When Memorial Day arrives each year, I am very aware that neither my parents nor grandparents were in the military, and I was spared that very particular type of loss.
Most of the war stories I grew up among involved my Canadian granddad’s early university graduation and hasty recruitment to help build and engineer warplanes at a factory in Ontario. His brother was shot down in Europe, taken as a POW and later returned to Canada to live out a full life, but I never heard him tell his own stories.
Where I had the most opportunity to hear about the impact of war was in Japan. When I settled in there for two years, it was 50 years after WWII ended, and I was surprised at how close to the surface those experiences remained.
Countless conversations emerged, and from my adopted Japanese family, colleagues and community I learned a tiny bit about what it’s like to send loved ones to war, to live without them, to wander far and wide in search of food and water, to learn of casualties (at the hands of my countrymen) and to go on alone.
I also learned about forgiveness. And appreciation. My new people spoke with deep reverence about “Ma-kaa-saa”—Gen. MacArthur—who in the aftermath of war oversaw the rebuilding of Japan, in terms of infrastructure, economy and more.
At first these conversations made me nervous, but I soon realized they invariably led to expressions of cross-cultural brother/sisterhood and mutual appreciation.
And they reminded me that deep grief, regret and love know no borders.