started packing, making calls, sending emails. I tried to drop off the cats and had to come back to try and find their vaccination paperwork. I found it. I dropped the cats off again. I got to the airport far too late for an international flight. The flight was delayed. I had plenty of time.
I called one last time. No answer. (Later I learned that it was night in Japan and she was asleep!)
I knew as the plane lifted off that if I flew to Osaka and she wasn’t there to pick me up and I had to fly home again later that day that it all would be worth it. I fell asleep.
The Sufi poet, Rumi, has a poem:
Out beyond ideas of wrong-doing and right-doing,
there is a field. I’ll meet you there.
Suddenly, I was in that place – that field. A field of great price. A place of wonder.
Was it wrong to go? Well, there were lots of reasons why, yes, I could say it was. I certainly could have planned a bit better. I certainly could have talked through some things before and recognized why it was so important for me to go.
Tsuneko didn’t have a big smile on her face like I had fantasized she might when she met me at the airport. It was late at night and she’d had a long day and woken to the news of her surprise visitor coming that evening. But on the train to her family’s house, she said, “It is like a comedy”, which for me felt a lot better than her saying it was a “tragedy”.
The next morning and days ahead were truly a wonder. A priceless gift to take part in New Year’s rituals with her father, brothers and nephew. A wonder to visit temples and castles and especially to see Tsuneko where she was some and see in her own culture. It reminded me again what a huge thing it is to be a foreigner in a strange land and what strength and strong will it takes to survive. The kind of gifts I see in her.
Maybe there is a field you have to go and pursue even though it makes no sense, full of your thousand and one excuses as you always are. And maybe, you go this time. You buy the field.
And when you get there, you see that Jesus has been there all the time. Rumi and Mary Oliver too. Sometimes, despite myself, I am there as well. It’s a good place to be.
Out there, in that field, I hope soon, we’ll meet together there.