So Softly So Soft

I never noticed any real affection
they seemed to live two separate lives
They were married my wife’s parents
I met them some eighteen years ago
in Samugawa Japan
They spoke no English and I
spoke very limited Japanese
Affection seemed to me
to be a universal language
spoken in many verbal
and non-verbal ways
I never noticed or felt for that matter
any affection shared between them
They seldom spoke to one another
and I had never seen any physical contact
the occasional kiss or holding of hands
I tried to explain their distance
as that of a cultural divide so subtle
that a westerner could never understand
I wanted to believe they had
no need for affection
that they had found
the perfect relationship where purity
lies in thought only
I wanted to believe that Shinto Buddhism
and the hardships of war
had forced them so far inward
that they had found the center
of their shared being
But I really didn’t know
they spoke no English and I
spoke very limited Japanese
Last week I returned from my
father in-law’s funeral
I watched as all of the relatives
for three days gathered around the body
a priest chanted and many polite prayers
and offerings were given
and yet I saw no affection
no tears or screams of loss
no outward signs of sorrow
I watched as the coffin was opened
and flowers were placed inside
And as my mother in-law stood there
staring down at her husband
I wondered what she may be thinking
Was she reaching into that spiritual center
where they had lived together
where affection was understood
and not shown
Where the westerner
could not possibly understand
I stood there wondering
when she raised her hand
and rubbed his forehead
so softly
so soft...

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