Your red dress is waiting. love and leukemia and coming home

“The pain then is part of the happiness now.” This reminds me of one of my favorite quotes, “Painful things are like knots on a beautiful necklace, necessary for keeping the beads in place.” The pain experienced will make me appreciate life more and find happiness in the little things. Knots in life are necessary to appreciate the beauty of life. –Michiel Brandt (1981-2012) 

It’s been four years.  This year, this day is a cold and rainy morning. As it should be.

Michiel Brandt passed away on July 9th, 2012, from complications of her third bone marrow transplant. She was thirty years old. She was one of the founders of this blog and my BFF (Best Friend Forever).  We were friends for over eight years. If you’ve read  Tokyo Vice, you’ll find the following acknowledgement: “Michiel Brandt, the most cheerful researcher and two time leukemia survivor in the world. She’s inspirational”.

I’ll have to correct that.

“She was the most cheerful researcher and four-time leukemia survivor in the world. She was inspirational and the best friend I have ever had.”

2013 was her  一周忌 (いっしゅうき)–the one year anniversary of her passing. In some schools of Buddhism, on this day, sutras are read, incense is lit, prayers are said, and offerings (追善法要) are made to ensure that the departed moves on to a better reincarnation. It also marks the end of mourning. It doesn’t mean forgetting. I put out some gluten free cookies and lit some incense for Michiel. I know she likes the cookies–the incense, maybe not so much.

 

Michiel “Mimi” Brandt. November 2011.

I couldn’t make it back to Japan for her funeral in July of 2012 but her good friends and I were able to arrange a memorial service in San Francisco, which her brother attended. He brought her ashes and her parents joined by Skype. Over 25 people came on short notice, including her childhood friends, her college professor, her ex-boyfriend. She was very loved.

I know that she would want those of us that remain to celebrate life and the joy of living rather than be in mourning for weeks, months, years. Yet, I still sometimes find myself overcome with feelings of sadness and despair so dense that I feel like gravity has been turned up and I’m sinking into the earth.   I’ve written a eulogy for her here and I reposted it today. It’s long, full of Japanese and English, and not well-written but the sentiment is heartfelt.  I couldn’t find the words myself to express how charming, funny and compassionate she was so I’ve let her speak for herself at times. In between the lines of her letters, her emails, so much is said that I couldn’t articulate.

There is no special ceremony for the 2nd anniversary of someone passing away. There is simply the act of remembrance.

The third year anniversary, 三周忌, is today. Last Saturday, the Brandt family, her relatives, a few childhood friends and myself went to Kaneiji for the Nokotsushiki (納骨式)—the interment of her bones. I was honoured to have been invited. Some of her earthly remains were placed in the family grave, her name carved into the tombstone. All that can be done has been done. There is a memorial fund in her name. I’ll donate to it as long as I can.

I don’t think I will update this post anymore. Sometimes, I may add photos because I find them now and then and it brings back happy memories. I may post this eulogy every year. It’s okay to grieve. It’s okay not to forget. I’m okay with that. I have been blessed with wonderful friends and I am grateful for them in the past and the present. There are many I wish Michiel could have met.

It’s so lengthy I doubt anyone will read it to the end but that’s okay. If one person who knew her reads it, or one person finds something inspiring in her words or her life, that’s enough. I am posting it here because she was one of the founders of Japan Subculture Research Center and this is my way of saying thank you for all you did for this blog, your loved ones, and for me. I have never had a truer friend.

 

******

When I first Michiel Brandt, I was still working at the Yomiuri Shimbun as a police reporter in 2004. She was studying in Japan at Waseda, after graduating from UCLA with a degree in political science and international relations, and intensely interested in the human trafficking problem and helping women victimized by the forces of darkness.  She was charming, cheerful, curious, brave and bright. Her enthusiasm was contagious. We quickly became friends.  I’m ashamed to say that at first I sort of considered her to be like a well-meaning muppet. It took me years to realize how substantial she was as a human being.

I  remember the first time she was diagnosed with leukemia. Michiel, her friend Chris and my pal had all gone dancing at Vanilla (in Roppongi) and she suddenly felt ill. I thought she had drunk too much and was a little worried but made sure she got in a taxi home. And then I couldn’t reach her for days. Finally, I got ahold of her father and he told me what had happened. Leukemia.

Michiel survived four bouts of leukemia. She had two bone marrow transplants and final third bone marrow transplant which they hoped might cure her. She was born with a genetic predisposition to leukemia, and she was hit with four different types of leukemia during her short life.

