By Paul Crouse
When she told me about her failed suicide attempt only days earlier, the recent events of my life started to make sense.
In her torment, she had gone to the top of a tall building to take a leap, but the door to the roof was mysteriously locked that day. The Universe was conspiring to keep her alive and that is why we met.
She was a Japanese woman living in Stockholm and I was an American who had been living in Japan for two decades. I was in Sweden on holiday. We were brought together in a way I could have never imagined.
Other than my Japanese home city of Kyoto, Stockholm is the foreign city I know best. One of my closest friends lives there and I have visited her several times because it is good for my sanity and my soul. Scandinavia seems so very exotic coming from East Asia.
My friend was living about an hour outside of the city with her partner and kids. It was near the end of my vacation and I had not been into the city yet. Stockholm is a beautiful northern European capital surrounded by water. A large inland lake dumps into an estuary and the city is built around a few islands that separate the two.
For some reason, I had a very strong urge to go into the city. I needed to see the water. My friend had made plans for us for that day, but the nagging inside of me was particularly strong. After a bit of negotiation, I agreed to catch the first morning commuter train to the city and be back by noon.
I got out of the metro in the Old City, which looks out onto an inland harbor. It was a cool, bright summer morning. People were purposefully heading to work by car, bicycle and on foot. I worked my way through the steady stream of bicyclists to the eastern edge of the island, looking out over the sun glint harbor.
I sat down with the intention of enjoying the view, but suddenly something strange happened. I started crying.
I was quite surprised. There was nothing in my life that evoked sadness. On the contrary, I was rested and happy to be on vacation. But I had learned long ago when I was in recovery that I should let my feelings flow. Drinking had made me numb, so feeling emotions was a gift.
I felt a bit awkward at first. Only a few meters behind me, hundreds of people were streaming past. But I just let it flow. It was a good, solid cry that lasted for about ten minutes. It went away as mysteriously as it started. Okay, it felt weird, but I shrugged it off. C'est la vie.
The sun had risen a bit more and I decided to go into the warren of streets that was the Old Town to take pictures. For some reason, this place always felt like home to me. The old, stately European buildings were such a contrast to the architectural mess that is urban Japan, or the soulless American suburbs where I had been raised.
After about an hour of wandering around, the cafes were starting to open up and I decided to have some breakfast.
I chose the first place that was putting tables outside. I walked in the door. Behind the counter was a Scandinavian-looking guy and an East Asian woman. She looked Japanese, so I spoke to her right away in Japanese. She looked stunned.
We started chatting back and forth in Japanese. She was very surprised. It is not often that white guys speak Japanese in Stockholm. I found out that she was originally from Kobe, which is just on the other side of Osaka from Kyoto -- so we spoke the same dialect. We were laughing and her co-worker looked perplexed. We switched to English to include him in the conversation.
We chatted for a bit, had a couple of good laughs and then I ordered my coffee and food (everything is Sweden is taken with coffee), and then sat outside to have my breakfast. It was a fun experience, but it was not such a big deal, or so I thought.
After I finished my breakfast, I went back into the cafe to say goodbye. We exchanged cards and she was interested in the work I do guiding people and helping them to address their problems. She said that it would be nice if we could meet up again, but I told her that I was staying only a few more days.
As I left, I didn't think I would see the woman again. Nevertheless, I put her card in my pocket.
After wandering around a bit, I went inside the main cathedral, which sits next to the Old Royal Palace -- sort of the Swedish version of Westminster Abbey. I sometimes like to sit quietly in churches, even a much-frequented tourist destination like this. That was my plan.
As I sat in an old wooden pew in the middle of the sanctuary, I started crying again almost immediately. The cry on the waterfront was the warm up. This was the main show.
Reaching up out of the deepest part of my being arose a powerful sorrow. It just bubbled up and there was no way to stop it.
I felt very awkward. Scores of tourists with clicking cameras were in the room with me. I slid down the pew next to a giant column to give myself a little bit of privacy.
Overcoming my embarrassment, I decided that if I could not cry in a church, then where could I cry? So I just let it flow, trying my best not to be too loud. Years of Japanese manners had taught me that.
I cried and cried and cried. It went on for a long time, well over an hour, I would guess, although it was difficult to judge time at that point.
Then, something truly amazing happened: four teenagers sat down next to me. One of them put his hand on my forearm to console me. He shared words of comfort. This is not something I expected from young people, but then again, people will often surprise you with their kindness.
