“Make sure you say goodbye to places as well as people.” This was the advice from a veteran OMF, a dear friend called Miriam who spent decades as a missionary in Japan and recently retired to the UK.
This summer we had a break at one of the OMF holiday homes in a place called Tarugishi. I first went there when I was only a few months old – so I’m told! It was soon after OMF had built the house as a place of rest for missionaries to get away and recharge. It’s a lovely spot right by the beach in a quiet fishing hamlet, with wonderful views from the house across the bay. Something about just being in that place makes all the stress and tension melt away.
We didn’t always have good weather (we were there for the worst typhoon that has hit Japan for 25 years!) but we were able to have lots of fun playing on the beach, swimming in the sea, going on exploring walks, collecting shells, feeling the sea breeze on the face and the salt spray in the air.
My last entry in the guestbook
For me, it’s a place full of childhood memories.
Like the time we discovered an ants nest inside the wall of my bedroom, a seething mass of black insects!
Or the time we found a decaying porpoise writhing with maggots. (If you’re still reading, I admire your mettle!)
Or the time I got ill and spent a few days sleeping in the cupboard and playing with a typewriter trying to write out the lyrics of my first album, Simon & Garfunkel on cassette tape!
Or the many campfires, with marshmallows, and fireworks, wearing swimming goggles to keep the smoke out of my eyes.
Going on a fly fishing expedition in an inflatable dinghy with my dad, when halfway down the river, a foot went through the bottom of the boat and we started taking on water fast!
Or cycling trips as a family. Snorkelling among the rocks. Playing in the cold waves on a stormy day. I could go on. (Maybe you’re thinking I already am!)
I remember leaving the place after one family holiday when I was a teenager. My mum had discovered a lump in her breast. We didn’t know when, if ever, we’d be able to go back. It was a moment of saying farewell to a precious place.
Little did I know then that about 15 years later I would be back, this time with a wife and baby! And then with my parents as well, my mum with secondary cancer. It was her last time there this side of glory.
This summer we went as a family, now a family of 6, for one last trip there before we move back to the UK.
Saying goodbye to the shop lady
I made a point to say goodbye to the lady who runs the village general store. Her mother used to run the store during those family holidays when I was a kid and was still running the shop until a couple of years ago. Her daughter, quite a bit older than me, runs the shop now. Both she and her mother were always very kind to us strange foreigners who would come for a week or two in the summer. I took her a bunch of flowers (it was difficult to find some after the earthquake). I explained that we were moving back to the UK and thanked her for her and her mother’s kindness over the years.
As I got back in the car and waved a last goodbye to her, I was overcome with emotion. I can’t even really tell you why. I hardly know her. I can’t even remember her name. But perhaps her smiling figure waving goodbye from the door of the shop as I drove away, also represents a goodbye to a place that has become very dear to me.
I also gave a bunch of flowers to the couple who sold the land to OMF and still now, all these decades later, look after the key to the holiday house. When I said how much I loved the place, both the couple and the shop lady, in typical Japanese humility, said “Nanimo nai tokoro desu!” (“It’s a nothing-much place.”)
It may be a nothing-much place to some people, but it’s a something-very-much place that has become dear to me. It was never “home”, only a holiday home. But there is something of Home about it.
So yes, I think it is important to say goodbyes to places too. But at the same time I’m looking forward to being in a place which we will never need to say goodbye to; a place with a permanent, eternal address; a place where joyful memories will be added to more joyful memories, ad infinitum.
I’m really looking forward to saying hello to that place!
- Pray that in our last few months in Japan we would do goodbyes well
- Pray that we will keep our eyes on the eternal promised place that we will one day say hello to
Exploring walks along the beach