Tag Archives: unicorns

Yak!

I’m a member of a women’s group that is so Top Secret that I can’t tell you the name. Go ahead, torture me. Tickle me until I pee. Force me to eat eggplant and beets. Lock me in a closet with an insurance salesman. I won’t tell and you can’t make me. So there.

Even before I got sick, the group was a source of support and inspiration and has been a major part of the solid steel structure that has kept me from sliding over the edge for a long time. We come from different backgrounds and live in all sorts of circumstances. But even though they are so many thousands of miles away, I always know they are there and they genuinely care.

I post to the group pretty often, keeping everyone updated on my doings and in return have received more love than I ever expected was possible. Plus we have this whole unicorn thing going; I don’t remember how it got started but I love it. This morning, a small package arrived from one of those women. Inside was this little fellow. According to the label, he was made with love by women in Kyrgyzstan.

Kyrgyesan

 

And now I want to tell a little story.

For most of my many years in Japan, I’ve been freelance, doing a variety of jobs that sometimes surprises even me. (Write a letter to the Dalai Lama? Sure! Why not? The princess of Thailand? Hand me the pen!) I am staff re-writer for NHK International, a non-profit affiliate of NHK, Japan’s public broadcaster. It has various departments that do things like produce foreign language versions of original NHK programs, sell NHK footage for overseas productions, and use public funding from organizations such as the Japan Foundation and JICA to provide NHK programs and equipment to broadcasters in developing countries. People from that section, The Travelers, go all over Asia, Africa, Central Europe and South America having meetings and helping with the complicated paperwork involved in those projects. What it means for me is writing a lot of letters to broadcasters and ambassadors and government folks asking for their assistance. I don’t get to go anywhere.

In these days of internet and email, I’m outsourced now, only going to the office when there’s a special project, but for a long time, I had my own desk and one of the fellows in The Travelers’ section sat across from me. Arrayed across the top of his desk was a tidy row of folders marked Azerbaijan, Kazakhstan, Uzbekistan, Turkmenistan, and my favorite, Kyrgyzstan. I guess living in Japan wasn’t exotic enough for me, because when I wasn’t busy, I would stare at those folders and they would conjure up delightful images of wrinkly women dressed in colorful traditional costumes, eating yogurt and yak butter and living to be a thousand years old. I saw them hopping on ponies and scrambling around on mountain scree, or seated at hand looms meticulously weaving beautiful fabrics with intricate patterns.

I believe this is what they call empathy. I doubt I would like yak butter and I don’t want to live to be a thousand, but I love taking a moment to imagine how my life might have been so very different. Most of the time, despite a piqued curiosity, I feel a wave of gratitude as powerful as a tsunami wash over me.

I have never been to Kyrgyzstan and will most likely never go. I will most likely never meet most of the woman in my Top Secret group, but although we are all so very much alone, we are all together. So perhaps I will hop on my little pink unicorn and go see what’s up in Kyrgyzstan, have a nice cuppa yak butter tea, stare at a clear, blue sky and see all the infinity that has already been and is yet to come, wrap my arms around what’s left of this beautiful earth and be at peace.

Life is good.

elephant scarf

When the Going Gets Tough…

circus-tent.jpg

…the tough go to the circus.

The Kinoshita Circus is Japan’s largest* and it’s a real circus, staged in a tent, complete with clowns, jugglers, contortionists, acrobats and animals. It was pure delight from start to finish (except for the motorcycles in the giant sphere. That act was entirely too loud and scared the pickles out of me). It was charming, totally professional and yet not quite, especially when the juggler dropped his bowling pin for the third time and the acrobat missed the trapeze and fell into the net. Kudos to him, though, as he climbed right back onto the platform and completed the act. There was an aged elephant who stood on her front feet, then her back feet, then looked right at me as if to say, “Well, what do you expect?” Four bored-looking zebras trotted around the ring in one direction then the other, barely stifling their yawns, eager to get back to their cabbage and carrots.

George feet
We weren’t allowed to take pictures. Just imagine George’s feet times 100.

But then there were lions. There were eight lions, two each of tawny males and females, and four pure white females. They didn’t do much, just jumped through a hoop and did a couple of group poses. The males reared up, but there was no pretense at fierceness, no gnashing of teeth or snapping of whip. The tamer clearly loved them and was loved in return as he patted their magnificent haunches and tugged on their swishing tails. They walked around the ring, swaying their powerful shoulders and flipping their enormous paws. And we were seated less than ten meters away. I cried openly throughout the act, overwhelmed.

By the time we got home that evening, my scalp was beginning to show. So the next morning, armed with the lingering flush of being that close to so much feline magnificence, I plugged in the razor, took a deep breath and mowed a swath right along the top of my head from the middle of my forehead, a reverse Mohawk, an irreversible, total commitment. When I asked Rochi to help with the bits I couldn’t reach, he didn’t flinch, even though I know he was at least as scared as I was.

head shaving

Picking up that razor brought back the feelings of waking up after my second surgery. As I gradually became aware of the tubes leading in and out of my body, the machines I was attached to, the medical staff bustling around, the difficult and painful recovery that lay ahead, I panicked. All I could think was, “I can’t do this. I just did this. I can’t do it again! I can’t!” I wanted to leap off the table, yank out the tubes and run away from the sterile room, the sterile hospital, the entire sterile, surreal medical world.

Instead, I remembered a visualization I had learned. I closed my eyes and found myself sitting comfortably on a warm rock in a sunny glade under trees swaying in a breeze lightly scented with jasmine. Surrounding me was my tribe, who had taken the form of pastel colored unicorns. Waves of empathy, compassion and love flowed from their soft, gentle eyes, all toward the center of the circle, all toward me.

I experienced all of that in just a few moments but it was enough. My heart stopped pounding. My breathing slowed. I opened my eyes.

Over the past few years I have kept having experiences that left me thinking, “Wow. That was the hardest thing I’ve ever had to do.” And I keep being wrong about that. But I have learned a valuable lesson: Courage isn’t a lack of fear. Courage is being afraid of something and doing it anyway. And I give thanks every single day for continuing to find that courage in myself and in the people around me.

*Big, squishy clowny hugs of gratitude to Randy and his friend for making this happen.

Fire

We were creating our usual perfect scenes of bright colors and smiling faces at a house studio the other day when I looked through a window and saw that there had been a fire in the house next door. Most of the roof was gone; only a fringe of tiles remained around the edges. A guilty secret, from the street there was nothing to see. But from my second floor vantage, charred and blackened wooden beams reached for the sky, skeletal, naked, exposed to the drizzling rain. The glass was blown out of a pair of small windows, sightless eyes framed with soot mascara. The house stood there achingly lonely, forlorn. Someone had lost everything, perhaps even life, and I was overwhelmed with an unbearable sadness.

I was called back to my world of rainbows and unicorns, but returned to the window again and again during the day, reminding myself to be grateful for all the good things in my life. But I also couldn’t stop thinking of all that I have lost, so many lives and loves fading into the limitless distance, and I wanted nothing more than to curl up in a corner under a blanket and forget, at least for a while, that I exist.