The first bout of leukemia was very bad. The doctors gave her less than a 50% chance of survival. I visited her in the hospital as much as I could. I got her a portable DVD player and a load of bad movies so she could have something to do during those long hours in bed. It didn’t look good. However, her brother Daniel turned out to be a perfect bone marrow match and she lived. We were all ecstatic.

The first bone marrow transplant actually gave her curly hair. She sort of looked like little orphan Annie. So of course, I mercilessly made fun of her. Because that’s the kind of pal I am.

When I was creating this blog and writing Tokyo Vice in 2007 and 2008, Michiel gave advice, did translation, research and was a constant presence in my former digs in Nishi-Azabu. I know she felt like she wasn’t doing great work but it was awesome help. I wish she’d known how much I appreciated her. All my room-mates knew her and grew to love her. When I was put under police protection in March of 2008 and I told Michiel what was going on, she still continued to work for me on and off. She wasn’t afraid.

Michiel Brandt fact-checking the early draft of Tokyo Vice.

 

Before the Washington Post article came out in May of 2008,  she was so worried that she started crying when she saw me and I was truly touched that anyone could care so much. I wrote to thank her and told her not to worry.

 2008/5/12 Joshua Adelstein:

みみちゃん、色々ありがとうございます。泣いちゃだめですよ。大丈夫だから。(Thank you for everything. Don’t cry! I’m okay.) 

一応、記事はここですよ。当局の一部は激怒です。案の定ですが、マル暴の刑事は受けが良い模様です。連絡するよ。頻繁に。(Here’s the article. The organized crime cops liked it, not everyone did. No surprise. I’ll keep you posted on a regular basis.) 

I hate to say mushy crap, but I love you Michiel, like the little sister that I always wanted. You’re great and I admire how you’ve  handled all the things in the last two years. You inspire me more than you know and more than I will ever tell you. I don’t want your pumpkin head to get all swelled up with pride, you know.

jake

http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2008/05/09/AR2008050902544.html

あるいはワシントンポスト内の検索で「Jake Adelstein」を入れると出ます。(If you search the Washington Post and put in my name the article will show up.)

 

From: Michiel Brandt

Subject: Re: The article

Date: 2008年5月14日 2:57:33 GMT-05:00

To: Joshua Adelstein

Dear Jake,

I’m glad to hear you’re okay. I am so sorry I broke down like that. I think I’ve been on pins and needles recently, and that last moment before the article came out was just too much for me. It’s just that, I’m quite fond of you, ya know. You really are like a big brother to me, and when I think about anything happening to you–はぁ~。心が締め付けられるよ。(It makes my heart feel like it’s being crushed) 

I just want you to know how much respect I have for you. One of the cops’ wives at the party told me that her husband  (the cop with the glasses) is embarrassed for you having to do what he and the others don’t have the courage to. And you’re a gaijin! He feels that you’re more Japanese in spirit than they are. なんと言うか、それを聞いて貴方をとても誇りに思いました。(And when I hear that, I was really proud of you) 

Thank you for such kind words. Coming from you, they mean a lot. もう、また泣いちゃったじゃない!(Anyway, I think I cried again) I can’t wait for all this to be over so we can gather at your place and laugh around the coffee table again!

I love you, Jake.

Mimi

At the coffee table. Michiel’s hair was just starting to grow back after completing chemotherapy.

 

Things were good after that but by the Christmas of 2008, when I got her card, I knew that the leukemia was back. And it was my time to be worried about her. And I was.

A Christmas card from Michiel 2008. She never failed to send one. Even in this digital age. And unlike my writing, you can actually read it.

 

We kept in touch. She got better. She’d get sick again.  I saw her in San Francisco, in Tokyo. We hung out when she was well and I visited her when she got ill and I always felt that no matter what, she’d be okay.

I never saw her get down. She survived every bout with leukemia with grace and dignity. She was never bitter, even when a resurgence of her leukemia completely shattered her plans and her work. She worked at the Asia Foundation. She went back to school in Monterey. We always stayed in touch. No matter how bad things got, she could find something positive in it.

She also had a huge hunger for social justice, to make the world a better place. Her essay, On Modern Slavery,  which so eloquently explained why she wanted to attend Monterey Institute of International Studies is heartfelt and inspiring even now. Sometimes, I re-read it to remind myself why I stay with the Polaris Project Japan.

