By the time I got out of the house for my run yesterday, it was already dark and rainy. Not a light, autumn drizzle but a steady, steely December downpour. The kind that makes you wish you were curled up indoors with a good book and a mug of steaming hot chocolate. Knowing that the running track would already be flooded, I headed down the road, along the canal, and through some of the back streets and alleys of our quiet Tokyo neighbourhood.
I spent the first ten minutes of my run feeling sorry for myself, wishing I were back at home with my husband, relaxing on the sofa. And then I started to think about a book I’d finished earlier in the day, Defy Gravity by Caroline Myss, in which the author describes a sentence from Thomas Merton’s journals that had a profound impact on her life. At the end of a description of a pastoral summer scene, Merton had written: “This day will never come again.” That simple phrase caused Myss to look at her own life with the eyes of a mystic, finding the sacred in each ordinary moment.
“This day will never come again,” I tell myself as my feet pound the pavement by the canal, and my first feeling is one of relief: I’ll never have to run along these streets in this cold, miserable rain again! But then I remember the years after my cycling accident when I couldn’t run at all, and I feel a wave of gratitude that I’ve recovered enough to be exercising in this way again. I imagine there may come a day when I can no longer run (although I have every intention of being an octogenarian marathoner!), so I intentionally focus on the enjoyment of moving my muscles in this way: the pleasant burn in my thighs, the sense of freedom and flight between each step when my wet sneaker reconnects with the ground.
And as I open myself to gratitude, I begin to notice other things about this day, this moment: the welcoming lights of the convenience stores that pepper the street corners; the way the people I pass move their umbrellas ever so slightly to the side in a polite and almost automatic gesture of consideration; the fleets of bicycles parked outside of shops and huddled under balconies; the old man blowing eerily on a wooden whistle as he stands beside his moped in the rain, peddling fresh tofu from a wooden box; the small neighbourhood temple with its cemetery of blackened wooden grave markers that stand like signposts on a journey; the tapestry of an ordinary day here in Japan.
The rain is still streaming down my face in icy rivulets, but now it feels refreshing. And as I round a street corner that is suddenly familiar to me from my old neighbourhood, I come face to face with a younger version of myself. It is not quite five years ago, during cherry blossom season. She is alone in Japan, soon to be joining her husband in London. She has no idea what awaits her there, but she is filled with anticipation as she walks down the sunny, pink corridor, the blossoms raining down on her upturned face like snow.
Walking past me in the opposite direction, she doesn’t know that there will be foxes who cavort in her backyard and swans that swim in the streets at high tide, that there will be bombings on the Underground and Olympian celebrations in Trafalgar Square, that her heart will be broken in unexpected places and healed in others, that she will make new friends for life and reconnect with old friends who come to visit. She thinks she is going for a temporary expatriate experience, when in fact she is going to learn what it means to be always and everywhere at home.
I’m brought out of my memories by a Japanese maple tree that is shining with dark iridescence under the streetlights. Half of its leaves are red and the other half are still green; they glow together like some new colour that I’ve never seen before and that fills my heart with awe. “This day will never come again,” I repeat to myself as I stand under the velvet dark tree, the rain cascading down the collar of my windbreaker like a forgotten river.
Perhaps the wonder of being human is this: not only that this day will never come again, but also that in some form or another, it can. That a day lived with awareness can become a recollection rich with meaning. Perhaps the miracle of being human is that we stand precariously balanced between mindfulness and memory, a handful of scarlet maple leaves grasped lightly in one fist, a snowfall of cherry blossoms scattered across the other outstretched palm.
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My questions for you: What if you were to live the next day, or even the next hour, with the awareness that it will never come again? What could you find to be grateful for? What would you like to create so that this day – this precious, ordinary, irreplaceable day – will live on in your own memory or for others?