I sat with them crying for a while. Eventually, the sorrow pulled back like the tide going out. I thanked them and they graciously left.
My sorrow and tears continued to ebb and flow like the waxing and waning of the moon. I lost track of time.
Crying that hard for that long put me in an altered state of consciousness. Everything was hyper-clear. I could hear every sound. And I could feel every emotion in my shaking body.
Two priests came up to the altar to perform mass. The cathedral was Lutheran, and the mass a rather lighter version than what I was used to going to Catholic masses. The young, Mediterranean looking male priest spoke English, while the older woman spoke Swedish.
I had stopped crying by this time, but I was raw on many levels. As the woman started her sermon, it was as though she had shot a harpoon from her heart directly into mine. I don’t mean metaphorically; I physically felt it.
Each of her words filled me with an immense feeling of light and peace. I thought my heart would explode because it was so swollen with love. I understand less than a half dozen words of Swedish, but could feel all of her words down to my core.
By this time, my vision has transformed. Her face and eyes were crystal clear and everything else in the room faded into a blur. The younger priest translated her words. She told the story of St. George and how he slayed the dragon. She said that we all had our own dragons to slay. She told us to look at the large statue of the knight and the beast behind her in the church. “Look at his face,” she said, “it is not filled with fear or rage. He is clear-eyed and detached (just like the Zen Buddhists teach). We need to conquer our darkness consciously with our eyes wide open.”
These were the words I needed to hear at that moment. They reached down into my soul.
When she finished speaking, things began to return to normal. The funny thing about transcendent mystical experiences is that after they are done, life moves on like it always does, except that one notices a subtle shift on the inside.
I decided to take communion with the few other tourists who were actually paying attention to what was being said. When the service was done, I left the church. And went on with the rest of the day.
Back at my friend's house, I got a text from the Japanese woman. She wanted to meet. My gut told me that we should. I talked with my friend, who had again made plans for us. She thought this woman just wanted to sleep with me, but agreed to change our plans. I called the Japanese woman, and confirmed that as a married guy, this was not a date.
We arranged to meet back in Stockholm. We went to an Italian restaurant and ate outside on the terrace, enjoying a lovely Swedish summer evening. We hit if off right away. I explained why I lived in Japan and she told me about her Swedish life. She had a Swedish family with kids. She expressed how difficult it can be living in a foreign country, which I could understand whole-heartedly.
After only a few minutes, she confessed that she had failed at an attempt to kill herself only a few days before. She told me her story, which I will not share here.
She really needed to share her thoughts, feelings and pain with someone who could understand her cultural point of view. We talked for a long time and I could see and feel the immense weight she was carrying lift off of her shoulders.
I convinced her to agree to contact a suicide hotline the next day and to seek professional counseling.
After we finished our meal, we walked to a nearby park. We sat on a bench and I did some healing work with her. And after that, we just held each other for a while. Eventually, I walked her to her metro station and we parted.
We texted each other a few times before I left. She confirmed that she had taken the first steps to get professional help. And then we said goodbye. We did not stay in touch. Our paths crossed for that short time and then we went on our separate ways. It is simply what needed to happen.
As soon as she told me about her attempted suicide, I knew that she had called me to her. The world is funny that way.
What was the crying about? Was I channeling her sorrow? That is what it feels like happened, but I honestly don't know. I do know it is connected, but I don't know exactly how.
Very often in the West, we put too much emphasis on “why” rather than simply accepting what is. The world is not logical. Logic, also known as rationality, is a human construct. The world just is. And if we stop, look and listen, we can hear, see and understand that there is so much more to this world than meets the eye.
The woman called to me and I found her "by chance." I cried in the cathedral and the young people consoled me. I stayed in the house of God and her messenger pierced my heart and soul with the sword of knowledge and compassion to help a person in great need.
Our modern world is filled with an immense amount of noise, filling us with fear, stress and conflict. There is another ancient Internet out there that does the opposite. We simply need to take the time to listen to our hearts, recognize what is right in front of us and have courage to go off plan — to be standing in the exact right place at the right time, and doing what we need to be doing -- like ordering breakfast.
Angela Moreno is a Venezuelan Illustrator and Cartoonist, specializing in Japanese animation & comics. She is flexible in style and has over 12 years of professional experience creating artwork for varied media publications.
You can see more of her artwork at her online portfolio, www.peccosa.com, and check out her latest work at her blog, peccosa.tumblr.com. You can contact her by email at firstname.lastname@example.org, or through the blog.
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