Monday, August 2, 2010

The Thing I Miss About Home the Most

(Might be the hardest post I’ve had to write.)

Yesterday was a roller coaster of emotions. I’ve told countless people that I never get homesick, which has pretty much stayed true until this point – on the bright side, I don’t miss too much if I'm away from home, but on the other hand, I feel guilty for not being able to say, “I miss you” to my parents with some sincerity. But yesterday, when I went to my last church service in Hakodate, it became clear to me that there was definitely one thing I truly missed about home.

It was the day when a middle-aged woman named Iriguchi-san gave her testimony before she was to be baptized. The first time I met Iriguchi-san, I was a little confused because she kept dropping her consonants and cracking her voice, which made her Japanese really hard to understand. Then she unraveled a whiteboard she had been carrying in a handkerchief and motioned for me to write on it. Turns out she was deaf, so everyone communicated with her through this whiteboard. (She also knew Japanese sign language, but that was definitely out of my reach.) When I wrote that I was from Kentucky, her eyes lit up, and she asked about the Amish living in Kentucky because she was really interested in Amish crafts. Every time I went to church, she had been all smiles and was always motioning people to write on her whiteboard.

But yesterday, when she talked about losing her hearing as a child and divorcing her husband at the podium, when I saw her shed tears and noticed that it was the first time I was seeing someone in Japan release enough emotion to cry in front of other people, I realized that the very thing I missed most about home was the feeling of being REAL with someone else. Of course, it’s not just limited to Japan – in any situation when you’re away from home or college – when you’re away from the people you’re most closest to – that kind of authenticity is hard to come by. And of course, you shouldn’t expect it if you’ve only met people for a couple days, or even weeks. Nevertheless, it felt so GOOD to walk up to the front and hold Iriguchi-san’s hand at the end of the service to congratulate her, tears still streaming from her face, but this time, not tears of sadness but tears of inexpressible joy.

Iriguchi-san's baptism

 I’ve talked about my unsettlement at Japan’s reputation for politeness, and now I think that while part of that phenomenon may be true, I feel like it might have intensified by being away from the people who I’ve always been able to approach about anything. But nonetheless, when I go to this church in Hakodate, I feel such a warmth from these people that I know comes straight from their hearts, even if I can only say so much in my broken Japanese. When Jade and me were saying our “さようなら”s (which is not just “Good-bye”, but literally “Farewell (I won’t be seeing you for a while)”), they all shouted “また来てね!” (“Come again!”). And maybe I can.

Me and Jade with Pastor 本多

One of HIF's directors, Fukuhisa-san. She introduced Jade and me to this church!

Until then, I want to become fluent in Japanese. Well, that part was obvious, right? I mean, I’m devoting my entire summer to studying Japanese in an intensive language program. But no, I want to become FLUENT fluent – like fluent enough to explain my favorite Bible verse and convey what it personally means to me (which I tried to do one Sunday but could only say so much). Even though I’m really eager to end classes (and get on a functional sleep schedule again :) ), I realize that a summer is just too short to really delve into a language, much less form relationships with the people around you so that you CAN start to become real with them. My transcript will say two credits of intermediate Japanese, but what is a credit, really? I have SUCH a long way to go. I strive for the day when I’m able to express personal emotions and experiences, even if they're difficult to explain in one’s native language. My church in Hakodate has shown me what can be possible, even in a country where people are expected to suppress their own emotions. When I go back to America, I think I’m able to leave Japan with not a frustration of people’s unwavering exteriors, but rather a hope of how to overcome that through trust. 

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Kelly McLaughlin said...

Really touching post. Thanks for sharing.

As for becoming fluent, FLUENT - let's talk at some point! I'd love to talk about that with you, if you have time some day.

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