Ryoan-ji Heart Home: 初雪

Today, I found myself reminded of my first visit to Ryoan-ji, to sit and learn from the “sermon of the stones” at the peaceful dragon.
This was brought to mind by a light exchange of comments about another person’s post. Something tickled that memory and brought it to the front.  It is autumn, years later and that winter at Ryoan-ji should not have come to mind; but come to mind it did.  I see now, I needed to be reminded and to travel back to this location in that place in time.
I spent six months in Tokyo but traveled about the country.  There were places I needed to visit, to touch, to smell, to soak in the essence of their being.  Sitting on the platform at Ryoan-ji was the first and last of these visits.
It was cold and grey that day.  I could smell that sweetness in the air that breathed “snow”.  I parked my rental car and entered the temple grounds and made my way to the hiraniwa – flat garden.  I stood on the viewing platform, calming myself, breathing in the gentle air and letting it fill me.  Kansuzume sat on the wall, fluffed out from the cold, looking about with their bright little eyes.
I then sat.  Shortly thereafter, I became aware a young man had also come and was sitting at the far end.  Obviously, we both wanted our space and our peace.  Quickly I allowed myself to again become part of the place.  It was so very cold, but it didn’t seem to penetrate me, to distract me.  My breath created ghosts in the air (ahhh, it was that visual in the young man’s post that reminded me!) around me.
Something cold touched my cheek.  I realized it had started to snow – small flakes lazily spinning down from the sky.  I looked up and then back at the stones.  I settled more deeply into my down jacket and continued to sit.  The young man at the end continued to sit.  Soon, larger flakes of snow fell faster and thicker, settling on and sticking to parts of the stones, moss, and gravel.  I could not help myself.  I laughed in delight.
The young man turned and said to me, “hatsuyuki –  初雪”.   Realizing I did not understand, he then said, “First snow” and smiled.  I smiled in return and nodded at him.  I sat a little longer and with safety in mind, reluctantly rose to leave and return to my hotel.  I stood and took one last look.  I cannot describe the feeling as I stood there in the snow.  So many seasons had passed and yet, here the dragon still slept while seasons, time, mere mortals came and went.  I bowed deeply and walked back to my car.
I passed the young man getting into his car.  He looked at me and beckoned.  I suppose it may not have been wise, but I went towards him.  With gentle courtesy, he opened a thermos and poured into the top, steaming green tea.  He bowed and offered it to me.  I took several sips and became as warmed by his kindness as I was warmed by the tea.  We took turns sipping in silence and smiling at each other.  When the top was empty, we both bowed and he got into his car while I walked a few steps further and got into mine.
At my hotel, I took a hot shower and ordered room service.  I did not want to sully the peace by being around groups of people.  I returned in the spring but of course, it was different.  Instead of snow on the gravel, it was fallen pink petals of sakura.  I found my heart home that day in the snow.  I carry this memory with me, deep in my heart.  I do not return to this home as often as I should, but it seems, I return when I have the need.

Journal Without Words

I was born on a cold, rainy, and pitiless morning November 16, at 6:35 in the morning. I didn’t want to come out – I was a breech birth and as long as my mother was in labor with me, it was obvious. At last, kicking and screaming and fighting as hard as I could under the circumstances, I at least made my appearance.

Not only a breech, but a blue baby. My mother’s middle sister, who was 10 at the time, recalled my mother as saying “Oh crap” – or something to that effect, the first time she saw me in the incubator. My father was instantly adoring, as fathers are. That spring, he planted a cherry tree for me in our yard. It flourished until I graduated from college. He cut the tree down and made a box from the wood. Lovingly he measured, planed, stained, and used some antique brass hinges he had found somewhere and been keeping on hand. He installed a simple lock and a tiny brass key locked and unlocked the box.

“Sis, this is for you – for your life. Put into things that are precious, reminders of happiness, reminders of sorrow, mementoes of love, symbols of friendship, victory, and defeat. Like life, there are things you will add, things you will remove, and things you will put back into the box. Life is like that. This box is like your heart – only you and God and those special people you allow to do so, can look into it. The key is for you to lock it if you choose. But guard the box well. I have put one thing into it for you. Like Pandora’s box, it holds hope.” And sure enough, in the box was a small smooth stone with “Hope” in gilded letters written on the stone.

In the box are faded obituaries, some photos of human and four legged family, one of my grandma Ninny’s handkerchiefs, my papa’s bronze star, a pair of chopsticks, a small tin of dried sakura, some cat collars, a few letters, smooth stones from my home town, Kyoto (Ryoan-ji), London, Tokyo, Woodstock, the church where my dear friend Father Pete was the parish priest, a small tin box of soil from the peaceful country cemetery where my grandparents, father, and more ancestors lay sleeping, some faded roses, some dried brown gardenias from the bush outside my bedroom in my childhood home, a napkin from my wedding reception, a baseball my mother hit out of the Durham Bulls Ballpark (she won a drawing and was a “guest hitter” who totally amazed everyone with that slammed ball, a picture of her at 16 with her hair in two braids, a skirt and oxfords and a well seasoned baseball glove,, and recently, put back into the box, a cassette tape of my Samurai playing piano to me one night. There are other things in there as well. The box smells of sandalwood, lavender, furniture polish, and time.

Only for a brief period was the box locked. It was always open, ready to receive the keepsakes of events in my life. I was always open to life and all it would bring. I have not always coped well with events and have not always had faith or believed in grace or I was sad and bitter. But I never stopped living. I may have hidden for awhile, but I always came back out. I have long since lost the key. Truth be told, I never looked for it.

Sometimes I open the box and sift through the contents. Other times, I walk past it and lovingly touch it. The stone, with “Hope” is still inside.

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