A Change of Plans

Posted on: February 11, 2016

Japan is her idea. A way to reconnect. A second honeymoon, even though we never really had a first. Only eighteen when we married, it wasn’t in the budget. Besides, in our situation, we had more pressing matters. A couple of kids having a kid. But then we didn’t. In a way I don’t think we really fell in love until we were comforting each other over the loss.

We didn’t try again for a couple of years. Happy years, the way I remember them. But the next time it happened the sorrow seemed to push us apart instead of bringing us closer together.

She joined the Church after miscarriage number three. She did her best to get me to go with her, but my attendance was spotty, my devotion even more so. It wasn’t the people, they seemed nice enough. I just didn’t find any answers there. Maybe I was asking the wrong questions, but the building felt as hollow and empty as her womb.

I sought solace in a different way. Long hours, weeks spent living out of a suitcase. The punishing grind of sales, rewarded with quarterly bonuses and awards banquets held in smoky barrooms that tend to turn ugly as the liquor flows into the night. My willingness to forfeit a personal life for a professional life does not go unnoticed. The youngest regional director of sales of in company history, I try to placate her, and maybe myself, that it will all be worth it in the end.

And then she proposes Japan.

The trip is organized by a group at her Church. Each year they go somewhere new. Italy. Greece. Israel. And each year her friends return and we listen to their stories and admire their pictures and purchases and she pretends to be so happy for them. They ask us to join them, but we tell them of the plan, our plan, that more hard work now means an earlier and better retirement later. Free and unencumbered, young enough to still enjoy it, we will have it all. But it eats at her. I know it does. So I relent.

We spend our first night in Tokyo. To me, the city is beautiful, a futuristic forest of metal and glass and neon. I understand its tempo, its pulse, the hurried existence of its citizens. I love how the city straddles the edge, teetering between ragged chaos and an ordered, almost military-like structure. I feel safe in its frenzied cocoon.

She does not.

She wants tradition, history. She wants cherry blossoms and wooden temples, tea ceremonies and tranquil gardens. She wants to feel the past. She doesn’t understand that the past is littered with pain and death.

Or maybe she understands it better than me.

The sun is barely up when we drive south and leave Tokyo behind. The trees glisten in the early morning light. When we arrive in Kamakura, the air is already hot and thick. Swarms of mosquitos buzz about, as do the crowds of people at the great Shinto shrine of Tsurugaoka Hachimangu. I find a place to sit in the shade as the rest of our group scales the stairs to the Senior Shrine. I long for the central air conditioning of our room. When they descend, I look at our itinerary. One more stop. The Daibutsu at Kotoku-in.

We round the corner and I see him. He sits nestled in the hills. Humble, yet profound. Open and ready for whatever the universe brings. He is not afraid. He is not happy, or sad, or angry. He just is. And in his shadow, just for a moment, I too, catch of glimmer of what lies beyond the mysteries. It changes everything.

The truth, in all of its simplicity, is laid bare before me. Everything I know is an illusion, the life I have created is nothing but a series of calculated distractions. The fancy clothes, the newest gadgets, the Best in Sales plaques that dot my walls, all are mere band-aids, failed attempts to cover the gaping wounds in my soul. The overtime I put in at work is not a sacrifice to get ahead, rather it is me trying to avoid the unavoidable. I know that now.

I cannot run from suffering, I cannot escape it. It is inevitable.

I see her standing a few feet away, studying the great statue with reverence. It hits me that someday I will lose her, and she will lose me. Instead of terrifying me, I realize that I am okay with this, that I have to be okay with this. That if you are not willing to let your heart be broken, you cannot love. And a life without love is worse than death.

I walk up behind her and put my arms around her. She’s startled by my sudden affection.

“Are you alright?” she asks.

I smile at her.

“Yes,” I say. I pull her closer to me and kiss her. I kiss her like I used to when we were eighteen. “As a matter of fact, I haven’t been this good, in a long, long time.”

“Wow,” she says, and she means it.

Together we stare up at the giant bronze Buddha. I feel an electricity between us that has been long absent.

“It’s amazing, isn’t it?” she says. “It’s hard to believe that it’s been here for over seven hundred and fifty years.”

I look at his face, calm and serene. I wonder how many others have stood in just this spot, how many others he has shown the truth to, how many others he has saved.

“It’s… It’s magical. I can’t really describe it.”

The tour guide announces our departure. Our group starts to shuffle away, back to the bus, back to the city that suddenly holds no appeal. We turn to go.

“Thank you,” I say, mostly to her, but also to him.

She looks at me.

“For what?”

“For everything. For not giving up on me, on us. For bringing me here.”

She squeezes my arm.

“You’re welcome.”

Written by: Ben Cook
Photograph by: Rob Gregory

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