There is a kicking sequence in Tae Kwon Do that is quite difficult for me and it requires a lot of space, something I can only have if I go outdoors, to the river to practice. As I was finishing it this morning, a woman came along the path disrupting my attention enough that I decided I would try it again after she had walked further along. But in my pause to regroup, she started to talk to me from beneath her huge viser and behind her curtained mouth. She was so covered from head to toe, so anonymous under her voice, that I just stared at her eyes, dazed, trying to make sense of the things she was saying until she removed the veil over her mouth as she continued to talk. It still amazes me the assumption that people have that I will understand. There is a lurking feeling of dishonesty as I enjoy the tone of their voice for the words and grammar I've not yet learned, as though I'm leading them on with my comprehension. But it seems disruptive to the real meaning and purpose of the encounter to stop at every other word for clarification. And so it goes....
She asked me if I was a foreign exchange student and when I told her I wasn't and the actual reason for my peculiar existence in Japan (I'm a musician) she went on to tell me that 10 years ago she had hosted a student from North Carolina. She told me a lot of things I didn't understand about this student but I gathered that she had studied Japanese very well and was very good from the time of her arrival. The woman contrasted her own English study with this model student. She then showed me what was in her bag, which was a bunch of plant clippings. She told me she taught nature at an elementary school and from here gave me a very detailed lesson about the seeds and I think about birds eating them and pooping and things growing. She talked about the river and its nature and the typhoon which had recently come through. I agreed, a lot had changed.
At a certain point, as I stood there holding the fresh seed from my favorite river tree which we had dissected together, I think she realized that maybe I didn't understand everything she said and that she had interrupted my practice. She quickly said with great enthusiasm, "Gomenasai!" and was off as quickly as she had begun the encounter.
And then I continued my practice with forms, leaving the repeat of the kicking sequence for another day, wondering what had just happened at the end of my focus before I had pushed myself further. A little Japanese woman had come into my path and given me an incomprehensible lesson on nature. It's a beautiful thing, indeed.