Another Place04.10.11

There’s a place I go once or twice a year that holds a big piece of my heart. It’s a beautiful place, high on a hill near the mountains in Gunma. An almost complete 360 degree panorama of mountains, rivers, villages, rice fields and cities spreads out below. At the center of this place is a large grassy area where occasional families picnic, couples walk slowly lost in thought, and solitary people stare into the past through the landscape of the present. Bordering this grassy oval are three burial mounds dating from the 6th century. One has been excavated to show the now empty keyhole shaped burial chamber built from stones; the other two lie hidden under dirt mounds now softened by grasses, cherry and pine trees. The graves belong to influential families who lived in this area long before my grandparents immigrated from Europe, before the Declaration of Independence was written, before the Mayflower sailed, before the first English Bible was printed- probably about the time young Patrick was kidnapped by Irish raiders. Fanning out from the mounds are section after section of modern granite graves marked off by paths and roads. In section 6 near the end of the row is the grave which holds the ashes of our daughter Karisa, born 3/18/96, died 8/4/04.

When she died suddenly in 2004, a neighboring church offered us space in which to lay her urn. At the time the pain was too great to appreciate that gift or any other. The day we placed her ashes in the grave was gloomy, sticky, and ugly- a tropical yellow gray. I hated everything; I hated the stonemason I’d never met who had misspelled her name on the stone, and I hated burying her among strangers. I wasn’t sure I would be able to make myself return there after that day.

In Japan, people traditionally visit the graves of relatives and friends on certain holidays or at important times like the loved one’s birthday or what would have been a graduation day. Even when I couldn’t bring myself to at first, a few of my friends went anyhow bringing flowers, offering prayers, weeping for us, Karisa, and themselves. In time, their care helped me want to go back, and as the pain began to subside, I started to notice things I hadn’t before including the wild violets springing up between the paving stones in spring and the hawk circling effortlessly up, up, and up above the pines. Here and there in the cemetery I learned of the graves of friends’ loved ones or occasionally found a stone which silently testified to the resurrection from the dead, an oddity in this part of the world. Little by little this place has become a treasured part of my world. Each visit I savor the weather, the view if it is visible, the scents of trees, flowers and incense carried on the wind. Each visit I feel the aching sadness of being so close and yet so far away from her.  As the years pass, some memories dim while others brighten, and though I feel the ever increasing distance from her throaty laugh, sweet smelling skin, and fierce hugs, I’ve become more at ease with my own mortality and the briefness of this earthly sojourn.  The day when death will be swallowed up in victory seems closer than ever, and my heart is strengthened to face what remains of my life.

A dear friend and I had been planning on going in March, but the earthquake and subsequent crises interrupted plans. This past fall I hadn’t been able to go due to settling into a new place in Tokyo, and the six months before that we’d been in the States. It was my first time back in over a year. Approaching the grave we were greeted by a profusion of swaying yellow mini daffodils just beginning to wrinkle and fade. Two years ago on her birthday I had brought a couple from my house and planted them in defiance of the sterility of granite and death. In that gravelly, barren strip of hard-packed dirt near the headstone I’d never dreamed the bulbs would actually survive the heat of the summer or the dry freezing winds of the winter, but they had for two years, and in God’s graciousness had bloomed in honor of what would have been her fifteenth birthday and graduation from junior high school- even though I couldn’t get there in time myself.

 

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Posted by Andrea Johnson under Uncategorized.

10 Responses to “Another Place”

  1. Wrapping my arms around you with a quilt of love.

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    Posted by Julie on 12/13/09 April 10th, 2011 at 11:22 PMReply

  2. Andrea,

    This is just lovely, achingly so. Thank you for sharing this part of your journey with all of us. We met many years ago, soon after your daughter’s death – I think at a CWM retreat at Alpine, but I’m not quite sure. I’ve been following your blog since the earthquake, when Kim Notehelfer put the link up on Facebook. Say what you will about social media – I’ve found it to be an invaluable aid to keeping in touch with people I’ve known and cared about in my past. It may be superficial touch, but it’s a whole lot better than nothing. Many blessings as you settle back into life in Japan – in the midst of so much tragedy and loss. Your words have been enormously helpful in trying to understand and picture the extent of the devastation – and then to hold those pictures in the presence of Almighty God as we all pray for this torn-up country and her people. Many blessings in Jesus’ name,

    Diana Trautwein

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    Posted by diana trautwein on 12/13/09 April 10th, 2011 at 11:40 PMReply

    • Yes, I remember. It was Alpine, after much drought and fire. The song you introduced as part of your message kept me company for a long time. Thanks for making the connection.

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      Posted by Andrea Johnson on 12/13/09 April 11th, 2011 at 7:37 AMReply

  3. Very moving. feels like holy ground.

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    Posted by Eva on 12/13/09 April 11th, 2011 at 6:02 AMReply

  4. Praise God for being there when we can not be.
    Love
    Bonnie

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    Posted by Bonnie Hedman on 12/13/09 April 11th, 2011 at 7:15 AMReply

  5. Read your poignant post this morning and it’s been on my heart all day. I feel honored you have shared this…

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    Posted by Dawn L on 12/13/09 April 11th, 2011 at 10:20 AMReply

  6. I’ll never forget the tragedy of losing Karisa so suddenly, at such a young age. She often pops into my thoughts. I’m so thankful that she had your family during her short time on this earth. To think that she would be just about a year younger than my daughter. Penny will turn 16 this coming June. When you had to leave Karisa behind in Japan while we were in Udon Thani, how would I ever imagine that there was a little girl just a year older than Karisa nearby us who would later become my daughter. When Penny had a high fever of 104 on my birthday I was remembering how you must have felt as a mother. It does go to show us just how fragile the life on this earth is. But, what an amazing celebration it’ll be when we are all raised and changed in the twinkling of an eye! I can’t wait for Penny to meet Karisa someday.

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    Posted by Chandra on 12/13/09 April 11th, 2011 at 11:12 AMReply

  7. Andrea,

    We love you and thank God for your honesty. Those flowers are such a reminder of the gift of resurrection.

    We will always think of Karisa as the beautiful young girl leaning on our armchair flirting with the Klemp boys.

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    Posted by Karen B on 12/13/09 April 11th, 2011 at 11:39 AMReply

  8. What a gift to all of us that you shared a piece of yourself in this way. Thank you. I am so thankful that I got to meet your precious Karisa and watch her join your family. I still remember coming to Nojiriko with my Tim to help out with Sammy and Karisa. I still marvel how you would put one in the backpack and then focus on the other one. That was many years ago. As a mom of two adopted children, your journey and loss touch me deeply. Jaden will be 8 this year. I can only imagine the journey you have had to climb to find life again. I hope some day to get to enjoy “ocha” with you again. In the meantime, I am so thankful that you have a blog. Japan is still so close to our heart especially at this time.

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    Posted by Kim on 12/13/09 April 11th, 2011 at 12:55 PMReply

  9. So poignant and moving, your words convey the depths of your heart. Writing about Karisa must represent yet another level in the long journey of healing. I’m glad you can do so; it must be a welcome catharsis. I remember how I struggled to have any words that might have meaning that fall after you lost Karisa; thank you for sharing yours.

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    Posted by LInda on 12/13/09 April 11th, 2011 at 11:56 PMReply

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