My son, Zen, begins his pilgrimage today, to the 88 temples of Shikoku... a 'henro' like his father 25 years earlier. Zen's mother also had walked the 'henro michi' in her early thirties before meeting me, in her transition. Like many pilgrims 'on the cusp of change' a rite of passage, a superb opportunity to reflect, while rediscovering the kindness of strangers and the natural beauty abundant in Shikoku... the trail beckons.
Reiko had met and fell in love with a Buddhist priest in that journey. A priest whose mother, a typical temple parental oligarchy, rejected her as a suitable match ...and now, nearly 30 years later, our son, at 18, will bring some of her ashes, to sprinkle on each of the eighty-eight. Perhaps a piece of her will find the peace which eluded her in life.
Zen is a declared atheist, yet, being of Japanese soil, he understands the power of simple ritual, reflection, and form. He will take on the challenge, and allow life to be created around him, bringing his own dignity and effort into the mix. The dogma of religion and philosophy will scurry from behind, trying to keep up with his youthful vitality and stubborn perseverance.
I will be here, on our family mountain-top homestead, with his sister Kai. Kai will soon be 21 and also finds herself in transition. Confronted by the exorbitant cost of American private universities, we as a family have had to reevaluate our options. Study 'kanji' (advance level Japanese writing) here in Japan, apply to more affordable US schools, study in the Philippines where an education is still reasonable, or to find a job... all options I would personally enjoy for myself and excitedly support for her...
Yet none has yet to light a flaming inferno under her heat-resistant derrière. Instead, over a low flame of discontent, she simmers in indecision, a slow burn of despair for her and consternation for her father. Only time will tell what path awaits us all.
I, too, live along the way and wonder when I will step again. As an American, I know the merit of the open road and the desolate chill of a man with no sense of home. I waver between clinging to the earth of domesticated normalcy here in Japan and stepping out into the abyss of brave options... between university fail-safe and life free-fall.