While I volunteered to help Tsubaki America with their New Years festival, I got to talk to a lot of people and see their reactions. Some of them stuck with me, all of them good. Here they are.
On the night of the 31st, after dinner, we had some downtime. Brock – a former shrine assistant – mentioned he was going to have a nap before things got busy. I realized that if Brock, who was younger and fitter than I thought a nap was a good idea, I should listen to that advice. I was so glad I did! Up till 1:00am, and then a 5:30am start would have killed me if I hadn’t had that nap.
Brock also suggested elastic shoelaces for my hiking boots, to make going in and out of the no-shoes-allowed buildings easier. I have a set and hope they work.
Right at the busiest part of the 1st, we had a family arrive – a large family, actually – in an RV. It was a smallish RV, but it was still way bigger than the passenger cars surrounding it. The guy driving was so embarrassed and apologetic. We happened to have a space that was perfect for him, and we stopped traffic so he could back in – he’d never have gotten out otherwise – and made sure he was all set. He, his wife, her parents, and their three kids were all on board, and were so excited to come, and so happy we could help them.
A fellow with an eastern european accent and an earnest demeanor came over and asked me questions about the shrine and Shinto while his Japanese wife got there adorable little toddler out of their car and into her heavy coat. I explained a little, and suggested a book or two, as he was curious and didn’t know. I was describing some of the things they do at the shrine, when his wife brought their daughter over. She had read up on the shrine, and asked, “Does the priest do the 7-5-3?” She seemed very satisfied by that, and her husband enthused, “Wow, this is so great, we had no idea this was here. I think we’ll have to come back!” His wife added, firmly, “Yes. We’ll be back.” There was no argument with that tone.
As the afternoon slowed, I wound up talking to a guy who was waiting for his wife and kids to get out of the car. He looked at me, a clearly white American guy, and started the conversation with, “So, your wife is Japanese?” I actually had no idea what he meant for a moment, and just answered, “Er, no. Not married, here by myself.” That led to confusion, and my having to explain that no, really, I’m a Shintoist myself. Have the kamidana and the whole thing, and came to the shrine to help out. He seemed bewildered. His Japanese-looking wife rescued him by showing up with their children.
Many years ago, as a school trip, we went to an exhibit at the Science Center in Seattle where they had brought in Chinese artisans who were weaving beautiful silks, and embroidering different things on each side of a panel and such. They told us that the artists didn’t speak English, but understood a few things. Smiles were clear. “Thank you” was something they knew. That came back to me very clearly while parking cars. I could wave, and point, and smile and nod, and people would get that, even if they had little or no English. And smiling faces where what they needed to see, and it was easy to do.
I’m sure there were more, but these are the ones that stuck with me for a year.