Selfish to Selfless, trying to find the way.
While at the brothers house that day, I decided I would do my best to work fervently and positively. I helped prepare the meal, which was a curry dish, since rice is cheap and goes a long way to feed people. All the volunteers were from all over the world, were a bit shy to talk to at first, but were patient and had a certain glow. I chopped onions and ignored my overbearing, screaming intuition of "oh my gosh, no one is wearing gloves?!" and smiled as Brother Barnabas stared at me with kindness and curiosity. We cooked potatoes, rice, and a few varieties of vegetables that were thrown in a giant pot to stew. I remember sweating profusely, and having to take off my jacket as I couldn't stand the humidity anymore. I remember being self conscious to do so, because of my tattoos, but knew I would have to grin and bear it in a culture where tattoos equal the Yakuza (i.e. Japanese gang members) and are highly looked down on (which I shall elaborate on later). We then prepared the food for service and went downstairs to serve, mind you, I'm still awkwardly wearing my first pair of Japanese house sandals, which are too small. Thomas looked at me and told me kindly that it might be overwhelming to see all the people in the dinner hall, but if I felt uncomfortable, just to let him know. I said "I'll be fine," but honestly was a nervous wreck.
We set up tables with folding chairs and then opened the doors as people from all ages filed in to eat. The brothers had told me before that the homeless in Japan feel very ashamed not to be working, so they hide during the day. They also said there wasn't a large drug problem within Japan, however a lot of the homeless did drink because they had worked manual laborious jobs their entire life for very little pay, so their bodies hurt. To deal with the years of body aches, they drank alcohol to numb the pain since they couldn't afford much of anything else. This gave me some insight into their culture.
Also, unbeknownst to me, I was in Japan during the anniversary of the bombing of Hiroshima & Nagasaki. In Japan, this day is remembered by volunteering in the community and spreading positivity. I also would realize maybe some of the homeless Japanese might be war veterans. Maybe they would know I was American by sight and would not want me to serve them. I know the bombing is still a sore subject for this culture to this very day. They do not support nuclear war or unnecessary violence and are very sensitive to talking about Hiroshima & Nagasaki.
So with all of this in mind, I put my best foot forward and ran food to the tables, picked up dirty dishes and smiled, although I was trembling on the inside. I saw a lot of people staring at me, but they would advert their eyes if I returned the gesture and look down. The people were also were very considerate of the others waiting in line. They would eat as fast as they could and leave so others could get in and have a seat (very unselfish and un-American).
The frequent running dialogue pops up in my head, if I was only a doctor, I could help more, as I habitually started to assess the many bruises, possible tumors, abrasions, crippling arthritis, and conditions of all shapes and sizes, and other medical issues that aren’t necessarily physically seen. I also noticed a lot younger population than I would expect, people my age who look sort of healthy, but obviously didn't have a place to live. I didn't feel as uncomfortable either as I normally would on the homeless streets in the United States. I don't know if it was the calming presence of the house, or that this culture was so different without drugs involved that I felt less guarded when I was there. A time or two I felt my eyes water, or my lip quiver but I kept my head down and did whatever was asked of me. A few people bowed to me when leaving, which caught me by surprise.
After we fed a little over 200 people we cleaned up and I got to dine with the brothers and volunteers. We ate out of the same washed cups and same bowls and same glasses that we had just served, which at first I was apprehensive about to be honest. But see, here again is where I had forgotten why I was there and all about God, spirituality, companionship and the whole shebang. I was thinking of myself again. I felt a bit ashamed and ate what they dished out for me, and it was spicy and delicious.
The brothers made an introduction of me, (formally and in Japanese) to everyone in the room, and then everyone introduced themselves. They told of how they started volunteering there, while one of the brothers was translating all their stories to English for me. I was starting to get emotional as each story was so very different, yet had the underlying theme of unexpected compassion. I remember specifically a young guy who had came in late but was eager to help. He seemed very shy and when it was his turn to speak his face was red and he looked down. But he said he would walk by the alley every day to work and was so moved by the brothers kindness towards these people, that he was drawn to come here. I thought to myself how sweet each person was and was finding myself verklempt and it wasn’t due to the humidity.
A lot of volunteers told me they had been to many Mother Teresa houses and they spent most of their money to travel there when they could. They told me with a sparkle in their eyes, a gleam that I always have trouble describing. Most of them were from Asia, and had also traveled to the main house in Calcutta. And when they spoke of this place, their voice change and they would smile and say "you must go." I would listen and blush a bit, but I knew I wanted to wait, until the time was appropriate in my life.
I helped wash dishes and was asked to join the mass afterwards. I agreed, although I knew it would all be in Japanese, since the brothers spoke at least 3 languages fluently. I bowed my head when people bowed, I sang the sheet music as phonetically as I could figure out and just tried to close my eyes and be in the moment. My mind was starting to wander to if I was living my life right, if I had enough money to travel around and other general travel anxieties I can best relate to the movie Motorcycle Diaries. I had to stop my brain and focus although I had no idea what was going on, but what I do know is I didn't bow deep enough at the waist because a lady came over to help me bow the appropriate way.
They chimed a few bells and mass was over. I said thank you and grabbed my bag and headed back on the extremely hot trek towards the hostel. I had no idea that this would be just the beginning of my journey here, with the brothers.