Saturday, January 17, 2015

Great Hanshin Earthquake 20th Anniversary Memorial Day

I caught the 8:18am bus this morning with the two violinists in my quartet and headed to an outreach for the memorial of the earthquake.  Both of them, and one especially, are big fans of the Takarazuka Revue; and so of all the outreaches we might have chosen to join today, they wanted this one,  the one in the Takarazuka Hotel, close to the Revue.  They goggled at the conspicuous performers walking to work–heads poised like dancers, hair cut short and cropped tightly, usually dyed blond, a serious focused expression on their faces.  It takes a lot to be in one of the Revue troupes and they all carry the burden of that training as they carry all the eyes that follow them everywhere they go.  We arrived early and joined our violist in a cafe across the street which had posters of the Revue on the walls and magazines of the stars.  They sat and looked through the magazines, spotting more performers as they got off the train and began the walk to work.

When the time came, we walked to the hotel and and went through the many lobbies filled with Revue pictures and costumes and posters.  The many lounges of beautifully upholstered furniture and drapes and were taken to the huge ballroom/conference room where the ceremony was to be held.  On a platform at the front of the room was a huge alter of carefully layered carnations, daisies, and orchids, all freshly cut and long-stemmed.  It was incredible.  We ran through our pieces to check the sound with the microphones and then went to the green room to wait for the ceremony to begin.

When we re-entered the room an hour later it was filled with official looking people and others wearing dark colors.  A woman at a podium in the corner announced with flawless measured care that the ceremony was about to begin.  A minute later, she spoke again and everyone rose, and then she said, "Mokutou," (close the eyes to begin a moment of silence) and everyone bowed their heads.  After a few minutes, she said thank you and everyone took their seats.  We played Bach's Air on the G String and then a series of speakers began.

I've admittedly been slightly unsure how this day would feel to me.  It wasn't a tragedy I personally experienced.  How do I join in such a memorial with sincerity?  I've been reflecting on what it is to share grief with others and the sincerity of it.  Grief seems like such a personal thing to me; but especially in this situation, where it is a type of event I've never experience in my life that happened on the other side of the world, back when I was a child unaware of world events which had no consequence to my personal life.  How can I share this grief?  At what point can others share a grief?  If they lost a loved one, if their life was changed by it, if they knew someone who was affected, if they have experienced such a thing in their own life, if they volunteered, if they are simply from Japan?  At what point can we understand one another's losses?  Even if we grieve for the same person, from the same situation, do we grieve in the same way?

It was from this position that I began this day, knowing that it would be filled with group ceremonies of remembrance, wondering what it would be like, wondering if I would just feel like an outsider watching the ritual like an anthropologist.

But the ceremony this morning was different, solemn and sincere.  It was a series of acts of personal grieving in the presence of others.  And perhaps what gave it this feeling, was that each of the speakers, relaying (at least to the best of my understanding) personal stories from that day, faced away from the audience and spoke to the huge alter of flowers.  They were not telling their story with any chance of seeing a reaction on the faces of those around them.  Everything they said was emotionally anonymous.  Words came into my comprehension, "child," "hospital," "listening to the radio,"  and the feeling of stillness in the room pressed on me.

It led me to a place in myself of my own personal grief and gave a safe atmosphere in which it could be as it wished.  I remembered my very good friend that I lost several years ago and as our quartet played the slow movement from Haydn's Emperor Quartet, I remembered playing the same piece at her memorial.  Here I was in Japan, sharing grief with all these people I don't know, trying to come to terms with death from very different causes and situations, trying to make sense of life in the face of all the various things that threaten its existence.

Later in the day, we all convened to perform a concert of Mahler 2.  After the mezzo soprano sang a pained and beautiful fourth movement seeking the peace of heaven, I felt the wear of the day.  As I counted rests in the fifth movement, listening to the off-stage banda play, I stared at the tuxedo coat of the principal player in front of me and marveled at its existence.  The stitching, the cut, the way the tails opened in the back just enough to see the buckle of his cummerbund, a three dimensional, real-life, layered piece of clothing, developed and created by human beings, moving with every breath he took.  It seemed impossible to be alive looking at this thing, alive with the other person living inside of it, alive and playing music with more than a hundred other people on the stage in front of two thousand more, being broadcast beyond.  Alive.

I think everyone has the capacity to understand grief and loss.  Even if it comes from different places, it is something we can see in one another, can deeply respect if we choose to do so.  Everyone has lost something, even the child losing a balloon to the sky.  We can all understand that absurd feeling of having and not having, of wanting irrationally something that cannot be had; a person, a memory, a way of life.  I don't think I've ever felt so close to people so far from me before, with whom I don't share a common native language, didn't grow up with the same cultural traditions, haven't shared the same losses.  And yet this feeling transcends them.

I still think we grieve alone.  Alone, together.  And I don't think it ever goes away.  It is a gift we can have, a way to see one another more clearly.  And although it is something inevitably lonely, it is also something that we can share with one another, a compassion that we can have together.  I feel very fortunate to have been able to share this day with Japan as they mark this memorial, to have learned something about grieving together.

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