Skip to main content

Connecting To Your Past

I ran through Tokyo this morning. Took a left on the main road out of the hotel at 6 a.m. Took in all that I could of Japan along the way. A factory, a bamboo forest, small gardens, and way too many karaoke bars. A general aroma of tidiness. Things in their places. A mile on, I took to the ba…
By Seth Barnes

I ran through Tokyo this morning.

Took a left on the main road out of the hotel at 6 a.m. Took in all that I could of Japan along the way. A factory, a bamboo forest, small gardens, and way too many karaoke bars. A general aroma of tidiness. Things in their places.

A mile on, I took to the back streets. Still more karaoke bars. Three women wearing visors walking their dogs and carrying doggie bags. Girls on bikes apparently going to some school (who goes to school at 6 a.m.?).

Barber shops and beauty salons – more riffs on the theme of neatness. Green spaces and gardens kept showing up. I cut through one and was back at the hotel.

What would have happened if I'd taken a right? I decided to see. I kept going past the hotel and found the road to the right very different.

Quickly ahead I saw a path through gardens. Somebody was doing more than just putting salad on the table with those gardens. Row after row of what may have been strawberry plants poked their leafy heads through black plastic. Not a weed in sight.

The path got smaller. I was running by rice now. A woman with a scarf wrapped over her broad hat and around her head was hard at work.

Ahead the path sloped down and I found myself running through a small, thickly wooded forest. It was so peaceful in there. To my right I spotted a large burial shrine – a Shinto shrine, I thought, honoring an ancestor.

For the first time, I thought gracious thoughts about a religion I'd previously disparaged: "I don't know what's going on here, but whoever put that here was reaching for the sacred." Reaching for something beyond themselves that transcended time.

It's a universal thing. We all want to connect with the sacred. Why revere your ancestors?  Well, why not revere something? Isn't that better than the cynicism that infects our culture?

Back in my room, I thought about the two ways I'd taken. To the left I'd seen the current Japan – a mix of  the practical and the aesthetic symbolized by the karaoke bars. The thing about karaoke is that it's a nice mix of the programmed with the spontaneous. If you can remember the song's lines and carry a tune, you're good. But add a little of your own special sauce and you might get some applause.

To the right I saw the country's past. Actually, maybe I more felt its past. In a world rushing headlong into a future that at times feels nihilistic, it was a serendiptious privilege.

There's a tug in me to connect with the past. I need it like I need community. America, just 227 years into its experiment, can feel like a shallow-rooted culture. I need roots to live – don't you?

This past year, I took out all our old family videos and made digital copies for our kids. There they are at ages 3, 4, and 5 playing in a pool. There they are a little older on vacation. And then as teenagers opening presents at Christmas.

And in an old echo, there I am at the same ages doing the same things in my parents' silent movies.

And still further back, in a piece of cinematic antiquity, there's my dad graduating from Yale. And his dad proudly looking on. Seeing the connection between the generations felt strangely sacred. Like watching God finger painting with our lives.

Today Karen is at home planning what will surely be a stay in hospice for her mom. It's hard.

But just watching the flow of the generations whether in my videos or on my run past Japanese gardens and shrines allows me to give thanks to God, the one who orchestrates the flow and makes sense of living and dying.

He's not a product of my wishful thinking. People are looking for him and finding evidence of him all over the world. He's a creator who is creating new life out of old things all the time.

What are the old things in your life that need a little more reverence? Where do you find life through the roots that connect deeply to all that birthed you as you've come to be?

Comments (11)

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *