It is impossible to not cry towards the end of the book. When I finally realised how much Oskar’s mom and grandmother loved him, how Oskar was carrying this huge burden on himself (not picking up the phone when his dad called on 9/11), how the grandmother loved the grandfather but he chose to leave, how the grandfather couldn’t speak, how he kept remembering the past and the woman he loved, how, if only, we could make each other’s burdens lighter.
I wrote, “they are letters to my son. I wasn’t able to send them to him while he was alive. Now he’s dead. I don’t speak, I am sorry.” The guard looked at the other guard and they shared a smile. I don’t mind if smiles come at my expense, I’m a small price to pay, they let me through, not because they believed me but because they didn’t want to try to understand me (…)”
And on the legacies we leave behind when we die. The weight of unfulfilled expectations. This quote is about how a father had died and he wrote letters to all the people he could before his death. But to his own son, he wrote a business-like letter. His son went around asking to look at all the letters of others. Some refused to show them to him, others complied. And through all the letters, he got to know his father better.
Some of his letters were funny. I mean, really, really funny. I didn’t know he could be so funny. And some were philosophical. He wrote about how happy he was, and how sad he was, and all the things he wanted to do but never did, and all the things he did but didn’t want to do.
When I understood Oskar, and what he was going through, from his point of view.
Mom was still on the sofa. She wasn’t reading, or listening to music, or doing anything.
She said, “You’re awake.”
I started crying.
She opened her arms and said, “What is it?”
I ran to her and said, “I don’t want to be hospitalized.”
She pulled me into her so my head was against the soft part of her shoulder, and she squeezed me. “You’re not going to be hospitalized.”
I told her, “I promise I’m going to be better soon.”
She said, “There’s nothing wrong with you.”
“I’ll be happy and normal.”
She put her fingers around the back of my neck.
I told her, “I tried incredibly hard. I don’t know how I could have tried harder.”
She said, “Dad would have been very proud of you.”
And war. It was a recording that Oskar played for his class. He was bullied in school.
TOMOYASU: I apologized to her. I told her, “I came as fast as I could.”
It was just the two of us. I didn’t know what to do. I was not a nurse. There were maggots in her wounds and a sticky yellow liquid. I tried to clean her up. But her skin was peeling off. The maggots were coming out all over. I couldn’t wipe them off, or I would wipe off her skin and muscle. I had to pick them out. She asked me what I was doing. I told her, “Oh, Masako. It’s nothing.” She nodded. Nine hours later, she died.
INTERVIEWER: You were holding her in your arms all that time?
TOMOYASU: Yes, I held her in my arms. She said, “I don’t want to die.” I told her, “You’re not going to die.” She said, “I promise I won’t die before we get home.” But she was in pain and she kept crying, “Mother.”
INTERVIEWER: It must be hard to talk about these things.
TOMOYASU: When I heard that your organization was recording testimonies, I knew I had to come. She died in my arms, saying “I don’t want to die.” That’s what death is like. It doesn’t matter what uniforms the soldiers are wearing. It doesn’t matter how good the weapons are. I thought if everyone could see what I saw, we would never have war anymore.
Death is the final stage that we all pass through. It doesn’t matter if you are rich or poor, ugly or beautiful, well-educated or not. It doesn’t matter how old you are or what are your fears, how unfinished or fulfilled you felt before that second arrived. It just comes, and we cannot control it. Death and suffering means incredible vulnerability. We have no idea what will happen next, and we can’t predict anything. The more we try to hold on, the more difficult it is for us to be at ease. And yet what has thinking and controlling ever brought me, but the delaying of happiness?
During the sermon earlier, Pastor E. was talking about death. He spoke about how we should not turn away from the word that gave us our being. How we are bereft of the knowledge of God and the knowledge of being a true human being, because we are self-reliant and weak at resisting temptation. Not humans as we know ourselves now, people preoccupied with power and money and worries, but humans in the sense of Christ- his compassion, his grace, his beauty. How he was brought to be a little lower than angels, and how he trusted God in all his sufferings. And then the crowning with glory and honour, while calling us brothers and sisters in Christ.
I’d have said nothing backward.
He’d had said ‘Yeah, buddy?’ backward.
I’d have said “Dad?” backward, which would have sounded the same as “Dad” forward.
He would have told me the story of the Sixth Borough, from the voice in the can at the end to the beginning, from “I love you” to “Once upon a time…”
We would have been safe.