Michiel had a few years of good health. The leukemia came back. She was undaunted. When the leukemia reached her brain cells, she considered herself lucky that there was finally a medicine that could breach the brain-blood barrier. And she survived a little longer. She meditated, she read, she turned her hospital room into a little temple of good will and hope.  Last November, after her 4th bout with leukemia Michiel returned to Japan for treatment. She was reluctant to do it because she was very close to getting her Masters from Monterey Institute of International Relations . But she didn’t have much of a choice. The US medical system is not kind to the seriously ill nor are insurance companies. She expressed gratitude that she had Japanese citizenship so that she could get medical treatment, a good treatment to boot.

I visited Michiel in the hospital whenever I could and when the doctors would let me. I brought her a cheesy $9.99 BFF necklace from the states. It was a yin-yang design. Michiel was very philosophical and meditated often. She was well-versed in Taoism, Buddhism and Eastern philosophy. I knew she’d appreciate the gesture and she did. I explained to her what a BFF necklace was and she made fun of me. “Jake, I was an eleven year old girl once. I know what a BFF is! You’re so silly.”

 

Best Friends Forever. I was hoping forever would last a little longer.

She was the yin (female/principle of darkness) and I was the yang (male/principle of light).  But really,I think she was much stronger than me. She was the yin, but full of warmth and light. I’m full of darkness and cynicism. According to some schools of Taoism: “Yin and Yang are dependent opposing forces that flow in a natural cycle, always seeking balance. Though they are opposing, they are not in opposition to one another. As part of the Tao, they are merely two aspects of a single reality. Each contains the seed of the other, which is why we see a black spot of Yin in the white Yang and vice versa.” I took the dark half of the necklace. She took the light.

In that sense, we were like Will Halloway and Jim Nightshade. She was Will. I still have my half of the necklace.  I was hoping someday that we’d join halves again. Wonder-twin powers: activate! (Only Justice League of America fans will get that reference.)

The Yin/Yang BFF necklace. The best $9.99 I ever spent.

 

Sometimes, we’d sit around the hospital room, reading books, chatting, listening to music, watching movies. We watched The Adjustment Bureau together. It made me think that God really doesn’t do a very good job of micro-managing the world. Because Mimi-chan was a very kind and sweet human being. She should have lived longer.  She couldn’t leave the hospital very often. So I went to her. We did our cherry blossom viewing (花見) on the hospital grounds. She was dressed in a pink shirt and purple sweatpants when we went out. I joked that we should call her Princess Sakura. She just laughed. No one could rock a purple jumpsuit like Michiel.

The best cherry blossom viewing ever. Michiel is rocking that purple sweatsuit.

 

I’m repeating myself here but it’s hard to capture what Michiel was like in my own words. And after thinking about it for a very long time tonight, I’ll let her say what she was thinking in her own words. I edited our emails a little bit because even the departed have some things that should remain their own secrets.  But I think she’d want people to know that she was ready to go and that she was at peace with it.

 

The last photo taken of Michiel, by her sister-in-law. She would have made a great Buddhist monk. We could have gone into business together. When posing for the picture, Mimi said, “I always look cool. Peace!”

 On Wed, May 23, 2012 at 11:36 AM,

Joshua Adelstein wrote:

I was hoping my photos of gluten free cookies would bring a smile to your face. 😀

When is the transplant surgery taking place? How are you feeling?

I’m back in Japan on the 29th and for a while.

I’d really like to hang out a bit.

Things are pretty good with me.

Here are some photos of the kids. Beni still remembers you!

 

From: Michiel Brandt

Subject: Hi!

Date: 2012年5月23日 11:31:13 GMT-05:00

Adorable photos!  They sure put a smile on my face 🙂

Sorry for the delayed response, and oh my goodness, THANK YOU for the dvd player!  I can’t believe you actually sent me a dvd player!!!  You’re incredible, Jake.  I’ve set it up and watched Galaxy Quest–hehe–great cast.  And it’s awesome being able to watch the shows I’ve downloaded onto my flash drive on the big screen too!

I actually just opened your box yesterday.  On Friday, as I was chill’n in my clean room, there was this sudden downpour of dark water from the ceiling!  I was sent home at once so they could fix the problem and re-sterilize the room.  Can you imagine if I had already had my transplant and was immuno-compromised?  Scary.  But I’m back in my room now, and with the reassurance of multiple checkups confirming that the room meets the standards of a “clean room” again, I’ll be beginning pre-transplant treatment tomorrow.  Day 0 is the 31st.

I have to let it out.  I’m scared.  On Monday my doctors pulled me aside for a final confirmation meeting.  They explained everything over again, as well as all the possible side effects for each treatment I’m receiving, and reiterated the fatal risk of this being my third transplant.  Then they asked me if I still wanted to go through with it.  Of course, I said yes.

