I just put ink on my body that won’t go away.
I don’t remember the moment I first heard the words. Possibly I read them from a dyed cloth that was given to me as a gift from someone I can’t remember either. But from the first few lines it stuck with me and over time they’ve meant a thousand different things.
Ame ni mo makezu. Kaze ni mo makezu. Yuki ni mo natsu no astusa ni mo makenu…
There’s a music to poetry that demands it be read out loud and aside from the meaning of the words, the music has its own weight. For a while it was a longing. I was young and dreamed of myself older, calmer, and wiser, living a life that was simple and kind. I imagined that with age would come a serenity that was hard to grasp at twentyone. The poem was a mantra of a sort that let me put off decisions for a time when everything would be easier.
And as I grew older and came back to it, I read deeper, listened more frequently, and wondered if I had misunderstood. His words describe a man, living alone in the mountains of Iwate without praise or reward for his loving generosity. He tends the sick, and shoulders the weight of the tired. When someone is dying he sits and holds their hands saying don’t be afraid. He cares little for himself, and while sometimes called a fool, he smiles always, knowing peace in his heart.
And yet, after the imagery, after the dream, we end with a simple statement of want. That is who I want to be, the poet says. That man, that human, that person is who I wish I was. But buried in those words is the reality that he is not. That I am not. That we are not. It’s a finger pointing at the moon. It’s a reflection in a pool of still water.
And so today, his words inked on my body, I’m reminded that wanting to be a thing is not the same as being it. And that alongside that want is a thousand others. The man in the poem is not someone who would tattoo his arm with a reminder. He would find no need, although I suspect he would smile and laugh, understanding desire as much as the next. I am not always calm, I am not always kind, and while I try hard to be at ease, I am not often at rest.
But there it is, a memory of a younger self, a dream of becoming someone strong, alive, and awake, embedded in my skin. The knowledge that I will fail sits next to my willingness to try, and it takes nothing away. I will be as kind as I’m able, as helpful as I can be, and live as simply as I can muster, knowing that I will also drown my sorrows, err in a million different ways, and struggle to find peace in everything I do. I am not perfect, and I am a person who needs the reminder, not the person who has already come to live it. And that’s a different sort of peace to uncover.
So iu mono ni, watashi was naritai.
That is the man I wish to be.