Recently, my family and I observed the 100th day memorial for “baba”, my wife’s mother in Japan, and grandmother to our kids. This had me thinking about another poem by Lady Izumi1 from The Ink Dark Moon by Jane Hirshfield and Mariko Aratani:
|跡をみて||Ato wo mite||Even in my dreams|
|偲ぶもあやし||Shinobu mo ayashi||I never think of you—|
|ゆめにても||Yume nite mo||how strange now,|
|何事のまた||Nanigoto no mata||seeing your handwriting,|
|有りしともなく||Arishi to mo naku||to recall…|
I can understand this sentiment. When doing the memorials, it can feel kind of formulaic, but then sometimes I will see something that reminds me of my mother in law, and I can still her presence somehow. While I was in Japan, my father in law, noticing my interest in the Hyakunin Isshu, gave me a book to take home that belonged to his wife (my late mother-in-law).
This is a nice book, published back in 2002 that covers the Hyakunin Isshu anthology with lots of neat photography of famous locations, and tips and mnemonics for memorizing poems for karuta card game. I’ve enjoyed reading through it.
But more importantly, it provides a tangible link to my mother-in-law. Due to language barrier, I wasn’t able to converse with her much in my early years of marriage, and in the later years her health had declined to the point we couldn’t converse anyway. So, I wasn’t able to connect with her as much as I wanted to.
But with this book, I feel connected to her in a way I couldn’t before. My only regret is that we didn’t share this hobby before.
However, as Lady Izumi’s poetry shows, there is another side to grief and losing loved ones:
|としをへて||Toshi wo hete||Through the years|
|物思ふことは||Mono omou koto wa||I’ve become used to sorrow:|
|ならひにき||Narai ni ki||there was not one spring|
|花に別れぬ||Hana ni wakarenu||I didn’t leave behind|
|春しなければ||Haru shinarakereba||the flowers|
|頼むとて||Tanomu tote||Do you now know|
|頼みけるこそ||Tanomi keru koso||this world|
|はかなけれ||Hakana kere||is a waking dream?|
|昼間の夢の||Hiruma no yume no||However much I needed you,|
|よとは知らずや||Yo towa shirazu ya||that is also a fleeting thing…|
As one gets older, one becomes somewhat numb to all the people that we’ve lost. The second poem here has overtly Buddhist undertones, reminding the reader that, as the Diamond Sutra famous says:
All composed things are like a dream,Translation by Ven. Thich Nhat Hanh, in The Diamond That Cuts Through Illusion
a phantom, a drop of dew, a flash of lightning.
That is how to meditate on them.
That is how to observe them.
For my part, I have lost friends as far back as high school, known relatives who have taken their own lives, lost loved ones due to cancer, dementia, pneumonia, etc.
Chances are, you have too.
As time goes on, this number will continue to grow. If you imagine scattered blossoms in spring, one can easily find parallels to life and the people all around us.