I was aware of all the risks before, but now that it’s happening, I can’t help but be really afraid.  And I think not having been able to talk about my fear hasn’t helped.  I always feel I need to be strong for my family, strong for my friends even.  I love my friends and they’re always there for me, rooting for me, but I’d hate to put them in a spot where they would feel the need to console me about something like this, you know?  I mean, what could they say?

You are the only person I can be honest with, because you’ve been through so much and I know you’d understand.  I’m not seeking consolation or reassurance.  I just need to be able to talk about it openly with someone.  Thanks for being that special someone for me 🙂

All that said, I don’t dwell on the fear either.  Meditating, picturing myself getting through this smoothly, imagining my bright future that lies ahead, all help me stay positive and believe in my recovery.  And now, yowane haitara sukkiri shita!  Arigato! (I’m feeling better after admitting that I’m a little scared! Thank you!)

I wish I could see you when you get back, but I can’t have any more visitors 🙁  Genki ni nattara jazz mini tsuretette! (When I get better, take me to see some jazz!)

xoxo

Mimi

From: Joshua Adelstein

Subject: Mimi-chama! So very good to hear from you and thank you for confiding in me.  I am honored.

Date: 2012年5月23日 12:56:37 GMT-05:00

Michiel-chama,

I’m so glad. I’m going to take the time to write back to you right now in depth because now is always the best time. 思い立つが吉日

On 2012/05/23, at 11:31

, Michiel Brandt wrote:

Adorable photos!  They sure put a smile on my face 🙂

I hoped they would. they are such dorks. good god, beni makes fun of me amazingly well.

Sorry for the delayed response, and oh my goodness, THANK YOU for the dvd player!  I can’t believe you actually sent me a dvd player!!!  You’re incredible, Jake.  I’ve set it up and watched Galaxy Quest–hehe–great cast.  And it’s awesome being able to watch the shows I’ve downloaded onto my flash drive on the big screen too!

You’re totally welcome. I loved Galaxy Quest–because I’m a secret Trekkie. I idolized Spock. Probably because I have a pointed ear (just like Spock)  and wished I could mind-meld, be stoically calm and logical, and kick ass when I had to with the Vulcan Grip.

Hey it’s not only a DVD player–it’s a Blu Ray player as well. And it can play a flash-drive? WHAT? Hey, give it back! (Just kidding).

I actually just opened your box yesterday.  On Friday, as I was chill’n in my clean room, there was this sudden downpour of dark water from the ceiling!  I was sent home at once so they could fix the problem and re-sterilize the room.  Can you imagine if I had already had my transplant and was immuno-compromised?  Scary.  But I’m back in my room now, and with the reassurance of multiple checkups confirming that the room meets the standards of a “clean room” again, I’ll be beginning pre-transplant treatment tomorrow.  Day 0 is the 31st.

Good god, you are lucky. 物は考えよう。I’m glad it’s a clean room again but if anything goes wrong, I’ll be happy to sue on your behalf. (LOL). Day 0 is the 31st? May I come? I know I can’t meet you but can’t I wave through the window at you. I’d really like to be there.

I have to let it out.  I’m scared.  On Monday my doctors pulled me aside for a final confirmation meeting.  They explained everything over again, as well as all the possible side effects for each treatment I’m receiving, and reiterated the fatal risk of this being my third transplant.  Then they asked me if I still wanted to go through with it.  Of course, I said yes.

Michiel, it’s okay to be scared. I’m scared too. I’d really hate to lose you. I know the risks are high, as are the side effects.

I was aware of all the risks before, but now that it’s happening, I can’t help but be really afraid.  And I think not having been able to talk about my fear hasn’t helped.  I always feel I need to be strong for my family, strong for my friends even.  I love my friends and they’re always there for me, rooting for me, but I’d hate to put them in a spot where they would feel the need to console me about something like this, you know?  I mean, what could they say?

It’s true. It’s hard to know what to say. But I’ll tell you this–you have had a very good life. You have had  a tremendously positive effect on people’s lives and you are loved. Certainly, you’ve had a very good influence on my life and I’m grateful. You may not realize but your support and kind words over the years have really kept me going and I have learned a lot from you. You are the closest I know to a living Buddha. Maybe if I’d dated you, I wouldn’t think so but fortunately this never happened. 😀

You are the only person I can be honest with, because you’ve been through so much and I know you’d understand.  I’m not seeking consolation or reassurance.  I just need to be able to talk about it openly with someone.  Thanks for being that special someone for me 🙂

I am really honored to be that person and it’s good that you’re not seeking consolation or reassurance because I’m terrible at those things. 😀 This may not cheer you up but I remember these very beautiful words I read as a child from Crowfoot, an Indian warrior and orator. I never forgot them. I still have the book my father gave me in which they were written.

