Over time my stories about my ex-wife’s grandmother have proven to really touch people’s hearts. I hope what I write today will help you to have greater faith in your own ability to persevere in difficult situations.
Grandma’s ability to enter into a self-hypnotic trance state likely saved her life during WWII. Her ability to enter into a self-hypnotic trance state when telling a story made her a treasure to be around.
One evening I asked grandma what WWII was like for her. Here’s what she said:
“Much of Tokyo was destroyed by U.S. fire bombing during the end of World War II. It was very dangerous, because fires would rage nightly and spread rapidly.
It was devastating to lose all one’s worldly possessions and the very house you lived in, in a few minutes time. But it was even more devastating to hear the screams of those writhing in pain as they got trapped in-between fires and had no way to escape the inferno.
The safest place to be during the fire bombings was on the grounds of a neighborhood temple. With only two buildings on the large property the bombers did not target the area. Most importantly though, there was a large pond on the grounds. If you submerged yourself in the pond up to your chin, you could protect yourself from the flying sparks coming from the many wooden buildings on fire.”
“Going in that pond every night took a bit of strength,” she said. “It was winter time after a while, and the air and the water were cold. Some people didn’t have the fortitude to stay in the pond until the bombers left. But staying alive was more important than comfort, so getting out of the pond early was not an option for me.”
“What I did,” she said, “Is this… I wore several layers of clothes to help keep my body heat in. Once I got to the pond I would quickly immerse myself up to my chin. I felt it was very important to not slowly suffer through this process.”
“Next,” she said, “I would look for the largest blazing fire in the distance and make believe it was one of the large fires built during one of the summer festivals. I would imagine myself getting a bit too close to the fire and needing to cool off by immersing myself in the pond. I would then look at the sparks flying everywhere and imagine they were the famous Tokyo summer fireworks display. Remembering vividly how hot it was at that time of year, it felt great to cool off in the pond.”
At this point she stopped talking and we looked at each other while also looking off into the distance.
“On January 1st for the last number of years, you’ve come with us when we go to the temples in the old neighborhood to pray. Now you know the story of the one temple we always visit last. While there, I give thanks for being spared and I pray for the souls of all those who departed during the bombings, asking that their pain be erased from their souls.”
“Now,” she said, “we have come full circle. You are American, and you have married my granddaughter. I pray this means the suffering of WWII is being transformed into friendship and love.”
“Japan is a very different country as a result of the war,” she said. “Perhaps such terrible suffering were necessary, to bring about such great change.”
We both sat there for about a minute while saying nothing. In telling her powerful story with such a wonderful gentle intensity, the two of us had slipped off into a lovely state of self-hypnosis. It took a bit of time to travel back into the present, and find ourselves sitting in the safety of her living room. Powerful stories are often magical in that way.