Transitions and Passages

Ryougoji Temple in the fall
Ryougoji Temple in the fall

I started a blog entry a couple weeks ago and then distractions and tragedy struck…

On December 13th I received the horrible news that my sister’s husband, Bill, was killed in a bomb blast in Oregon. After the initial disbelief faded away, an incredible wave of loneliness crept in. To be so far away from the people I care most about when disaster hits is really tough. I want to be close to my sister and her family and others in my family. To not be able to extend more than a phone call makes me feel so helpless. I read and watched every news account I could find and checked in as much as I could, but I am still feeling pretty isolated. I reached out to my friends and family via email, skype, facebook and have appreciated every kind word and message sent to me, it means a lot. Although I know what has happened, it still seems so far away…in some ways it feels as removed as the war in Iraq or the bombing in Mumbai….how can it be true.. I feel so bad for my sister and her children, I want to be there to help out.

Scrabble Competitors
Scrabble Competitors Bill & Ali

A lot has been said about Bill in the press, and indeed he was a really funny guy with an intense drive and keen intellect. He was dedicated to his family, but I still haven’t read anywhere about what a fierce Scrabble player he was. Every holiday he would show up with a Scrabble board and as soon as dishes were cleared he organized everyone into teams to play. I can’t imagine playing without him.

Life moves forward here even though the unthinkable has happened. For the past few weeks I have focused on the things I have to do. Show up at work and teach with more energy and enthusiasm than I ever think I have, but I have been able to sustain it and usually have a good time. I receive love notes from first graders, origami creatures and beaded bracelets! I play jumprope at recess and even sing and dance. I just wish that there was a way for me to move from itinerant instructor to consultant or coordinator. I’ve come to the realization that the Board of Education here has no interest in developing a coherent program, they are completely satisfied with the program as it is exists now. I will keep trying to make sense of the situation, but also look for other work.

Jiro came home in early December. It sounds like the Portland Japanese Garden show was a success and he was able to connect with friends and family.

Ryougoji in the Fall
Ryougoji in the Fall

I am so glad that he is back to help take care of his mother. She turned 80 while he was gone and is increasingly forgetful and has difficulty walking. As a younger woman she worked side-by-side with her husband on the farm and drove a car (unusual for a woman of her generation). She loved cooking for a crowd, sewing hanten (winter coats) for friends and family, and her pride was based on her stamina and strength. Neighbors still mention the fact that she was out planting rice the day after her first son was born. Now she has lost most of her physical strength and her only project is the vegetable garden…she has lost her husband and other relatives over the past year, so she is struggling with loneliness and sense of worth. I find that I have to always be upbeat and tell her stories about the places I go and the kids I work with to keep the conversations positive. Just like my teaching job, it always takes more optimism and patience than I think I have, but somehow I am able to sustain it and now that Jiro is back , I have someone to laugh with about the crazy reality of living here and caring for an 80 year old.

Entry to Kurt and Keiko's
Entry to Kurt and Keiko's

This last week I took off for four days to go to visit our friends Kurt and Keiko who live on Ushishima in the Inland Sea. They have a small guest house there and live in a house that Kurt built. He also built studios for both himself and Keiko and they raise almost all of their own food. Keiko weaves and makes clothing, Kurt has built canoes and kayaks and keeps busy maintaining the gardens.  I took a ferry across to Shikoku and then a train to Marugame where Kurt met me and took me across to their island. It was a perfect remedy for  my blues… really wonderful meals, lots of quiet and a good conversation. Keiko took me on a “walking tour” of the island. She said that although there are only 17 people living there now, 300 people lived there when she was young. As we walked around I noticed many  once-beautiful homes that had crumbled and many others headed in that direction. The impermanence of our creations.

It’s been a year since Jiro’s dad died. It’s hard to believe how much our lives have changed since then. On December 5th, we had a ceremony to mark the one year anniversary. The monk came and said prayers and several relatives came to pay their respects. We served them all lunch and visited the family grave to pray. This is the final major ritual for his father. We will have two more smaller rituals, one next December and another 4 years after that. Jiro’s mother makes offering at the family altar twice every day and also visits the grave whenever she can and offers incense and prayers.

Prayers at 1 year anniversary
Prayers at 1 year anniversary

I know it sounds trite, but my recent experiences remind me that it’s important to live each day fully, treat all I meet with respect and not to take myself too seriously…we are all just one part of the story.

More to write about…promise to write more regularly.

This is the way to the dentist!
This is the way to the dentist!

3 thoughts on “Transitions and Passages

  1. Barbara Milling December 29, 2008 / 3:37 am

    Hi Kate.

    Your entry on Bill was beautiful. The funeral services were… breathtaking. The people in Oregon really honored Bill and the family in such a lovely way, it was very comforting on many levels. You were sorely missed and I wish you could have been with all of us as well.

    Your children have grown up to be such sweet and loving adults. The boys were all over them. I told Bob that if our kids grow up as well, we will have done a super job raising them. The family service was the first of many duties we were asked to partake in. Kai and Nina came walking in with us. The reaction on some people’s faces was interesting. (how old is that woman?) We told Kai and Nina that they were ours for the week because they had been officially adopted until you come back to reclaim them. 🙂

    Everyone is looking forward to your visit in January. By the house, the house looks great. Kai pointed out where the water damage had been and there is no trace whatsoever. We also had the opportunity to meet Steven, from Stanford.

    Take care. I’ll fill you in on the details when you are home and we can speak over the phone.

    Love, Barbara

  2. Jeanne Ferguson-Saso January 1, 2009 / 10:55 pm

    Hi Kate,

    I don’t know if you remember me, but I just wanted to let you know you and your family are in my thoughts and prayers. Please give your family my best.


  3. dad January 5, 2009 / 1:31 am


    Your beautiful response to the tragedy makes me so proud of the strengths of our family.
    I was the English major; you were the geology drudge. I think that some sort of osmosis has taken place.


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