Tuesday, April 5, 2011

Sakura Bloom, Fortnight Nigh

The cherry blossoms (sakura) are finally blooming, Spring (Haru) is here, everything is coming to life.

I have two weeks left today; one week to take pictures of flowers, and one week to say goodbye to this beautiful land of Nippon.

Sakura are no small wonder to behold. They're not quite in full bloom yet, but every hour of every day unwraps a little bit more timid splendor. I find myself taking pictures but opening the van door as we stop by the train tracks, like some sort of photo-sniper. The natural beauty within all this urbania is captivating. I want to steal it and take it back. I want to... but I can't. It will have to live with me here, not there.

No matter how many photos I take, I will always be limited in my ability to transmit my experience of the flower; the camera does not convey the visual awe; the smell cannot easily be captured; the unfolding of the delicate leaves day by day; the intricacy of the colors and shades of white, pink, and red; the touch of the gnarly trunks of giants, decades old; walking beneath the canopy. I am powerless to communicate the enjoyment of just one well-known Japanese experience.

I often find myself pre-processing how I will explain this journey. Sakura is only one of the concepts I will fall tragically short in my ability to truly express. How much more so will I be powerless to unwrap the rest of my box of cultural and personal experiences? What is different about Japan? Everything. Who did you meet? Literally hundreds of people. What did you learn? So much! What was your favorite part? Being there.

Don't be surprised if that is what comes out at first if you ask a blanket question.

The problem: where do I begin? Where can I?

This loss for words makes me feel powerless, and even alone--but not unhappy. I will always have these memories to treasure in my heart.

I don't know how these last two weeks will go, but I'm not going to worry. I will take life as it is given and squeeze what enjoyment and learning I can out of my time. As always, I live in the present, and I say yes to experience. That means every day is a surprise--sometimes magical, and sometimes tragic.

I have been grateful for all my friends, family, and loved ones who have cared for me with joy, concern, and interest during this whole process. I am eagerly awaiting sharing my opportunity to share with you..

The good news? I have been deeply blessed.

I hope to distance myself from the web as I become even more present where I am for the next two weeks. Your thoughts and prayers are always appreciated. I love you all so very much... Even though I am fully present here, I miss you dearly.

Michael out.


  1. Even though there's no way a couple of photos and a blog post can convey what it means to be over in Japan, thanks for posting anyway Mike. :) It's been really cool reading about your journeys over in the land of the rising sun!

  2. Thanks Simon!!

    It's been really cool having you comment (and send me things...ahem) and follow along from the states. I love the feedback--it lets me know I'm on the right track!

    I hope we cross paths again soon...


  3. Elaine Scarry says, "Beauty brings copies of itself into being." I would speculate that your photographing of these flowers is just that - when we see something beautiful, we want to reproduce that thing in some way. We draw, we photograph, we even imagine it later in memories, but somehow we try to preserve or reproduce beautiful things. As you said, "No matter how many photos I take, I will always be limited in my ability to transmit my experience of the flower; the camera does not convey the visual awe; the smell cannot easily be captured; the unfolding of the delicate leaves day by day; the intricacy of the colors and shades of white, pink, and red." You just tried again there, in words that time, to replicate it. Photographs, words: means of replication of beauty (sometimes).

    Maybe this goes as far as explaining sexual reproduction (maybe?): I see a beautiful person, and somewhere deep inside, amid other motives is the simple desire to want to replicate that person. Aristotle claimed that the principle difference between humans and other animals was our ability to appreciate something beautiful without wanting to ingest it. In another book, Scarry comments on this idea, and the fact that our ingestion has merely taken a different form. I'd go as far as to say that maybe we DO want to ingest these things, but we are able to repress the urge. It happens to me occasionally when I hear a certain passage of beautiful music: I respond physically with not just happiness, but oftentimes a deep longing, an almost melancholic realization that I cannot fully feel the song. I can only hear it, but I want to feel it deeper, and that impossibility produces an indescribable void. Subconsciously, I wonder if it isn't the desire to ingest, to make fully mine, the music. It is impossible to do this with music. It is not impossible to do it with this flower, though, but you and I know it wouldn't really work. Somehow, the moment we ingest it we would destroy its power over us and possibly that mysterious desire to reproduce it in words and photographs. It's power over us (the flower's, the song's, the beautiful face's, and the sunset's power that tugs at our hearts like a magnet) is ultimately such that it must remain forever outside of us. We cannot and will not ingest it. And possibly reciprocally, that is what makes it beautiful in the first place.

