Each month, The Sun magazine offers fiction, poetry, essays, interviews, and photos in a black-and-white format without advertising. Each issue includes provocative ideas from people of science, religion, philosophy, the arts, or a combination. Each issue also includes Readers Write, a feature compiling nonfiction submissions from the magazine’s readers on an intentionally broad topic. Occasionally I submit pieces for consideration. More often, I write essays on the topics too late to submit them.
I submitted this piece for consideration for the March 2015 issue, though it wasn’t selected.
My first love was far from traditional. My love wasn’t a person–a boy or a girl with the power to cause my heart to leap for joy–or a pet with the power to love me back. My first love was a place, a place I discovered at the bottom of a wooden trunk in the basement of my parents’ first house, a place so unlike what surrounded me every day in my Midwestern hometown, where everyone was either Scandinavian or Catholic.
The vision of my special place rose from the trunk attached to a purple silk kimono my father brought back from Japan at the end of World War II. Dad hadn’t been a soldier; he joined the Merchant Marines, encouraged by his uncle Bill’s stories of the adventures he would have. At the time, service with the Merchant Marines wasn’t considered military experience, but it brought Dad into the war nonetheless as the ships on which he sailed brought supplies and provisions to the military ships in the Pacific theater. His service extended beyond the end of the war, giving him the opportunity to step on the shores of one of our country’s then greatest enemies–Japan. And he brought back trinkets including the purple kimono that captured my preschooler’s attention so completely. I wanted to know everything about this place that I only knew was far away and very different.
It was 25 years later that I finally met my first love. After having lived and worked for two years in another very foreign place–Iran–I traveled home by heading east so I could stop for a few days in Japan. Four days were all I had, and by the end of them my jaws ached from continuously smiling from ear to ear. My love was everything I had hoped for.
But it took another 15 years to realize what a gift my parents had given me by allowing me to fall in love with this place. Then I was living on the east coast where I worked for the U.S. Department of State. My parents came for a visit and while we walked on the mall between the Lincoln Memorial and the Capitol building, a Japanese tourist stopped my father to ask for directions. When Dad rejoined us after having pointed the way, he remarked that he wouldn’t have believed it if someone had told him 40 years earlier that he would some day have a conversation with someone from Japan in the capital of our country. And it hit me then that while I was falling in love with Japan, my parents and their friends hadn’t yet gotten over the losses they held my first love responsible for.