Japanese Socks and Peace
In the Advent season of 2008, Tom and I traveled to Japan. Our son, Christian, was involved in a study abroad program and would not be coming home for Christmas. We decided to journey to Japan to spend Christmastide with him.
It was difficult being away from well-known customs and traditions at this time of year. While Japan was exquisitely decorated for the season, it was all for the sake of decoration and held with it an emptiness. The total quandary of what this season represented to the Japanese was found on a cake in a bakery: it was decorated completely with pilgrims and a manger scene.
Christmas day arrived and we went out shopping. All the shops were open. As we were on a journey and clean socks were in short supply, I found a sporting goods store and bought three pairs of wool hiking socks. We presented the socks to each other as our Christmas gifts and remarked that it was the best gift ever: clean, warm socks on a chilly Christmas day.
A little later that day, as I was window-shopping, I found a small shop that beckoned me inside. The shop was simple, more like a small stall. The main thing for sale was many packets of origami paper. Each pack was so colorful and bright. I collected a few to buy. An older Japanese man was tending the simple till. He seemed so delighted that I was so interested in origami. After the yen was given, the older man and I had an encounter I will never forget. On this Christmas day, between two strangers, a common blessing was given. The man took an origami crane from his collection on the counter and placed it in my hand. "Peace," he said in English. And I stood speechless in awe.