    I feel like I've talked myself in a circle there, but one more observation while I'm on a roll :). Of all ways that we interact with God, why is communion the most sacred of all? "Whenever you eat my flesh and drink my blood..." Of all the actions to associate with divinity, why is ingestion among the holiest that we perform? Is the ingestion of the elements a necessarily spiritual action, or is it simply a reflection of this possibly true human practice: we ingest (or want to ingest) what we see as beautiful? I'm not trying to diminish communion in any way, but simply speculate on whether the chicken (humans wanting to ingest what we appraise as beautiful) or the egg (communion practice) came first.

    I think that's plenty of typing now. :)

  4. oh, and if you're interested, most if not all of this book is online:

  5. Aaron-
    I LOVE it. I almost don't want to respond, because I feel like I would ruin your comment. You have definitely given me a lot to think about, my friend.

    It's true, I feel it, also, this desire to want to make things a part of me. To fully experience them. But without restraint, this desire would destroy the very beauty I can appreciate. To ingest a flower, would, of course, strip it of the characteristics I truly enjoy about it.

    That's such a thoughtful take on communion. The symbolism is excellent; Christ's body and blood are now inside us. It's so tactile, so experiential, so personal. Each person gets to experience this blood and brokenness for themselves, in fellowship with others. It is intimate, yet can be shared. It's also something that is so elemental it can be practiced in every culture and society on earth. That Jesus guy really knew what he was doing...

    I have been reading the first couple pages of Scarry's book and am REALLY intrigued. This goes right alongside the path of learning I have been pursuing for the last couple months.

    Thank you for this, and for your comment!! I can't wait to read more of both..

  6. Mike -
    I just wrote a long comment and then deleted it accidentally. Oh, technology... So, let me write this again.

    Your post made me sad in a strange way, but also hopeful. I feel you. I really believe I can say that without it sounding "empty".
    Every time I went abroad for a longer time and was immersed into a foreign culture, it overwhelmed me at least as much as it enriched me. I still believe that almost nothing teaches us as much about our own values, our culture, and where we're coming from than going abroad.
    There is a "club" of people who have experienced this. And you can't be in it, until you're in it. If that makes sense...
    I believe that the feeling of aloneness you describe, that of feeling alone rather than being alone, will never fully fade. It will always be there - sometimes stronger, sometimes weaker.
    I've gone abroad for the first time nearly 10 years ago, and I did it again and again, again and again... Every culture I entered, everybody I met, everything and every place I've seen taught me something unique. Something, I wanted to share with everyone at home, and some of which I still want to share today. Sometimes, you even have a need to share, especially those things that touched you deeply and helped you mature.
    But it is difficult. It is hard to understand for those who have no frame of reference, no knowledge of the place, the people, the atmosphere, the way of life, ... I know. I've been in that position as well.
    Nobody will ever fully understand what you went through. That has to do with where you're coming from, and even more with where you've gone to, what you've seen and done.
    This is why we will always feel alone to some extent. And this is why your post made me sad.
    Yet, you've also made me hopeful. Knowing that I am not the only one struggling to find words, answering blanket questions with blanket answers. I read your post - and it could have been me writing the question "Where do you begin?" - Where *do* you begin? It's impossible to make somebody understand.
    However, I also believe that we will meet people (and I have!) who just do. They understand, not because they've been there with you. They understand because they've experienced the same feeling of being alone, overwhelmed, helpless, maybe even frustrated because they can't fully share their experiences.
    I've reached this conclusion before. But with this post, you made it ever so clear to me: Those who travel, who go abroad, will always understand.
    You made me feel less alone because you made me realize that we can be alone together.
    Thank you so much for that.

  7. Verena,

    Thank you for reading and for your comment. I'm really glad my post touched you and made you feel less alone!! It does seem that there is a 'club' of international travel, where once you've been there, you're never the same.

    It's true that now that I am back I feel what you felt. Many people don't understand, don't try, or don't know how to try. It's not just a matter of "telling," but even for them to know the right questions is difficult. In fact, when I tell people I got back from Japan, many do not make the connection that one of the worst natural disasters in the last 100 years just happened there...

    But your comment made me feel special. Thank you. Come back to Nebraska soon...