Usually when I spend some time back home in Germany I kind of look forward to going back home to Japan, for many different reasons.
This time though (as you can read in my post “Germany Part I”) it was a very special and wonderful trip.
I guess that's why, on my first morning back in Osaka, after my husband left for work and I was alone in our apartment, the silence hit me hard.
I was already missing my mom. Her and also all her neighbors and the daily happenings in and around her house.
My mother lives in a social housing that consists of four homes.
Below her live retired, half deaf Annamaria, whose laugh makes you jump up the ceiling because it sounds like she's screaming for help. Occasionally she screams at her 85-year old sweet mother, who has learned how to swing like a light bell in the wind to her daughter’s moods.
In the building across lives my mother’s longtime Turkish friend and fellow sufferer from mean mothers-in-law.
Her name is Ayla.
To me is the spitting image of Catherine Deneuve – simply an attractive, beautiful woman at any age. She is very stylish, materialistic and pragmatic thinking when it comes to men, very generous, and fun loving. BUT …
She wants things her way, which drives my mom nuts, especially when she gets home from work after a long day and Ayla catches her at the door yelling over from her window that she has prepared coffee and that she wants my mom to come over.
That’s how it is with people who have a lot of time on their hands.
At first Ayla says it like a purring cat, but then when my mother refuses politely, Ayla’s voice turns into a pissed off Mexican drug cartel boss and she gives my mom a hand gesture that says “Fine! Whatever! You are no fun!”
But before her face disappears behind the curtains she always remembers not to go too far. That’s when she says "Okay. Goodbye!" and gives in like a little girl that’s being told to go change and get ready for bed.
Two blocks further down the road lives Miriam, a very attractive woman, who is a social worker with a very spiritual mind. When you look into her blue eyes you feel so calm – like a baby in a cradle. She is a bit of a vagabond in her heart and relaxing at home is stressing her out. Therefore, on her days off, she comes over to my mom’s building a couple of times a day to enjoy a cigarette break.
And then there is Agatha! She lives by herself but her three grown children visit her quite regularly. She is my mom’s next-door neighbor, who has moved in not too long ago but the two have bonded so much over a short period of time that it feels like they live in ONE house.
On days my mom comes home tired from work, Agatha will leave a sweet note, or a little present, or flowers on her door to cheer her up, and on days Agatha comes home late, my mom will surprise her with some delicious Turkish dish.
They know when not to impose on the other, and when to come or go over to have a chat to vent, cry on each other’s shoulder or laugh from the bottom of their hearts about.
They even have a little ritual to check on each other. Their toilets share the same wall and when they hear that someone’s in the toilet they knock on the wall. The first three knocks are to check whether it’s really the other person, since both of them constantly have people over. The other person confirms with three knocks back. With the second three knocks they want to know whether everything is okay. Three knocks back mean “Everything’s fine!” but two knocks mean, “Come over! I need you (for whatever reason)!”
for each other
Since Miriam is an old friend of Agatha’s you’ll see her a lot at Agatha’s place and you'll see my mom hanging out a lot with them. Nevertheless, especially my mom and Agatha always want to make sure that none of the other neighbors feel left out.
The best part is how they all take care of each other. When Annamaria and her mother need a lift to the doctor Ayla, Agatha or my mom will help. When someone finds a bargain at an apparel shop, she’ll buy it for the others when she knows that’s what the others would want to have too.
When someone needs a lift to the airport, whoever has a car and the time, will do it.
When my mom wants to go to IKEA or by a cell phone, Miriam is always there for her.
my favourite time
During my one-month-vacation in my home town the best times were when Agatha paid us a visit late at night. She’d be standing in front of the door in her pajamas, hold her mug in her hand, and ask with an impish smile on her face “Are you guys up for some coffee?”. Then you’d hear my mom scream from the kitchen: “Agatha, come in! Coffee is ready!” and Agatha would tiptoe in.
family and friends
My mom is never alone. There is always someone around. Seeing her with her friends, especially with Agatha, made me feel so grateful for all the love and care around her. She deserves nothing less because she always gives so much to others.
Being an only child and having chosen a life in Japan, far away from family, I often feel guilty or sad for not being there more, mainly for my mother. Knowing that she is “in good hands”, I felt a hint of relief this time.
Not too long ago it was my mom feeling like that about me. Now it seems things are the other way around.
When the silence hit me in our Osaka-apartment, I guess moments described above are the ones I miss the most. Right there and then, alone on my sofa, I noticed how much I long for this feeling of having family and friends around.
Of course, nothing is perfect. Occasionally there is tension between my mom and her neighbors. They have misunderstandings, little quarrels, good and bad days, fed-ups and days when they just want to be alone, just like any other human relationship.
But at the end of the day they still have each other.
They can talk about things they worry or feel angry about.
They can share funny moments and laugh about them together.
They learn from each.
When holidays come up they know that they don’t have to feel alone throughout the whole time.
They can analyze each other’s thoughts and give each other advice.
In constellations like these there is always the danger of crossing boundaries and experiencing disappointments due to our own high expectations.
But family and friends are also a chance to learn how to respect other people’s spaces, how to lower expectations, and accept people the way they are. Not every friendship will let you learn these things, especially not when you make a lot of mistakes. That’s why the friends and family members, who love you for who you are, are a true blessing.
But I’ve learned that friends and family members who get your hackles up are equally a wonderful gift. It's just hard to think of them that way when you are not in your Dalai Lama mode. They give you an opportunity to learn how to accept someone the way they are, how to be more understanding, and also how to protect your own boundaries.
It’s not like I don’t have good friends here in Japan. I do! I so do!
But I have some very good friends and family I’d love to be closer to.
They might or might not know how much I miss them on a daily basis, how much I have learned from them, how grateful I am for them being there for me when I have a low and being happy for me for the good things happening to me, and most of all for liking me for who I am.
Thank You! :-)
a good life
Though this would be the perfect ending for this post I want to add that we all need good and healthy friends and family around us.
I’d like to finish with a video from TED Talk and the longest Harvard research on happiness (what makes a good life).
P.S. Last month Maria’s mother past away. Ayla and my mom were there to help – they called an ambulance, but it was too late.
R.I.P. Maria’s mother. We will miss you.