What is life? It is the flash of a firefly in the night. It is the breath of a buffalo in the wintertime. It is the little shadow which runs across the grass and loses itself in the sunset.

~ Crowfoot, Blackfoot warrior and orator

Life is a very transient thing. However, even being born is a miracle. It means that the sperm that was 1/2 of you beat out about several hundred thousand other sperm to the finish line–making you an amazing winner from the day you were conceived.

There is a possibility you may not make it. To deny that would be unfair. I think you will do very well. My spidey-sense says as much and I have very good instincts.

All that said, I don’t dwell on the fear either.  Meditating, picturing myself getting through this smoothly, imagining my bright future that lies ahead, all help me stay positive and believe in my recovery.  And now, yowane haitara sukkiri shita!  Arigato!

It’s okay to be afraid. Fear and anger are powerful emotions and we can transmute them into positive energy. You have reasons to fear. “There is nothing to fear but fear itself.”

–Mmm, pardon me, that’s like total bullshit. 😀 But Holy Buddha, if there’s anyone that can get through this intact, it’s you. You are doing everything right and you are a tough little cookie. A tough little gluten-free and very sweet cookie.

I wish I could see you when you get back, but I can’t have any more visitors 🙁  Genki ni nattara jazz mini tsuretette!

I hope that you’ll let me come on the 31st and wave at you through the window. When you get out of the hospital, we are definitely going to a jazz concert. And I’m taking you out for a great dinner.

xoxo

Mimi

PS. I think I should be honest here and say that over the years I have come to love you like a sister. And sometimes, I feel like I love you more than a guy should love his sister.

LOL. Which is my awkward way of saying I really care about you and I think you’re awesome.

And I love you.

In the best sense of the word, in that your happiness means as much to me or more than me than my own. You’re a great person.

I re-read this speech by Chief Seattle when I was waiting to see if I’d survive last year. It’s about the circle of life and it’s about death as well but it’s also about hope. I read it, made my peace with the fact that I’m mortal and I felt better, got better.

“To us the ashes of our ancestors are sacred and their resting place is hallowed ground. You wander far from the graves of your ancestors and seemingly without regret. Your religion was written upon tablets of stone by the iron finger of your God so that you could not forget. The Red Man could never comprehend or remember it. Our religion is the traditions of our ancestors — the dreams of our old men, given them in solemn hours of the night by the Great Spirit; and the visions of our sachems, and is written in the hearts of our people.

Your dead cease to love you and the land of their nativity as soon as they pass the portals of the tomb and wander away beyond the stars. They are soon forgotten and never return. Our dead never forget this beautiful world that gave them being. They still love its verdant valleys, its murmuring rivers, its magnificent mountains, sequestered vales and verdant lined lakes and bays, and ever yearn in tender fond affection over the lonely hearted living, and often return from the happy hunting ground to visit, guide, console, and comfort them.

Day and night cannot dwell together. The Red Man has ever fled the approach of the White Man, as the morning mist flees before the morning sun. However, your proposition seems fair and I think that my people will accept it and will retire to the reservation you offer them. Then we will dwell apart in peace, for the words of the Great White Chief seem to be the words of nature speaking to my people out of dense darkness.

It matters little where we pass the remnant of our days. They will not be many. The Indian’s night promises to be dark. Not a single star of hope hovers above his horizon. Sad-voiced winds moan in the distance. Grim fate seems to be on the Red Man’s trail, and wherever he will hear the approaching footsteps of his fell destroyer and prepare stolidly to meet his doom, as does the wounded doe that hears the approaching footsteps of the hunter.

A few more moons, a few more winters, and not one of the descendants of the mighty hosts that once moved over this broad land or lived in happy homes, protected by the Great Spirit, will remain to mourn over the graves of a people once more powerful and hopeful than yours. But why should I mourn at the untimely fate of my people? Tribe follows tribe, and nation follows nation, like the waves of the sea. It is the order of nature, and regret is useless. Your time of decay may be distant, but it will surely come, for even the White Man whose God walked and talked with him as friend to friend, cannot be exempt from the common destiny. We may be brothers after all. We will see.

