This past year, a constant theme connecting my days has been gratitude. As we watched the ‘world as we knew it’ change, in trickles and in tidal waves, I found myself constantly mouthing the words thank you every time something reminded me that life, in spite of what the news cycle persistently insists, is so beautiful and worth living.
I know that I am lucky. To have chosen a place to live where my neighbours are trees, and mountains exist behind my windows rather than in a painting. The river’s growl is my ambient background music, and a socially deviant cat is my constant companion, demanding to be petted with no concept for personal space.
But the gratitude that takes the cake, is easily the one where I live in a place in which social interactions are still permitted, and I can often spend time with the ones I love. To be able to share this life is such a gift. To talk, to listen, to learn about new perspectives, to understand there are countless different ways to live this human experience.
When I first moved to Kamikatsu I learned a new japanese word: ご縁 (go en). It was hard to understand the direct translation of what this word meant, until I realized the same word existed in mandarin: 缘分 (yuan fen). It is a word I’d heard a lot in my childhood (mostly from watching Chinese TV dramas, referring to main love interests finding or not finding each other, as the case may be). The description of ご縁 or 缘分 I like best describes an invisible string connecting two people destined to meet. Time, place, or circumstance are no obstacles, because mystical connections don’t answer to the How’s or Why’s our anxious minds hold to so dear.
I felt 縁 when I first stepped foot into Kamikatsu. People can live like this? I remembered thinking, staring in awe at the abundance of mountains casually lending shadows over neat rice paddies. I felt 縁 when I realized this mountain village wasn’t somewhere I could just easily leave. Now nearly two years later, I still mouth thank you every time I open up my windows, every time I drive alongside the river, every time I see a leaf on the trees begin to change colour.
But the magic of the mountains extends beyond her beautiful exterior. Because the magic of the mountains brought you to me. A home is not just the things you are surrounded by, no matter how majestic they may be. I know I am home by the feelings I get whenever I see your faces. Each smile opening up like a door thrown wide, a hug like a threshold crossed over freely, one heart pressed against another whispering, おかえり.
Some of you I get the privilege of seeing every day. Some of you I haven’t seen in over a year. But in each of your faces I find the key that opens up home for me. Words cannot describe (though, forgive the irony, I am trying) what it means to know you all. It is truly an honour to walk through life with you in it. To try together, to make mistakes together, to want something more, and better, than what we have known so far. And to put our hearts on the line to try for that more and better. Together.
Thank you for being my friend. Thank you for thinking of me on my birthday. Thanks to ご縁 that we could be here at the same time and, perhaps, in the same place. I love you with all my heart!