This I Believe

Jean - Durham, North Carolina
Entered on February 28, 2007

Two Kimonos in Kokura

I believe that enemies can become friends, and that ordinary citizens can promote peace on earth.

In 1953, when I was eight years old, my mother, sister, and I drove from my grandparents’ small farm in Progress, Mississippi to Seattle, Washington, where we boarded a military transport ship that took us to Yokohama, Japan. My father, an army captain, met us there, and we traveled to our new home in Kokura, a city located on the southernmost island of Kyushu.

Our Japanese neighbors welcomed us warmly, inviting my sister and me into their homes and teaching us children’s songs and card games. A few doors down the street lived a woman and her teenage son. For my ninth birthday, our neighbor sewed cotton kimonos for my five-year old sister and me. Her son delivered the kimonos, along with his letter, handwritten in English, wishing me a happy birthday. In the letter, he said something like this: this cloth is simple but it is a gift from my mother’s whole heart.

Ten years ago, while preparing dinner in my kitchen in Durham, North Carolina, I listened to an NPR interview of the pilot who had flown the B-29 that dropped the atomic bomb Fat Man over Nagasaki on August 9, 1945. He said that Kokura had been the intended target that day, but because of cloud cover over Kokura, they flew to Nagasaki instead.

Our Japanese neighbor and her son had what is now called “Kokura’s luck.” They were saved from disaster without even knowing it at the time. Instead of being innocent victims of the bomb, they lived to welcome strangers to their neighborhood.

I wish that I could remember more about the generous woman and her thoughtful son. This much I do know. She was a friend of my parents and a good neighbor. Her gesture of kindness is not forgotten.

The letter from my neighbor’s son and the lovely handmade kimonos give testimony to bonds of friendship that link us with other human beings, bridging disparities in language, culture, appearance, and nationality. We formed a connection, however brief and tenuous, that I carry with me today. I believe in the power of human beings to put aside hatred and bitterness, and to choose the path of forgiveness and reconciliation.