I can tell you it’s a curse as well as a blessing growing up in Manhattan.
One gets used to the whole world being condensed to one small island – all the world’s glories reduced to a grain of sand. One sees a painting at the Met, depicting a William Blake poem, believes it and develops a passion to look for the world in a grain of sand – to look for transformations of persons, places and things. The star at the opera house, the statue in the art museum become the norm.
The meat and potatoes – the ordinary life that produces sustenance for most of the world is an exception to the rule.
I’m sure this reasoning led me to travel to Tokyo after college as an English teacher and to stay for three years. The Japanese are masters at creating the world in a grain of sand. Japan is an island country, as is Manhattan – in and of itself.
I remember reading in translation “Kokoro” a book by classical Japanese writer Natsume Soseki about a Professor who, above all else, was determined not to lead an ordinary life. It resonated with me because I had no ordinary goal of dating, marrying, having a family. My goal actually was simple enough – though I wasn’t able to articulate it as such – it seems I just wanted to learn as much as possible about life, every moment of every day – an exhausting undertaking – totally unrealistic.
Now in my seventies, I seem to have achieved a fair measure of my goal – having a large house cluttered with things from places I have lived and people I have met.
Acquiring money has never been a goal so consequently, I don’t have any. But I do have treasures of inestimable wealth.
During my lifetime I hae collected people of inestimable wealth – to me anyway, personally: opera stars, artists – not too many ordinary people – to me anyway – because I’ve not been taught the definition of “ordinary.”
Recently I have been given the extraordinary opportunity to volunteer at a day care center to supplement the efforts of three teachers in the infant/toddler room where twelve babies spend most of their waking hours. These are not ordinary babies. There’s that word again. Every one of them is extraordinary and my every moment of every day with them is spent watching, interacting, absorbing the personalities, the progressions of their lives ranging from three to sixteen months old.
I don’t have to do the ordinary tasks of cooking, changing diapers and all; the parents and teachers do that. So here I am again drawn to an extraordinary life of observing the world in a grain of sand – so precious.
This passion for life includes going to a continuing care retirement center (CCRC) every week visiting friends at the other end of life’s spectrum. There is still so much to learn. My ninety-nine year old Japanese-American friend there teaches me Japanese and together we watch old Toshiro Mifune/Akira Kurosawa samurai movies.
Today a gift arrived in the mail from Yukio Ozaki, a longtime Japanese potter friend in Hawaiii. It was a ceramic piece he had made.
Here’s a photograph which doesn’t do it justice but still perhaps you can get an idea of the sun, the moon, the earth and its galaxies in the brilliant blues, interspersed with vibrations of deep browns and blacks, shot through with white sky, a crackling, glassy shine moving to ocean rhythms, the islands of Manhattan and Japan, so extraordinary a bowl, representing the world in a grain of sand.