"You have to work hard to offend Christians. By nature, Christians are the most forgiving, understanding, and thoughtful group of people I've ever dealt with. They never assume the worst. They appreciate the importance of having different perspectives. They're slow to anger, quick to forgive, and almost never make rash judgments or act in anything less than a spirit of total love . . . No, wait--I'm thinking of Labrador retrievers!" David Learn, 1998

Tuesday, June 21, 2011

HIROSHIMA: What it took (2)

The monument was Mr. Morishita's "rock."

     It also took DR. HIROMU MORISHITA and the Monument Committee, a sub-group of the World Friendship Center, to get my talk off the ground.
     As I mentioned, they made corrections and clarifications in my talk and made the language as a whole much more formal and "honorable" for the sake of the dignitaries present. They chose the speakers and the order of the speeches, making mine, they told me through Michiko, the main event.
     The committee designed the wording of the monument. We had had months of correspondence over that, too. Several Americans who weren't involved in the decision-making objected to wording that they thought awkward or "not what Barbara would say." Finally the committee decided to scrap everything but, "Hibakusha are the inspiration for all my peace efforts. My heart is always with Hiroshima."
     There was a ripple of laughter at the ceremony when Dr. Morishita was introduced and the monument was referred to as "Morishita's rock." It was his rock ("ishi") because he wrote the calligraphy for Mum's statement in Japanese, "I, too, am a hibakusha."And it was his rock because it was his strong will ("ishi") that persisted until his purpose was realized. Now that the monument is a reality, he is retiring from the committee.

TOSHIO NAGAI - Back to Setsu for a minute. Jerry and I often host Japanese pastors and students coming to Southern California for JCFN conferences. In fact, Setsu has a key so she can let people stay in our house even when we are out of town.
     One of the men she arranged to have stay with us last month, Toshio Nagai, was new to us but he ended up playing a key role in what went from being my "remarks" to my "talk" to my "speech."
     Toshio describes himself as a coordinator /networker: "I am not a pastor, though some people call me so. My joy is to see people connected and rejoice together. I am a teacher at a school run by a church. I go there every Friday." A liaison at CRASH Japan, the rescue and support organization. An adviser at Tokyo JCFN (Japanese Christian Fellowship Network), a church which is open to Japanese returning from living overseas. A vice chair at ANRC( All Nations Returnees Connection), a committee member of Japan Lausanne, an associate member of the JEA (Japan Evangelical Association) .
     He asked me "How do you call me?" I said, "You are part Paul, part Andrew--and some Barnabas for encouragement." I have decided to call him Pandabas.
     How was he a Paul and Barnabas to me? First of all, he listened. We had just found out about the ceremony and he listened while I shared at length with him about the history of our family as it was interwoven with Hiroshima. His English is excellent and he made rare, insightful comments. In the guest room we gave him are all our family publications. Before he knew Jessica Renshaw and Jessica Reynolds, the author of the Japanese edition of To Russia with Love, were the same person, he pulled the book off the shelf, intrigued that the translator was a man famous for translating American classic authors like Hemingway (which I hadn't known!).
     Toshio lives near Tokyo and was back home by the time we got there. He drove an hour each way to return TRWL which he had borrowed and while he was at the Friends Center with us he let me read my talk aloud, following it in the kanji hard copy. He listened with his head bowed so I could see his thinning hair and he listened intently. Every now and then he'd say something like, "Very moving," or "This is the most formal Japanese, very difficult, very polite." And he'd correct my pronunciation or emphasis--
     "MaTTADAnaka," he'd say without lifting his head.
     "MaTTA danaka."
     "MaTTADAnaka." It had to flow.
     He would nod and then wait and I'd read on. To this day I don't know what "mattadanaka" or "shiriatte ikunitsure" or "satsuriku shitsuzukemasu" (that was a tongue-twister!) mean but I know when I read those phrases at the ceremony, they sounded right.
     He did more than listen. He read my talk back to me so I could hear the phrasing.  He told me my talk was divinely-timed, as I too believed it was. He said only half-jokingly that it was my "Japanese oral recitation exam." When we were through he told me, "Read it slowly. The vocabulary and concepts are difficult. Take half an hour if you have to. The audience will wait. It's important." He promised to pray for me.
     We had not planned--or at least had not discussed ahead of time--his critiquing my talk and afterward I had no gift to offer in return but a small net bag of See's chocolate coins I had intended for his children, not recalling his telling us they are grown and all but one no longer live at home. He laughed when I paid him in chocolate.
     Now that the talk is over, Toshio is being an Andrew, networking by submitting copies of the talk to the heads of Japanese Christian organizations for possible reprint--Christian Shimbun is one which will be printing it--as well as attempting to get To Russia with Love republished in its Japanese translation. As it turns out a free-lance writer who interviewed me while we were over there is also a publisher and hopes to do just that.

