I don’t usually write much about politics or world events on my blog because politics is exhausting.
The effort to hold on to the comfortable belief that our leaders are not horrid people lasts for a while, but then that belief comes into direct conflict with the fact of the leaders doing something horrid. This is followed by propaganda which is followed by justification which is then followed by the belief that the horrid event was necessary and that the leaders are not really horrid people. This is the weary intellectual treadmill of modern politics.
We want to believe that the leaders of the world are not the thieving, grasping, psychopathic murderers that their actions show them to be, but are, in fact, the concerned, wise, and just statesmen that they pretend to be. But the whole round and round from happy political illusion to stark political reality and back to illusion again is exhausting in the long run, and is an effort best left to the young.
I prefer to write about life and laughs in Japan (and elsewhere), about the animals I know and the people I meet here in this land that is the farthest of the Far East. And now it’s August, but there are always two Augusts in
Japan: There is the August of now, when by day the warm summer breezes skip along happily with you and the fresh white clouds tower high in the endless blue sky, when by night the air folds you close and warm, putting soft hands on your cheeks, resting them there while you listen to the long droning songs of the giant cicadas. And then there is the of August somber remembrance: when the Pacific War came to an end amid the double atomic bombings and the massive firestorm raids on Tokyo.
Studying these events in Modern History class in high school, I knew, at least intellectually, that these were momentous happenings: The atomic bombing of Hiroshima at 8:15am on August 6th, 1945, the atomic bombing of Nagasaki at 11:01am on August 9th, and the continuing firestorm raids on Tokyo where a single big raid could kill 100,000 people. We even learned the names of the atomic bombs: Little Boy and Fat Man. But none of it was very real to me; partly because nothing much that occurred beyond last week is real to a teenager, and partly because I’d never met anyone who had been involved in these great cataclysmic events. Indeed, how could you ever meet someone who was there at the atomic bombing? They’re all dead, right? Blown up.
Except that for the last twelve years I’ve been singing with and going to church with someone who was in downtown Nagasaki at 11:01am on August 9th, 1945.
He did not die in the bombing, obviously, and he sang the psalm every third Sunday or so when his name came up on the singing rota. He was a tenor. He did finally die, but that was only last month, and that’s how I found out
about him and the atomic bomb, because of what people said about him at the funeral. Things he never said about himself and his life.
Mr Hiroshi Mori was born into an old Catholic family in Nagasaki in 1933. When his grandparents were young it was government policy to kill Christians outright, and that policy had been in place for about two and a half centuries.
What a joy it was for the Nagasaki Christians when, in the last quarter of the 19th Century, they were permitted to worship openly and to go to church on Sundays. What a privilege it was felt to be, as Mr Mori’s younger brother told us when he spoke at the funeral and reminisced about days long gone by:
“We got in from Nagasaki yesterday afternoon to come to the funeral here. When I met the priest yesterday he asked me if I could say something today at the service about my brother. You can’t refuse such a request from a priest, I know, but I was so tired and troubled yesterday that I couldn’t think about what I should say today. My head was just empty, and in the end, I just fell asleep last night. I’m sorry.
But, you know, this morning I remembered something: My brother and I, we grew up in this neighbourhood, this family, where you always went to church on Sunday. You didn’t miss it. And that came from our grandparents, and how that God loves us and we return the love by going to church on Sunday.
By the way, do you know what dormice are? They’re cute little things and you can find them in the hills around Nagasaki.
One day a friend of mine in our neighbourhood said to me: ‘Let’s go to the mountains and catch dormice.’ He was younger than my brother, but older than me, and anyway, I was thrilled. I knew it was Sunday, but we went to the mountain anyway. We searched around and around but we didn’t see any signs of dormice. Really disappointed, I went back home, and when I got home I said to my brother:
‘Boy, we walked and walked and walked, but we couldn’t find any of them. I’m so disappointed.’
The next moment I saw his fist coming at me and POW! He hit me in the face.
‘You little twerp’ he said, ‘Sunday is for going to church to show our love for God!’
I just ran to my mother and said: ‘Hiroshi hit me in the face!’
‘Why didn’t you hit him back?’ was all she said.
Later my brother came up to me and said: ‘I’m sorry I hit you. I shouldn’t hit you for the love of God.’
He was that type of person; he wouldn’t hesitate to apologize if he thought he’d done something wrong. And he would push to do what was right, and take the lead himself, like when he started our church choir. When we were kids we didn’t have a choir, but Hiroshi went to the monastery nearby to learn to sing hymns. Then, when the monastery moved, my brother stepped up and did everything to build the choir in our church, and it was a good choir, too.
That’s the kind of guy he was: He would be the leader for what was right, and do the work himself more than tell others, and if ever he made a mistake or did wrong, he openly apologized and did his best to set it right. That was my brother.”
An old friend of Mr Mori’s spoke next:
“We worked together in the Red Cross after the war. Everything was crap then. The country was flat and there was not much hope for the future in those days. There was lots of complaining about the present and lots of big talk about the past. Hiroshi wasn’t a complainer or a big talker.
I remember that, for some reason, I heard that he’d been there when Nagasaki was hit. He’d never talked about it or said what had happened or how he’d survived, but I got it out of him one day.
He was on the train, going into town (the trains were still running sometimes). There was the shock and the train came to a stop. People started to get out of the train and after that he just went blank. He felt like his mind was totally gone. He walked and walked and somehow found himself at the place where the 26 martyr saints are enshrined. I’ve wondered to myself if perhaps the Holy Spirit guided him there.
He saw some pretty bad things then, bad things for a boy to see, but he never carried it all around with him in his life, like a burden. He was always a positive guy, with a quick and kind smile, and he took joy in life and uplifted the people around him. That was Hiroshi.”
Finally, an old lady member of our church spoke:
“You’ll all remember Mr Mori as such a great singer, really the chief of the psalm singers for years and years. And he loved signing and really put his heart into it. It was one of his greatest joys and he did it so well. But there was a time, you know, when none of us here in the parish knew that he could sing, that he had such a gift to offer.
For the longest time after he arrived here he used to sit quietly in the very back row, never putting himself forward. But over time those of us sitting at the front could hear from back there a fine tenor voice coming out more and more as time when on. Once we were pinched for psalm singers on the rota and I asked him if he’d let me put his name on the list. Since then he started sitting more towards the front of the church and sang the psalms for us very regularly, right up until recent days. He wouldn’t put himself forward, but he would always help out brilliantly when needed. That was the kind of man Mr Mori was.”
I’ve been wondering to myself since old Mr Mori died: Why can’t we have people like him as leaders? Can you imagine what the world would be like? Certainly political life would be less exhausting.