We will ponder your proposition and when we decide we will let you know. But should we accept it, I here and now make this condition that we will not be denied the privilege without molestation of visiting at any time the tombs of our ancestors, friends, and children. Every part of this soil is sacred in the estimation of my people. Every hillside, every valley, every plain and grove, has been hallowed by some sad or happy event in days long vanished. Even the rocks, which seem to be dumb and dead as the swelter in the sun along the silent shore, thrill with memories of stirring events connected with the lives of my people, and the very dust upon which you now stand responds more lovingly to their footsteps than yours, because it is rich with the blood of our ancestors, and our bare feet are conscious of the sympathetic touch. Our departed braves, fond mothers, glad, happy hearted maidens, and even the little children who lived here and rejoiced here for a brief season, will love these somber solitudes and at eventide they greet shadowy returning spirits. And when the last Red Man shall have perished, and the memory of my tribe shall have become a myth among the White Men, these shores will swarm with the invisible dead of my tribe, and when your children’s children think themselves alone in the field, the store, the shop, upon the highway, or in the silence of the pathless woods, they will not be alone. In all the earth there is no place dedicated to solitude. At night when the streets of your cities and villages are silent and you think them deserted, they will throng with the returning hosts that once filled them and still love this beautiful land. The White Man will never be alone.

Let him be just and deal kindly with my people, for the dead are not powerless. Dead, did I say? There is no death, only a change of worlds.”

your BFF

jake

On Sat, May 26, 2012 at 2:32 AM, Joshua Adelstein ‪ wrote: I hope I didn’t say the wrong thing

Hey, I hope you’re feeling good and not nervous about the surgery.

I wish I could give you a big hug.

When you’re recovered and ready to hit the town, I’m going to take you shopping for a nice red dress and we’ll go to the Blue Note and eat an awe inspiring  gluten free meal with chopsticks and groove to the finest jazz inTokyo.

Deal? I get to cover the tab because I’m your 先輩!(^_−)−☆

 

From: Michiel Brandt

Subject: Re: I hope I didn’t say the wrong thing! 🙁

Date: 2012年5月25日 19:48:38 GMT-05:00

 

No!  I’m so sorry I even made you think that.  I was so touched by what you said.  You made me laugh, reflect, gave me strength.  I liked how you wrote that the sperm that was half of me beat out several hundred thousand others, making me a winner from the day I was conceived!  And the speech by Chief Seattle made me feel better too.  “There is no death, only a change of worlds.”  そうだね。You wrote you were terrible at consoling and reassuring, but you’re wrong, because you did both.  Thank you 🙂

The treatment’s been killing me.  Literally, they are killing the cells in my body to make room for my mom’s.  I’m either really sick or asleep.  But this morning my fever broke and I feel well.  Though in a couple hours I’ll have to go through it all over again =/

It is incredibly sweet that you want to wave at me through my plastic curtain during the transplant, but I’d hate for you to make the trip and not even be able to talk!  気持ちだけありがたく頂きます:)(I’m just thankful for your kind thoughts.) Instead, I’ll be looking forward to getting better and going to see jazz with you!  In my sexy red dress 😉

Sorry if I can’t write, but I’ll let you know how I’m doing whenever I can.

You take care too!

Love, Mimi

 

She told me not to come to the hospital on the day of her bone marrow transplant but I didn’t know if I’d be able to see her again, so I ignored her and went anyway and I’m glad I did. It was the morning of May 31st.  She was in the clean room and so I had to wear a mask and disinfect myself.  Her father was there and I wasn’t supposed to stay long. I stayed anyway and we talked.  As I was getting ready to leave, she reached out her hand and I took it. Our eyes met and she smiled and so did I. There was nothing left to be said and nothing that needed to be said.

The memorial service in San Francisco. Gluten free cookies were served, of course.

Her hand felt so warm and soft in mine, the warmth radiated through me like drinking a mug of Mexican Coffee on a Missouri winter morning.

In that comfortable silence, I held her hand and I didn’t want to let go.

I still don’t want to.

It’s strange to remember a tactile sensation, a lingering touch. However, I find that sometimes as I drift off to sleep, I still can feel her hand in my mine and the memory fills me with a sense of peace and compassion and something effusive that I can’t quite name.

Love wouldn’t be the word but it would come close.

She was one of the most, if not the most, considerate, caring and kind people I have ever had the honor of knowing.

What Mimi learned in her lifetime. She brought great happiness into the lives of many.

I don’t think I’ve met many people in life who I would consider to be saints. She came very close–she also had a charming wild streak as well.

