Note: There are five parts to the Samurai and the Wren. This is chapter four of that story.
Many years ago, a wizard from another universe was teaching me in the art of war. He wrapped my hands around the hilt of his katana and said to me, “Before you start, remember: Accept your death in battle as a given. You will be freed from fear. You will be able to focus more clearly and correctly. Empty yourself. You will be free. You will be more alive than you have ever dreamed”. Then he smiled and in my ear whispered some lines from one of his favorite songs, “Seasons don’t fear the reaper. Nor do the wind, the sun or the rain. We can be like they are. Come on baby… don’t fear the reaper.” (BOC Don’t Fear the Reaper) And with his arms around me and I, moving with him, learned my first fighting form.
The wizard of course, was Ken. He was looking at me and frowning. He had wrapped his obi around my waist and tucked in his katana. I was standing correctly. I was pulling the sword correctly. “Do it again”. I pulled. “Again”. I pulled. Huge frown and then, a huge smile.
“Short. You’re too short for the blade.” He strode over, pulled out the hilted sword from the belt and replaced it with his wakizashi. “Now, try this. Pull.” Considering look “Again”….”Again”…”Again”…”Perfect!”
He lifted me up and spun me around. “Misosazai, you are too short for the katana. By the time you almost have it drawn, your opponent will have beheaded you. But with this short sword, you will be formidable”. Now I was frowning. At 4’10” and 95 pounds, I was as formidable as a bunny rabbit. But if my lover said so, then it must be so. I trusted him and he was rarely wrong.
It was hot and I was sweaty and irritable. He decided it was best we go sit in the shade by the koi pond and cool off. His hair was pulled up from his neck in a high tail. He stretched out on the grass with his hands behind his head. I sat and leaned against the ancient oak, with the obi and swords pulled from around me. Sun and I do not get along well. I closed my eyes feeling sunburn creep across my face and down my arms. I didn’t want to learn this. I didn’t want a crash course in the levels of Japanese sword technique and history. I wanted a soak in a tepid bath scented with lavender and a tall glass of lemonade while I soaked. He shifted. I groaned. I could tell from his body language, it was lecture time.
“It’s like life. We all die. Accept it. Once you accept it, you can begin to live. Empty yourself of those fears about death.” Ken rolled over and looked at me. “Come here dear heart, lie down beside me”.
Petulantly I muttered, “Grass makes me itch”. He snorted. “Everything makes you itch. Come lie down with me and let’s watch the clouds travel across the sky”.
We had been living together for only a few months. We quickly learned the other needed times of silence and solitude, to back off when told to, that we enjoyed cooking together as much as we enjoyed making love together, both of us had an eclectic taste in music, a sometimes twisted sense of humor, that slapstick humor made us guffaw with glee, both of us an odd and changing mixture of pragmatic, mystical, and spiritual, we always had something to talk about and never tired of talking to the other, and that amazingly, we were born the same day and same year within five minutes of each other at opposite ends of the earth.
I crawled over and lay down beside him. Impishly he grinned. “Now, as you say, isn’t this comfy-cozy-friendly?” And it was. My small form beside his tall form, on our backs, hands under our heads, ankles crossed, my black hair braided and pulled up over my chest. We both sighed and watched the clouds. Peaceful sounds – the koi occasionally breaking the surface, a dog barking in the distance, a cardinal sounding his territory, a lawnmower droning across the way, an occasional car going past, a few yards down, children laughing as they played. We sighed again.
“Now dear heart, what think you of the clouds?” He knew I would answer when ready. We both continued to watch the clouds, be peaceful, and let thoughts drift inside our heads.
I said, “Kobito, clouds don’t live long. They travel across the sky in their allotted time and then when it is time, they end. Yet, they come and go and drift. No cloud stays at cloud-home – it sets out and completes its journey regardless. No stopping until the end. And then they fade and become part of the universe, forever.”
He turned to face me. “And that is the point Misosazai. I would have expected no less of an answer from you. After all, you sat and watched snow fall at Ryoan-ji. You rode a horse into the desert to watch meteor showers. You stood at the edge of the waves at Atlantic Beach and threw your arms out wide and laughed into the wind. You rescued this worthless man and captured his heart, mind, and soul. So I tell you this: In battle, just as in life, accept your death as a given. Empty yourself of the death and fill yourself with life. You have begun that journey. Now continue and never stop. Pursue life relentlessly.” He sat up, “Now go get the obi and my sword and let’s start again.” He stood up and held out his hand. “And afterwards, I will prepare you an amazing bath and rub your little red face with aloe gel.”
I took his hand and stood. A couple of weeks later, he came down the back steps of our home. He was competing that night and was dressed in the beautiful black hakama he was wearing when we first met. He was carrying a long narrow wooden case. “Come here honey chile”, he drawled, imitating me. He called me away from raking the kare-sansui. He sat carefully on the steps and placed the box on the floor between us, motioning for me to sit.
I sat across from him, as I had that first night. He smiled, brackets around his full lips. In his soft husky voice he said, “Dear heart, this is for you. Her name is 南風 Minamikaze – south wind. He opened the box and I gasped. Nestled in black velvet, was a new wakizashi. He looked at me solemnly. “I will teach you to use her, care for her, respect her, love her. I pledge this sword to you and I pledge my heart to you.” He placed the sword in my hands.
I sat there, tears dripping on its surface. It reflected light and colors from our surroundings. He stood and walked down the steps and I followed. He placed my hands on the hilt and leaned down to kiss my forehead. “When you draw this more than six inches, it must taste blood.” I knew the skin between his thumb and forefinger had many tiny scars and some new cuts.
Carefully, I held the sword and then quickly, drew across that bit of skin on my own hand. Criminy! That hurt. A bit of blood welled up. He took my hand in his and placed his lips on the cut. “They say the sword reflects the soul of its wielder. May this sword only reflect light and never any darkness”. I slowly moved the sword. It glinted in the sun. I held it up and saw blurred reflections of the stones behind me in the garden, the green from trees – my life reflected on its narrow edge. At that moment, I have never loved more or felt more alive.
And thus, the Samurai and the Wren (Misosazai) began the great journey of their life together.
In teaching me the art of war and death, he was teaching me the art of life and love. Now years later, it still holds true. Empty yourself of death and never stop filling yourself with life, love, and light.