In one month I’ll be in Japan. My plans are progressing. I have been assured that my investment of over $550 in a Japan Rail Pass will more than pay for itself. I’ve booked accommodations in five locations and have two more to go. I’ve downloaded apps like a free wifi finder, a Tokyo subway route finder, an offline map of Tokyo that turns out to be only in Japanese, and Google Translate. I will test this last one out with my sister in law before using it on the street, just to make sure it doesn’t translate, “Where is the sub-way?” as “Where is the worst route?” or some such.
My aunt’s funeral took place last week.
The young priest at the small-town parish had alienated himself from the townspeople and congregants by firing the choir directors because they were openly gay.
Why couldn’t they stay closeted, like him and his “assistant,” Lance?
One day a month ago, my aunt had said to me and my cousin, “I hope you don’t think it’s weird, but I still want to be buried out of the Catholic Church.” We assured her it wasn’t weird. She’d been raised in the Catholic milieu of Small St. Paul in the 1930s and 40s. She attended Catholic schools through high school and worked at a Catholic college. There was, and still is, plenty of good work being carried out by nuns and Catholic lay people.
But she didn’t want the young priest saying her funeral mass, so my cousins imported a more liberal-minded visiting priest from St. Paul. Other than calling her by the wrong name, he did a fine job.
You would think that a funeral would be the saddest part of a death, but this was a Catholic funeral, so it was all about Jesus and not my aunt. Lance played the organ and belted out the hymns like he was in a broadway musical, so at least the music was good.
It’s the little reminders that catch you off guard. Like seeing her knitting lying abandoned—the baby hat she’ll never finish. She knit baby hats for the local hospital. I teared up when I came across her glasses, which she wore to read or work on crosswords, two of my own favorite pastimes.
While my aunt was dying—in pain or during moments of indignity she would have hated if she’d been conscious—someone asked, “What’s the point of all this!?” and I thought, “There is no point. It’s biology, physiology, pathology at work. It’s “nature, red in tooth and claw.”
And in my mind I start going around in circles like I always do, asking, “What’s the point of life?”
Some people seem to believe that the point is to be productive. “I’m so busy!” is their refrain, as though that’s something to be proud of. Others believe the point is to change the world for the better. But I’ve seen so many well-intentioned do-gooders make things worse. Is the point to live in the moment and be appreciate whatever is good and beautiful? That seems a vapid, not productive…. Like I said, circles.
There are infinite details to figure out for the trip. I need to get my duplex ready for the Chinese couple who are renting it while I’m away. And figure out how will I meet up with my sister in law’s parents to retrieve my nephew when the time comes. And how do I buy tickets for a baseball game? My nephew would love that. Must remember to register with the State Department. Would it be worth going to Yokohama, where my dad was a sailor with the US Navy before I was born? Should I get travel insurance? What kind of gift should I bring for the in laws? Japanese gift giving is fraught with peril.
And what is the deal with the baths? Are they for health? To get clean? To socialize? To relax? There are so many types, and so many rules. This CNN video clip about Japanese baths features Dr. Sanjay Gupta, who quips, “Having to say a prayer before you do something? Makes me a little nervous.”