The words below are attributed Shantideva, a Buddhist saint and philosopher. I don’t think Michiel knew who he was or had read his works. But in her short life, she lived those vows as if they were her own. I only hope that when the time comes that I can cross over as gracefully as she did. She was 12 years younger than me and wiser than I think I will ever be.

 

As long as diseases afflict living beings

May I be the doctor, the medicine

And also the nurse

Who restores them to health.

May I be a protector to the helpless,

A guide to those travelling the path,

A boat to those wishing to cross over;

Or a bridge or a raft.

Shantideva

 

 

I hope to see her on the other side. But on my best days, I still feel she’s here with me—gently nudging me towards being a better person, a guardian devil, a reluctant protector, and sometimes a decent guide. I could always count on her to tell me to do the right thing–not always the easy thing, but the right one. I should end by saying, Michiel Brandt, rest in peace but I can’t say that. I’m a neo-Buddhist. I’m a staunch near believer in reincarnation.

There’s a danger in loving a ghost. They can never disappoint you. They always stay the same. They always love you. Their heart stays where it was. It’s hard for anyone to compete with that. It’s hard to let them go. There are some people we love that haunt us for the rest of our lives. Maybe “haunt” isn’t the right word. They stay with us, they look over us, and they inspire us.

Michiel made me a CD–the modern equivalent of a mix-tape (okay, sort of old-school in the iPod age) and I listen to it now and then. It was the last thing she ever gave me. There’s one song, My Love by Sia, at the end that makes me feel like it was her way of saying goodbye.  I’ll never know. I won’t mourn her after this day. I will remember her.

Like I said at the beginning, In some schools of Japanese buddhism, the soul is believed to reincarnate after forty-nine days. So I won’t say “rest in peace”. All I can say is Michiel-chan, I hope you’ve found a good place to return. Maybe we’ll meet again but if we don’t, I hope you find the happiness you deserve this time around. The world needs you.

I need you.  You are missed.

 

 

 

 

 

Happy New Year 2015! Beware of the Wolves, Don’t be a Sheep, and Take Care of Your Flock :D

Welcome to the Sheep Year!

Of course, nobody wants to be a sheep. We’re more like watchdogs here at Japan Subculture Research Center. Benevolent wolves.

Not being able to think of anything better, I’m borrowing the benedictions below, which are also the vows of a Bosatsu 菩薩, a Buddha who postpones entering Nirvana to help the world. They are, at least in spirit, the vows of a Buddhist priest in Soto Zen.
I keep them in mind now and then. Selections taken from The Dhammapada and the works of Shanti Deva, Buddhist philosopher.

Wishing you all a very good year. 2015 is the year of the sheep but we're going to be behaving like protective wolves. Someone has to bark at the real enemies of the sheep.
Wishing you all a very good year. 2015 is the year of the sheep but we’re going to be behaving like protective wolves. Someone has to bark at the real enemies of the sheep.

The sentiment may be maudlin, the wish is heartfelt.

May we all:
Overcome anger with peace.
Overcome evil with good.
Overcome greed with generosity. 
Overcome liars with truth.

May all beings everywhere
Plagued by sufferings of body and mind
Obtain an ocean of happiness and joy
By virtue of my merits.

May no living creature suffer,
Commit evil or ever fall ill.
May no one be afraid or belittled,
With a mind weighed down by depression.

May the blind see forms,
And the deaf hear sounds.
May those whose bodies are worn with toil
Be restored on finding repose.May the naked find clothing,
The hungry find food.
May the thirsty find water
And delicious drinks.May the poor find wealth,
Those weak with sorrow find joy.
May the forlorn find hope,
Constant happiness and prosperity.
May all who are ill or injured
Quickly be freed from their ailments.
Whatever diseases there are in the world,
May these never occur again.

May the frightened cease to be afraid
And those bound be freed.
May the powerless find power
And may people benefit each other.

 

 

Book Review: “The Bad-Mood Marriage” 不機嫌な主婦 なぜ女たちは「本能」を忘れたのか(朝日新書)

By Kaori Shoji

Screen Shot 2014-11-18 at 9.52.32 PMAs long as time immemorial, being a woman in Japan meant the rawest of deals. The long, long tradition of top-down patriarchy held that women were good for of either two things: sexual slavery or household drudgery. Once a woman got past her reproductive years, she was expected to control the younger women in the house, which mostly meant bullying the daughter-in-law and sowing a lot of ill-will in the family. By the time she hit her mid 40s, this woman had white hair and grandchildren. At 60, she was dead or getting there; her tiny body stooped so badly it appeared she was folded in two.

