Right after graduation from SUU I took a job teaching high school in Japan to pay off my student loans. I didn't speak Japanese, but I had served an LDS mission to Thailand and I was no longer afraid of anything.
I was assigned to teach in a town called Mori-machi, in Shizuoka-ken. Mori was two train stops from civilization. It was dense with trees and had a small population of 10,000. I was so very alone and the solitude of it all, living by myself, not speaking the language, not having even one friend nearby, or a cell phone...!...magnified my singularity to the point where I was miserable and feeling abandoned by God in my true desire to be married and raising children by then.
Japanese school teachers all have the same big office. My desk, however, faced a big wall of windows with a beautiful view of a pine forest banked in bamboo.
I only taught three hours a day. I was four hours round-trip from another American, from anyone that I could really talk to. (My phone bill in December was $780) So, I spent a good deal of time contemplating the seasons as they changed before me through the windows. I watched the bamboo foreground evolve from bright green to deep golden yellow. I watched it bend with the wind until I thought it would snap in two, but it never did. I watched a house being built, and then a neighborhood was erected around the first house. New children played below the window where I sat and new mothers hung their laundry out every day in the country breeze. You'd have thought I was in Kansas, 1957. Except for the bamboo.
The Japanese are very good at taking care of their elderly. They almost always live as one big extended family. I watched new grandparents shuffle around in the streets, smile, bow to each other politely. The whole subdivision was created in about 3 months, tops.
The summer was hot and humid in Mori. I wished for my dad's big backyard and a hose. It was a relief when the winds started to blow, but also a happy surprise when families with new baby boys raised a string of giant wind socks, shaped like fish, called "koinoburi" in celebration of the birth. I had also seen extravagant doll displays in the homes of families that were blessed with a baby girl that year. Apparently we aren't the only country with a gender stereotype issue.
This year in Japan was especially fun for the new neighborhood and their two new baby boys. On the first really windy day, I watched two sets of grandparents unfold these giant wind socks, some of them 20 feet long, and attach them to a rope which was diagonally strung from a peg in the ground up to the top of a telephone pole.
Almost immediately all of the giant swimming fish inflated with wind and took off. Black, gold, red, bright blue, green and purple... The intricate Oriental designs, the brilliant colors, gold and silver scales...amazing! It was a spectacular sight. I'm pretty sure the two families were having a contest to see who could get more fish on that line.
After about a week of watching these schools of fish swim around, get tangled in each other, smack each other down, lay dormant without wind, I noticed that one of the smaller ones, added at the bottom, was very plain. It was a narrow, black, gray and white fish without decoration, Probably the only reason I even noticed it was because it was always "swimming." It had a bigger mouth than the other more ornate ones. It's design was shorter, more streamline, allowing it to swallow up the tiniest bit of wind and take off. But the fancy long heavy ones lay limping in the same small wind as if they were fighting for breath in the bottom of a Coleman cooler. Only the biggest gusts of wind would set them sailing.
I built up quite an empathy for the little gray sock. It had a plain wrapper, like me. It did more with less and constantly proved that more isn't necessarily more. I marveled at it's optimistic attitude as if to say "Hey! I might be plain, short and stout but if this was a race, I would be winning!" But the bigger fish always waited for more wind to motivate them, handicapped by their decorations and spectacle. They would whip into each other and tie themselves in knots until the little old ladies in the neighborhood would come out with their long bamboo poles and untangle them.
The little gray sock never got tangled or tied. It just swam all the time, and it would instantly change directions with the wind just like the bamboo behind it. It was cooperative, dedicated to its task, creative and optimistic.
I felt pretty sure that a higher power was trying to teach me something about the little gray wind sock. I've always felt bad that my physical self wasn't more ornate, more eye-catching. No amount of gold or silver embellishments will give me a waist or...a neck. ;-) It isn't easy to get the attention of (a man or) if you will only show your legs from the skinny part of your calf down. To add insult to injury, my eye surgeries, though saving my sight, have made me allergic to eye makeup, so I rarely use it and it really affects how I feel about myself.
So I've worked hard to find and display other talents. To catch people off guard by entertaining them using wit and storytelling. I've learned the art of "magnetizing the details" as my mom would say. It distracts people from my plain gray wrapper. I preempt their perception of me with a portrait of someone that gets things done and can be counted on to bring creativity and optimism to the table when resources are slim (and I never have been)...
...I am "always swimming."
Blogging is great because...you can't see me. I'm safe behind the invisible interweb. For all you know, except that some of you do know me, I could be Quasimodo sitting here typing away. I could have some crazy physical defect like gills or a mermaid tail.
I don't have gills. But I do have a really big mouth. And I'm not afraid to use it, especially in this blog. I have used it to advocate for myself, for drama teachers, for my students and, on occasion, when I feel a great responsibility to stand up for the Mormons, I have tried to have a modern sensibility and be the voice of reason. Blogging has become a sanctuary for me. I'm very grateful to all who read, but it doesn't matter if you do. I will keep swimming.
To anyone that ever sees themselves as a little gray fish in a big pond, keep swimming. Open your mouth and go where the wind points you. For me, it has provided "blessing beyond my comprehension to receive."
Joshua 1:9 - Be strong of of good courage; be not afraid, neither be thou dismayed; for the Lord thy God is with thee whithersoever thou [swimmeth] goest."