In a rose garden overlooking Yokohama pink, yellow, white, and red roses stood, fully open, their flowery faces turned toward the sun. Next to the garden was a community center where a workshop was taking place.
A woman around 70 was there with her son, around 40, who had what I refer to as an “unconventional” nervous system. There wasn’t anything wrong with his nervous system. It just wasn’t the kind most of us have. He had cerebral palsy. He didn’t look like one of those perfectly symmetrical roses in the rose garden. He was physically challenged but I’ve never met a person who wasn’t, so why bother to discriminate?
When I teach a workshop, I devote time to working individually with people, with their particular problems, literally, in a very hands-on way. You might say I am famous among some circles for the way I use my hands, having been at it for fifty years.
This tiny woman wanted to work on getting her not so tiny son out of his wheelchair and onto the toilet. She’d been helping him do this for a long time. She said it was finally taking its toll on her body, but she needed to be able to keep helping her son.
I spend a lot of time listening to people, and watching them do what they do. I don’t give much advice. I help make people sensitive, and through their newly acquired sensitivity, solutions present themselves.
So I asked this kind woman to show me how she gets her son out of his wheelchair and onto the toilet. I watched as she leveraged him out of his chair, turned him around, and sat him down on a bench. She did it amazingly well. After so many years of practice, she had this down. I was about to tell her there was no way I could help her, then it occurred to me to ask her to do it again, so I did.
I watched. I saw her make a particular movement, and immediately I asked her to stop. She did. I asked her if she had noticed the movement she had just made. She said she was not aware of having started yet. I told her she had started. I told her that, very quickly, she raised her right hand and ran it through her hair, perhaps to get her hair out of the way. I asked her again if she remembered doing that. She said no. I said okay.
I asked her to do that movement again. Moichido kudasai. She did. She said, “I think I do that a lot.” I said, I think you do too. So desu. I said, since you do it a lot lets do it now, but let’s do it consciously. And lets slow it down a tad. Yukkuri onegaishimasu. She did. She looked at me a little confused, as people often do. I asked her if she wouldn’t mind doing it again, please, yet a little slower. Moichido kudasai. Totemo yukkuri desu. She did. I asked her to just keep doing that movement, very, very slowly, over and over again, and to feel the movement every time she made it.
The tears started welling up in her eyes, and then rolling down her cheeks. I told her I made people cry all the time. Nothing’s wrong, I told her. Daijyoubou. I asked her what was going on in there. Do desuka. She said, “I don’t think it is good for me to do this anymore.” I asked, Why not? Naze desuka? She said, “I think it’s too hard on my body.” I said, Tabun. Maybe so.
I asked her, if it wasn’t good for her, then could she think of any other options? I spend a lot of my life asking questions. I don’t have the answers. People have their own answers. It’s a matter of finding the right question. She lowered her head, and didn’t move for about 30 seconds. I just waited. Something else I do a lot. Then she raised her head, looked around and saw her younger son. She asked him if he could help her. He bowed his head quickly, said Hai!, I blinked, and there he was standing next to his mom. He looked happy. This younger brother was not little either. He was solid. Together they helped transfer this good man from the bench back into the wheelchair. As they were lowering him down into his wheelchair, from ear to ear a huge grin spread across the elder brother’s uplifted face. His eyes were shining.
Before me I saw Michelangelo’s third Pieta. Jesus is coming down from the cross. His legs have buckled. They’re twisted inwards, his knees turned all the way to the left. His lifeless left arm’s hanging, the hand rotated inwards all the way to the right. His whole body’s heavy, falling to the left. His head has dropped over to the side, like a dead weight. Mary is down on one knee, under her son’s collapsed body. She’s right under him, supporting him selflessly, with her entire body. Behind Mary, Joseph is standing there looking at her, his huge left hand spreading across Mary’s back. He’s supporting Mary, supporting her dead son. He’s loving Mary.
But right here in front of me, at this moment, were two sons with their mom, all three alive and well. Everyone was helping everyone. No one sacrificed. No one sacrificing.
Who would have had any idea, not me, that out of one simple, kindly gesture toward oneself, that much love would be set free? The workshop ended. Everyone walked out into the rose garden. No one spoke, but in that silence I could hear the roses singing.