A couple of years ago Anne and I spent a day in the town of Narita before travelling by train to the nearby international airport to return home to Australia. Most westerners stay around the hotels as they transit in and out of Japan, but we walked into the town which is a popular destination for Japanese people visiting the beautiful Buddhist temple. These memories are particularly focused for me as I think and pray for all those who have suffered so greatly, and those who have died in recent days in Japan from the earthquake and tsunami and for continued concerns about the safety of the nuclear power station.
Anne and I spent a peaceful morning at the temple and were welcomed with great courtesy by the Japanese visitors. Sitting quietly in the temple while families visited and were blessed by the priests was deeply moving and then we decided to walk down to the lake through the beautifully tended gardens.
As we walked down a rather steep pathway we passed an older man being assisted by his wife and daughter. He was in some difficulty and Anne suggested I offer some assistance. I was uncertain given that I was a foreigner and being aware of the taboos about personal touch but I returned, bowed respectfully and offered my arm which was taken gratefully. We walked with some difficulty to the bottom of the path. It was a hot and humid day and I was holding this man with care as both of us were perspiring with the daughter holding her father's left arm. With bows we said farewell.
As I walked away I thought that this man was of an age to have fought in the second world war, perhaps my father from his Wellington bomber had flown over this man in Burma during that appalling war? This hot and sweaty stumbling has become a very precious memory for me, a small sign of reconciliation and hope.
Later Anne and I found our way to the Peace Pagoda in the temple grounds and climbed the stairs which looked over the extensive gardens and lakes. Soon it was time to make our way to the airport.
Like many significant encounters in our lives the meeting with this elderly man and offering him my arm, as I might have offered an arm to my elderly father had he not died so young, at the age I am now, took place in silence and there about it a lovely dignity, a respectful encounter in which I was the guest offered hospitality and offering hospitality.
Let us continue to pray and offer our generosity to the people of Japan with an appreciation of a nation that rebuilt itself with assistance after a catastrophic war and which has been most generous through foreign aid to nations in need.