Veteran

In the store today, picking up a few things in a land of strangers where I’d come for a wedding, I met a veteran. He mentioned George Carlin when he noted our hesitation to grab the divider for the checkout conveyor belt. “That thing is law.” He was on oxygen, standing to stretch but sporting a motor wheelchair, and wearing a veteran’s cap.

And somehow “George Carlin” was the peace word, in this world where I was wary for the sidelong stares and certain-colored hats. And we talked about Japan and Okinawa and his time there, and he smiled, for the memories, for the stories, and asked that I think of him when I return there. I said I would.

It was only after that I realized what a Japanese request this was, and so realized that this man, now an elder, once a soldier, now a veteran, had been where I’d been, and the touch of Japan on his heart had never left him.

To hold someone in our thoughts in a moment in a place of sacred beauty is to carry that person’s soul with us to that place; and to do so with prayer and with joy is the way of the traveling pilgrim, who reaches that place’s shrine and prays a proper prayer, to lead that soul in need upward on its journey beyond the grave.

This smiling man, warm in sunshine, cunning of Carlin, warm to a stranger, had asked a pilgrimage of me. Perhaps this is the year I must visit the place he mentioned. As the priest in the Noh play often says, I have long been longing to visit the place I have heard the beauty of, and now years have passed and I must see it before I die.

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