In the early 1960 my Dad’s career moved the family to Tokyo, where my sister and I got to grow up. Once there, the first line of business for my Mom was to find a home for us and after a couple of months living at the Hotel New Japan, she found a great one. It was a big rambly house, full of character and idiosyncrasies. Half the house was of western design and was ours to live in; the other half was of traditional Japanese design and was the residence of our landlord, Mr. Akebana, an elegant Japanese gentleman. Our half was bare when we moved in save for a wooden statue of an early Japanese Jesuit priest, dressed in kimono. He wore a rosary and a sword…a sword not to kill a possible offender but rather to kill himself in the likely event he would be persecuted for being a Christian. A classic east meets west paradigm. Mr. Akebana told Mother that the statue had long lived in the Western wing of his, now our, home and that it was the Guardian of the house. He asked if the statue might stay put. Mother was delighted to comply.
We know nothing of Mr. Akebana’s life except that he would have lived in Tokyo through the war, had this enormous estate and grandiose home smack in the middle of town and lived with his sour step-sister. My memory of him is that he was a sad and contemplative man, always dressed in shibui toned kimonos. It must have been quite something for this Japanese survivor of WWII to permit an American family to live in his home.
Our side of the residence eventually boasted dogs, cats, hot and cold running flow of international house guests, homework, sleepovers, fancy dinners, kitchen suppers, climbing trees in the backyard…it was a happy and privileged life.
When after ten years we were moving to another home, Mr. Akebana over the protestations of the sour step-sister, insisted Mother take the Guardian with her. That statue, a particular favorite of Mother’s, eventually returned to the States with them when my folks retired.
Six and a half years ago at a ripe old age, my Mom entered hospice and I became her primary caregiver. About two weeks prior to her demise I went to a little nail shop not far from my parents’ home and asked if one of the manicurists might consider coming to the house to tend to Mother’s nails. The gals declined siting the situation as too unusual but a gentleman stepped up and within minutes he was following me up the hill to the folk’s home. As we came into the house the Vietnamese manicurist, Tony, took off his shoes. He started noticing the Asian art and once in the living room spotted the Guardian. He knew immediately who it was…a famous figure of Christian advancement for Asia. With that we went to Mother’s bedroom where he greeted her with a beaming smile. Tony worked on Mother for well over an hour. I could hear them laughing and giggling…when I checked back in he was massaging her feet and said “I wish I was her son, then I could do this every day.” As he was leaving he flatly refused to take any money for his efforts. I forced a little vase on him which he reluctantly accepted. A few minutes later, the doorbell rang and it was Tony with a wooden rosary and cross. He asked that I give it to Mother. What was so startling is that it looked precisely like the rosary carved into the wooden statue made to look as if the Guardian himself were carrying it. It was as if, through this angelic stranger, the Guardian had given Mother his rosary. Mom was as astonished by the gift and she held that rosary over her last days absorbing the comfort it afforded.
Six years ago…. and Tony’s gift still astonishes me. Death, I learned, gathers angels be they on this or that side of the veil.