Thursday, 4 April 2013

pinapples in the time of mourning...

A recent shift in winds brought the warm rains of the southwesterly pineapple express to the shores of Vancouver and with it, so it seems, the pineapple harvest of Hawaii. Fruit stands and supermarket shelves overflow with fresh yet inexpensive pineapples; a tropical air to tantilise your palate with promises of summer and pina coladas. While most look forward to the perfect balance of sweet exotic juice balanced with zippy acidity, pineapples instead remind me of finding a little joy in was one of the biggest tragedies of my life: the sudden death of my very good friend, Kyoichi Sudoh.

My first host father when I lived in Yokosuka as an exchange student in 1992, Kyo-san and I developed an instant, brotherly kinship. 20-years my senior, Kyo-san went against the Japanese tradition of refering to him by an honoured title or by last name; the choice of an abbreviated first name was, quite simply, because he felt he was too young to have an 18-year old call him otou-san (dad). His wife, Hitomi-san, became an older sister to me while his two young daughters, Miki (7) and Taeko (4) were angelic younger sisters who, still to this day, I guard over like an older brother should.

In the seven short years I was blessed to have known him, never did I see the gentle-souled Kyo-san raise his voice, partake in any confrontation, or bemoan any disappointment. His deep voice and broad smile brought calm to every room he entered and joy to every one he met. This is why, on April 28, 1999, hearts sank as we learned that Kyo-san passed away suddenly in his sleep. He was only 44 years old.

Not only was I utterly devastated by the early morning news, but never in my life have I seen such an outpouring of emotional tribute as I did upon arriving in Yokosuka. It is customary for Japanese to present colourful wreaths to honour those who have passed, and these wreaths are displayed at the temple where the service is to be held. In Kyo-san's case, wreaths from family, friends, companies, school groups, and even the mayor's office stretched from the temple doors, down the driveway, and on to the street; a 1km long procession of wreaths, standing side-by-side, lining both sides of the street.

At the home, gifts of flowers and fruit filled the living room as mourners extended their sympathies to a family without father, husband, brother, or son. Considering the body was actually stored in the home for several days, it was a logical place to send these wishes. (Imagine my shock arriving at the home, tears streaming down my face, and being promptly escorted to Kyo-san's body laying in state).
As with the wreaths, the volumn of grief and gifts was overwhelming.

Amid this grief, a glimmer of joy. As you may have heard, Japan is a nation of $50 pears and $100 melons, so fresh fruit is an honoured gift that is most certainly not to be wasted. As with mourners from across Japan, I bade my final goodbyes and deepest condolences before returning to Kaga (where I had been living for some time). Tears raining from my eyes, it was not a pretty sight. In the midst of this, Hitomi-san turned to me and said "if there is anything you want, help yourself. There is so much that may go to waste."

Drying tears and speaking through hiccuping sobs, the best I could muster was "there's (sob) no need (sob) for anything (sob) ooh! (sob) pineapples! (sob) i'll take (sob) those (sob...and smile). And sure enough, off I went on the 5-hour train ride back to Ishikawa with not one but 4 fresh pineapples packed in my baggage.

To this day, whenever I have fresh pineapples, I am blessed with the memory of a great friend, the thought of a heart-wrenching loss, and the reminder that even on the gloomiest of spring days, sometimes the smallest thing can bring a ray of sun.

No comments:

Post a Comment