The Dragon Lady
MASAKO KIDO. Her business card reads Professor of Ikebana Flower Arranging. I don't think Kido-san would mind knowing that we called her "the Dragon Lady." She came to the World Friendship Center the night before the ceremony. We were in the kitchen, watching a two-hour taped interview with Barbara which Tony had never seen, where Mum shares her growing awareness of and involvement in Hiroshima. It helped put me in a place emotionally to represent her heart the next day.
     Kido-san interrupted us to tell me, "I want to hear your speech!"
Mum on the "god shelf"
     She led me into the next room, where a picture of my mother, some calligraphy and a vase of flowers graced one of the two "god-shelves" usually reserved for deity.
     "I'm the Time-Keeper for the ceremony," she said, and I heard the capitals. "How long is your speech?"
     "Jerry timed it at about 14 minutes."
     "Read it." Ms Kido sank gracefully to her knees at the low table and looked up at me expectantly. I stood before her, holding my typed speech, which covered two full pages single-spaced, back to back with cardboard between them, slipped into a plastic sleeve.
     It was my dress rehearsal. I took a confident breath--after all, Toshio had me camera-ready--and opened my mouth to speak. The moment I did, she said, "Bow!"
     "Bow?" Oh, of course. I was grateful for the reminder. I bowed and started again. She, like Toshio, listened alertly but with few interruptions. She caught places where I needed to pause, words I needed to enunciate better. At the end, she repeated, "Bow!"
     "As I'm saying thank you or after I finish speaking?"
     "Finish speaking. Then bow."
     I practiced.
     "Good," she said, getting to her feet. "Cut it to 12 minutes." And she swept out of the room. Even though she was the Time-Keeper, I ignored the time limit. To do it right I had to do it the way I'd been drilled. And Toshio had said, Read it slowly. Never mind the time limit. Take half an hour if you need to. They'll listen.
     Under load, it ran ten minutes, smoothly and with more passion than it had in practice, even though I only understood the gist of what I was saying, not the specific words.

Always the handsomest man in the room.
JERRY - My husband undergirded all our personal logistics, freeing me to stay focused. He dragged our luggage around Tokyo, three hefty carry-ons and a lap-top buckled together so he looked like the man in the movie The Mission. He packed and unpacked and packed again, laid out our clothes for the day (maintaining our personal "color of the day"), handled mental gyrations like money conversion and train schedules and when I needed to take which pills according to California time.
     When I was having interviews before and after my talk, he brought me things when I needed them and often, anticipating, before I needed them. He served refreshments or handed out gifts we'd brought for guests.
      He heard my 14 minutes of incomprehensible verbosity three or four times a day. He told me, "These are not your words. They're God's. And if you stumble, He will hold you up." The next morning during the ceremony I did stumble only once, over the Japanized pronunciation of "Chernobyl"--"CHE-ru-no-BU-i-ri," and I stumbled so badly the whole audience tried to help me out. Then I burst out laughing, which eased the tension.
     And always, Jerry gave me moral support, told me I sounded great and looked beautiful.
     I had no qualms the next morning. (I saved all my anxiety on our flights.) It was pouring neko and inu. Jerry and I had to dash the five blocks to the Peace Park in puddles that filled our shoes and splashed up to soak Jerry's pants and my nylons nearly to our knees. (Tony had gone on ahead to help set up.) When we arrived, name badges and big red rose ribbons were pinned to our chests. (Tony wanted to save his but they were rented and were re-collected immediately after the ceremony.)
     I'd been assigned an interpreter, an Australian named Jim. (Oh, if only I'd thought to hang onto him when everything was over and the media closed in for interviews!) He pointed out at one point that everyone was saying the same thing, praising my mother. I thought, Wait until he hears me. I'll be saying the same thing, too.
     One by one the other speakers rose and spoke and I watched the damp program in Jim's hand as we mentally checked off each one. I was number 11. When I could glance around the moving shapes of photographers and glimpse the other speakers, I studied how they bowed. I had never thought about how to bow before. Did one tilt only the head, or the head and body in a straight line or the body at one angle and the head at a lower one?
    I remembered the president of the Japanese Electric Company bowing to the public when the nuclear disaster was first announced, sitting at a table to explain the situation to the press. Weeks later he would stand and bow almost to his knees. And finally, visiting a shelter, he was face down on the floor before the evacuees to apologize. Then he was hospitalized for stress and resigned. Bowing is a science as well as an art form. Mine would be an "honoring the audience" bow, not an "apologizing" bow. How low should I go?

     Someone who had just finished speaking bowed twice, first to the distinguished guests: mayor, hibakusha, then to the World Friendship Center members, friends and family. I decided to do that, too.
     Nine of us were called forward to unveil the monument. We sat down again and a few minutes later I heard my name being announced: "Barbara-san no musume, Jeshika-san--"
     I stood up, stepped over the wet cables, walked to the center microphone and bowed. As Japanese came out of my mouth, I heard a dear Japanese friend's audible gasp.


  1. Every time I read a new post I gain a deeper understanding of just how important your mother was to the survivors of the bombing. I'm also awed at the things I learn about you!! How you network with Pastors in Japan...it's awesome to me. Your family made it's mark on this planet for the good of the Kingdom- something that I greatly admire.

    Sheesh...I'm almost ashamed now I sent you my feeble story...I think I'm realizing that you come from a line of accomplished authors... :/

  2. Connie,

    I have just read 2 chapters of your novel and it is so good! Can't believe this is a first draft, it's so well-written! It's a page-turner, the hints of mystery create and sustain curiosity-- In fact, I don't have time to write any more now. I have to get back and see what's coming, what the thunder is all about, how Reuben the mouse can help Lila--and why she is going to need his help! Does she somehow get through the crack in the wall into another world like Alice down the rabbit hole? Stay tuned, I'll let you know-- Oh, that's right, you already know. You wrote it! "Talk" to you again soon!

    Cousin Jessica

  3. I'm up to page 23 and enjoying it very much!