It was 1981. My parents were visiting Japan, helping us to build a building. While Dad installed kitchen cabinets, the Japanese tile man, Mr. Narahashi, was installing the Japanese-style bath. (Everybody should have an American kitchen and a Japanese bath!)
During a breather, the two men stood drinking coffee. Only the most casual of introductions had been made. (Of course, neither man could speak the other’s language.) Dad took a sip of coffee and said, “He looks about my age. Ask him.” Yes, Mr. Narahashi was 61, same as Dad. Then Dad said, “Ask him about the war.” I did NOT want to do this, but Dad insisted. So I asked, “Forgive me, but . . . World War II . . . ?” Mr. Narahashi nodded solemnly with a, “Yes . . . yes . . .”
The two men went on to tell each other their stories, with me as interpreter.
Dad had enlisted in the US Army Air Corps at age 22. He trained as a tail gunner on the B-29. But the war ended before he had to be deployed.
Mr. Narahashi had enlisted in the Japanese military, also at age 22. He trained to fly a Zero plane (which prepared him as a kamikaze pilot). But the war ended before he had to be deployed.
The two old soldiers stood facing each other, dead still, for what seemed like an eternity. No translation needed. I couldn’t breathe, envisioning what might have happened had these two been in the sky at the same time.
Then the spell suddenly seemed to break. At the exact same moment, they both relaxed and reached out. And they both chuckled, attempting to coordinate the Japanese-style bowing and the American-style hand-shaking.
And then they both just went back to work—as if nothing out of the ordinary had occurred. Though I was still stunned (and crying), I sensed that they must have been thankful they hadn’t killed each other, happy to be a healthy 61, and content even with the unglamorous tasks of installing kitchens and bathrooms.
Whenever I relive that scene, I feel thankful and it realigns my sense of purpose.