The Land of Lamentations

“I am living in the land of Lamentations,” I said to myself last summer. I was sure of it. Joel had lost his job; his whole division had been dropped. The sponsoring company was not going to renew the work visa. I had not been able to secure the full-time job I had been hoping for. Sickness had pounced on me with wretched regularity. My son had been hospitalized thousands of miles away back in the States. He had finally, after years of teenage rationality hit his rebellion phase. His grades and our relationship suffered. My daughters were resenting the fact that they had to hunker down in this non-California Japanese desolation far away from their beloved friends. We were daily struggling with a seemingly untrainable, unrestrainable furry toddler with sharp teeth who resisted our efforts at domestication. I was struggling with the fact that my brain was no longer as spongy as it used to be and no matter how many times I needed to use it, the japanese for “Don’t worry, my dog doesn’t bite.” (kamimasen) came out sounding like, “Don’t worry, my dog doesn’t mind.” (kamaimasen). And in many ways the second sentence was more accurate. My dog still has not really learned to mind.

So the school year ended and off we went to the peace and rejuvenation of Lake Nojiri. One daughter was terrified of the giant hoppers and would climb up on my head whenever she saw one, and the other daughter caught an army of interesting bugs and brought them into the cabin for further study. One room was turned into the bug morgue and the odor was not pleasant. Our very large puppy, Bjorn, came along and to liven things up a bit at the lakeside, he plowed into an innocent bystander and broke her thumb. Not to be outdone, I broke my own toe, but then again, that happens every year. I was beginning to think that was losing my way in the wilderness of Lamentations.

I got sick, Laura got sick, Joel got sick. Elsa did not. Constant dirt under the fingernails does have the advantage of boosting your immune system. During the last couple of weeks up at the lake, I got an infection. I was not in a happy place and I’m afraid I was less than cheerful and I often took it out on the ones that I loved. I pulled others into my land of lamentations.

We went sailing, Laura and I. We entered a sailing race in pre-typhoon winds. We were going at a good clip when the sail came loose and the boom dropped on the deck. The winds were so strong, we could not re-attach the sail. We had to tip the boat sideways, drop the mast and sail into the water, and with the help of another boat and three people in the water, managed to tie the sail back on and finally make our way back to shore. I was so exhausted after that ordeal, I could barely stand. I hobbled back to the cabin with a bruised knee and continued my lamentations.

I had gone back to California with the girls in early July to get the house ready for two sets of renters; upstairs and downstairs. Clearing the basement had taken a long time, but it would be worth it if the rent would cover our mortgage. Back in Japan, I was relieved all that was over and done with. We had a renter for the upstairs and a new renter for the downstairs. I could relax in the peace and quiet of the lake. Joel called from Tokyo; he had some bad news. It was about the house. But, of course, what now? Apparently, the guy who had just begun renting the downstairs of our house back in California had been thrown in jail along with his girlfriend for possession of drugs. There was a big confrontation with shouting and guns and handcuffs. We were very apologetic to our neighbors. We told them that we will no longer trust the results of background checks. We are new to this landlord business. Our neighbors have had experience as landlords. “It happens,” they said, “not your fault.” Still, I felt like I had become a homeowner in the Land of Lamentations. And I wasn’t sure if I could afford the mortgage.

Joel came to rest at Nojiri on the weekends. He brought his bike so he could ride around the lake. It was relaxing for him to be able to get in some good long rides. His last ride was rather short. While pedaling fast up hill and cornering, his pedal hit the pavement on the downstroke and he went tumbling over his bike in a spectacular wipeout. And when he had picked himself up, the tire blew. At least there was someone there to see it. In fact there was a whole group of runners who saw the accident; they happened to be from Chofu, our neighborhood in Tokyo. They gave him a ride back to the cabin and we patched up his bloody arm and leg as best we could. He had to go back to work the next day, but on the train, of course, he discovered that he was ill. He had just cause for lamentations, but he was actually just happy that he got to go on a bike ride.

When he got home that Monday, he found that Elsa’s beloved hamster had passed on. Earlier, her second beetle had also died. True, Sally was elderly, for a hamster, but it was still a reasonable cause for lamentations. Poor Joel had to place the body in cold storage, in the freezer, and wait for a week until we could bring Elsa home for the funeral and burial. It was a sad procession to the cemetery. Sally, the hamster, was buried under a tree and laid to rest with a small handmade cross to mark her grave. Even for the small things in life, the lamentations can be large.

So what is the end of it all? Do my lamentations magically stop on the doorstep of some sun-drenched happy day in the future? Lamentations are a part of life. We live through them. Our tears stop. Some things heal quickly and other things take time. Weeping lasts but for a night; joy comes in the morning… or the next day… or the next month. God does not ever leave us. God carries us through. Sometimes we are oblivious even when God is obvious. So, even if I am traveling through the land of Lamentations, it does not mean that I have to buy a house here. One mortgage is enough. I will keep traveling.

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