Zowie, it was this bad – or so Japanese women born after WWII were taught, offset by a brand new, American imported democracy. Women were told there was nothing remotely fine about being born in Japan. To the rest of the world, she represented the demure and docile geisha-equivalent while inside her own country, she was slated for a lifetime of toil and family bondage. The only way out of this awful spiral was to get an education, an office job, and marry well – preferably to an urbanized, liberal man whose mama lived far, far away.

But even that was no guarantee. My own mother went to an arts university and never had to deal with her husband’s mother and lived the modernized convenient life in Tokyo. She said over and over that marriage was a tombstone that marked the spiritual death of a woman and every child she had drove the nails further into her coffin. “Never get married,” she liked to say. “It’s the stupidest thing in the world.” My mother wasn’t a rabid feminist; she was simply echoing the conviction of many women of her generation who felt they had been cheated. Women born in the post-war years often feel like they were never given a chance – happiness always seemed to elude their grasp as husbands disappeared into their jobs and children departed for futures that rarely included a place for their mothers.

In the last 10 years, anthropologist and epidemiologist Chizuru Misago’s (三砂ちづる) works have turned the tables on the timeworn assumption that Japanese women have always been repressed and unhappy and will continue to be so unless she leaves the archipelago at her earliest opportunity. A highly accomplished academic whose resume includes a Ph.D from London University and a decade of fieldwork in Brazil, Misago holds that no good can come from over-educating the Japanese woman or copying western notions of feminism. In her 2004 breakthrough book “Onibabaka Suru Onnatachi” (Women Who Turn into She-Ogres), she discusses the virtues of the socio-political system in pre-modern Japan that actually protected women and their bodies, the benefits of squat toilets, and sex from an early age. She’s a strong advocate of marriage (whether it’s a love-match or family arranged) and sleeping with one’s spouse as often as possible. In short, Misago’s teachings flew right in the face of everything the post-war education system strove to encase in concrete and submerge in the ocean like a corpse killed by the yakuza.

Misago laid it out in black and white: the prime reason Japanese women turn bitchy or into she-ogres is because they’re not touched and cuddled enough. Never before had a woman academic come right out and said sex – not love – was crucial to women’s mental and physical well-being. Women sat up and paid attention, among them novelist Banana Yoshimoto who later wrote a book about the importance of skinship, childbirth, and healthy sexual relationships.

yakuza-wives2

Unfortunately, Misago’s words weren’t enough to turn back the winds of our particular time, one in which an unprecedented number of women join the workforce, remain virgins past 25, and never marry. The divorce rate is up. Incidents of domestic violence and child neglect are up. The bottom line seems to be that sex and relationships are not only hard to get in Japan, they‘re on the endangered species list along with the whooping crane.

Dr. Misago’s 2012 work “Fukigenna Fufu” (The Bad-Mood Marriage) gets right to the heart of the matter. She lays bare the sorry state of Japanese coupledom in which man and wife sleep apart and hold conversations that sound like joyless office memos. Worst of all, they seem to have no idea how to love their children, which is at least partly responsible for an alarming soar in juvenile crime.

“One of the worst predicaments for a child,” she wrote, “is that their parents are not happy together as man and woman. Think how lonely it must be for the child. Think of the enormous pressure a child feels when confronted with the discontentment and unhappiness of his/her mother.”

If we are to fall in with Dr. Misago’s teachings, we owe it to our kids to kiss and cuddle with our spouses as often as possible. Never mind about falling salaries and the rising cost of living. Never mind about work and getting ahead. Children are young and impressionable for only so long. By the time they leave for college, the damage of a sour marriage will have left permanent marks on their personalities and outlooks.

Interestingly, Misago wrote that Japanese women in their 70s are apt to be the most selfish but unhappiest demographic. They were the first female generation to get college educations en masse but were also socially restricted from seeking jobs that matched their degrees. They often had no choice but to stay home, raise children, and wait for their husbands to come home. “These women often sought personal redemption by pushing their sons and daughters to be better at school, to be competitive, and to get ahead in life,” she wrote. “But actually, that’s not a very nice message. If you want to raise children to be loving human beings, you must first love them unconditionally and for who they are.”

Misago’s words have been a revelation for many Japanese women, raised by mothers who scolded and cajoled and coerced them to be better at everything, from having the right playmates to finding the most acceptable husbands with the highest incomes. Ugh. Surely we must scrap this legacy. It’s not too late to work on a good-mood marriage.