Battle at Hiroshima
I don’t have very many pictures from our day trip to Hiroshima because when you’re fighting the last thing you want to do is snap a picture to commemorate the moment. As we made our way from Osaka to Hiroshima on the Shinkansen bullet train early one morning, I was tired, cranky and swimming dangerously low on tolerance.
And then it happened, the inevitable argument about something trivial. The details elude me. Something about the scheduling of the itinerary for the day, about whether to spend more time in one city or another. In any case, I made a petulant remark and Jimmy responded in turn with an equally snarky one. Before you could count from 1 to 10 the situation quickly escalated to full blown antagonism.
When we arrived in Hiroshima, I demanded my Japan Rail Pass (aka Walking Papers to Escape from the Tyranny of Tour Master Jimmy) and we boarded the shuttle bus in decibel shattering silence. For the next hour we executed a painstaking dance entitled “Together but Separate” – not too close to make eye contact and not far enough to lose visual.
In strange lockstep we wandered, from the A-Bomb Dome, a half-demolished industrial building preserved in ruins, to the Peace Flame, a memorial fire that has remained lit since 1964. The irony and pettiness of our fight was not lost on either us, but we both had a point to prove and we weren’t going to be the first to give in.
By chance we arrived in tandem at the Peace Bell Memorial just as a personal tour guide was explaining to a couple the significance of the bell, emblazoned with a map of the world and the words “Know Yourself” in Greek, Japanese and Sanskrit. He encouraged the couple to ring the bell for world peace and they each took turns to swing the suspended wooden mallet against the center sweet spot. Each contact of wood on metal sent a melodious wave of sound coursing through the quiet park. Jimmy and I watched in silence, still in limbo between the arguments playing themselves out in our head and the somber peacefulness of our surroundings.
After they left, Jimmy and I made eye contact for the first time since we arrived at the park.
“Go ahead” I told him,”Ring the bell so we can get going.”
He shook his head as if to say, “No, I don’t want to” but then paused mid-sentence.
“Why don’t we ring the bell together and call it even?”
As inexplicably sudden as it had come on, the anger subsided in an instant. All the details that had been fiercely important just moments ago – who was right, who started it, how unfairly we were being treated by the other – became details that no longer seemed relevant. It was as if we were caught up in a tidal wave that grabbed us by the hair and violently heaved us up to the sky and then simply passed. Just like that.
It drove home that there is indeed a thin line between war and peace in almost all things. Knowing yourself is the first line of defense in maintaining that peace. Knowing when you’re too tired to be rational, knowing when to choose patience over irritation and kindness over anger – these are all things we think we know until we’re caught up in anger’s storm.
I feel a little silly writing about a fight I can barely remember but that seems to be the case with most of life’s little grievances. Painstakingly important in that one moment and totally irrelevant in the next.
That day we left Hiroshima’s Peace Memorial Park with more peace in our hearts than when we arrived. We were chastened, a little disorientated but infinitely grateful to be given yet another chance to know ourselves and do better next time.