Finding Buddha in a Typhoon

This blog is a series of posts that tell the story of one woman’s Spiritual experiences.  The story begins with The Day My Soul Cracked Open.
May you find your own moments of grace, healing, and love while enjoying her adventures.

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Rain came down like waterfalls from the clouds as I waded through the sidewalks of Nara, Japan. It ran in torrents across the pavement, washing over the tops of my sandales as it swirled toward the street. The force at which it collieded with the rivers rising up out of the storm drains created whirlpools and waves. It was raining so hard, water propelled itself at least three feet off whatever surface it happened to crash into. It felt like it was raining from the ground up just as hard as it was from the sky down.  The wind whipped wet sheets of air at me from all directions. I’d never experienced anything like it. The sky had simply opened, dropping nearly three feet of rain in 24 hours.

I would later learn that the typhoon over my head had swelled to a category five super storm while raging over the warm summer waters of the Pacific. Japan’s saving grace was a faltering eye-wall, dropping the sustaining winds down to the status of a category two typhoon a day before making landfall. The winds may have quelled, but the moisture this storm collected off the warm ocean waves didn’t spare the mainland a single drop of rain. It drenched everything in its path with the intensity of a dam bursting through its concrete confinement.

I was walking through the blistering rain looking for Todaji Temple, a 1400 year old structure housing three giant Buddha statues. It would be my only chance to explore one of the most ancient and historically significant sites Japan had to offer during my three week treck across the island nation.

I’d been hired by a woman* with a terminal illness making checkmarks on her bucket list. She was wheelchair bound with limited mobility and a host of medical needs. We’d been traveling for a week and a half on little sleep and even less food. I’d spent the previous ten days accompanying my companion on the marathon sprint of what she’d figured was the last vacation of her life.

I was dedicated to her care, knowing what this trip meant to her. I spent hours holding her upright in airplanes and train seats. I learned how to disassemble and reassemble her medical equipment. I moved and transfered her from chair, to bed, to bathroom, to shower, and back again. I ran along side her with aching legs and sagging shoulders, trying to keep up as she raced around the country in her  battery powered wheelchair. I hauled luggage and medical equipment through train stations and crowded sidewalks, doing the best I could to ensure she wouldn’t miss a single connecting leg of her journey.

I had the morning off. A rare break from the whirlwind of a woman trying to capture as much life as she possibly could in the short amount of time she had left. As much as I hesitated leaving her alone, she urged me to go. She was interested in modern day Japan. The Japan that offered easy movement via ramps and elevators. For her, modern Japan meant mobility. My main interest – histoical  Japan – meant stairs. Lots of them. Stairs were the nemesis of this vacation.  The inaccessible obstacles in her carefully planned adventure.

“Go!” She said. “There’s no point in you having to stay locked up in this hotel, too.” It was impossibe for her to do any sightseeing in the heavy rain. It would short out her wheelchair.

“Go see something I can’t. You deserve it. And take pictures!” She said as she yawned over her breakfast.

“I don’t know.” I countered tenatively, taking a sip of tea.

“Do you think you’ll have another opportunity to see a thousand year old giant Buddha in a thousand year old Japanese temple?” She asked as I fed her another bite of poached fish and rice.

“No.” I replied. “But the rain. It’s pouring out there. And I’m tired. I could just hang out here with you and take a nap.”

“Hey.” She said sternly. “Trust me. You can sleep when you’re dead. If you want to go see the temple. Go see the temple. Don’t let anything stop you. Not even a typhoon. Besides, it’s not raining that hard, is it?”  She grinned at me as she looked toward the window.

I’d started out with a map given to me by the non-English speaking clerk at the front desk of our hotel.  She’d outlined the streets with a pencil, waving her hands a bit while pointing directions in the air. Confident we’d somehow communicated effectively, I set out on my mini pilgrimage with a complimentary hotel umbrella and my Nikon d80. I’d gagued from her arm movements that I was to exit the hotel, walk straight for a while, then take two left turns and a right. From what I guessed, the temple would then magically appear right in front of me – at least that’s what I hoped would happen when I left that morning.

Not. Even. Close.

I’d been walking for over an hour through the drenched streets of a foreign city, lamenting the smeared pencil marks on my soggy map. My camera, wrapped in a plastic bag and tucked under my shirt, hung heavy around my kneck. I was soaked from head to toe. My umbrella, more useful as a shield for pushing through the howling wind than a covering to protect me from the assaulting rain, did its best not to crumble apart and blow away.

I contuined walking, finding myself in a residental part of the city. I moved past houses and rice patties, twisting and turning through the water logged streets. I found my way back to the business district, encountering a small, open restaurant in an otherwise desolate city. I stepped inside, hoping for a way to get directions from the old man behind the counter. It was impossible.  We had no way of understanding each other. Frustrated, I made my way back out in the storm. I did my best to retrace my steps, but visibility was limited in the onslaught of rain and recognizing landmarks was difficult.

I don’t know when, exacly, I started praying. Or crying for that matter. I was cold, hungry, and exhausted. The wet fabric straps of my sandles gnawed at my heals. My clothes stuck to my skin as I stumbled forward, finding footholds in the cement. The rain made the concrete slippery. I wondered how far down the street the water would carry me if I accidently slipped and fell in the gutters.

By then I’d been walking for over two hours. I’d given up all hope of finding the ancient temple or the giant Buddha. I was lost in a strange city, in the middle of a typhoon, half way around the world. I couldn’t communicate with anyone and I had no idea how to get back to my hotel. I’d left my traveling companion, a woman with limited mobility and complex medical needs, lying alone on a bed. The entire time I’d been walking I hadn’t seen a single police officer, hospital, or tourist information center.

I came to an abrupt stop in the middle of a city block as panic set in. I willed myself to remain calm as I struggled to hold on to my umbrella. I fought hard against the urge to drop to my knees and hyperventilate.  Wind lashed across my back and arms as rain continued to shoot off the sidewalk, pelting my legs like bee-bees. My body gave in to the trembling of desperation. My throat tightened as my breath became ragged.  I closed my eyes, lifting my head toward the sky. Cold rain and salty tears rolled down my cheeks. My body shook as I sunk deeper into the pit of fear.

What the hell do I do?

The question screamed through my body.

What do people do when there is nothing left to do? What do they do when they’re stranded in the middle of the storms of their lives, feeling lost, scared, alone, and powerless? What do people do when last remaining shreds of courage, fortitude, and determinaton begin to slip from their fingers?

They pray. Furiously.

Which is what I did. I let out a begging plea to the strange gods of a foreign land in one last, desperate attempt to find my way back to safety before completely losing my shit.

“Dear Buddha, Amaterasu, and any other Kami or Deva who’s listening. I know I’m not Buddist, or Shinto, or Japanese, or even Oriental, and I’ve never actually prayed to any of you before, but if you can hear me, please help me. Please tell me where I am and how to get back to my friend.”

I looked at the priest sitting in the chair across from me while trailing my fingers along the edge of the jar of holy water I’d collected earlier. I watched as he silently asked his God what to do with me.

In that moment, I realized I was his typhoon in the middle of Japan. I was the storm that blew into his church, knocking him off balance and forcing him to step a little deeper into the countenance of his faith.

Funny, how we both sat there, a little lost and a lot perplexed, trying desperately to find the common ground God required from us.

I glanced out the window before continuing with my confession.

*personal details have been changed to protect the anonymity of my traveling companion*

 

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