(Photo is from DH’s Pender Island Retreat, January 2017.)
I remember myself being enamoured by the sea, even when I knew nothing about it.
In kindergarten we were once asked by the teacher what colour water was. Without a second thought, I answered, “blue!” since water in cartoons and Disney movies was always blue. She never really convinced me otherwise, no matter how much she maintained that water was “clear”.
The sea is a mystery to humanity, because as much as it gives life and is full of it, it is also powerful and spontaneous and incomprehensible. As much as we wish we could grasp its vastness and diversity, this is God’s prerogative and His alone. But in together being part of His creation, we are able to share in its bounty and its beauty.
Today, I visited DisneySea with some fellow exchange students. It was the first time since my mother went back to Canada, and the first time I had to commute to and fro between my dorm and Disney.
As I put on my Disney playlist on my way home, I realized something as I listened to one of my most treasured songs.
My favourite princess has always been Ariel. (Maybe not always.) I could relate so much to the way she felt like she had everything but always wanted more – something that her world couldn’t give her no matter how complete it ought to be seen as. She spent all her time exploring, obsessing over the human world, wishing she could be there. And in order to gain what she wanted, she was willing to sacrifice everything – her family, her ties to her homeland, even her ability to sing and to speak, regardless of the fact she was warned of the human world and its dangers.
And isn’t that a little bit like what I’m doing?
I was so loved by the people around me, yet I felt like I didn’t fit in, and I was willing to leave them and everything I knew behind to go to a new place I wasn’t sure about. Even now, I’m not sure – every time I run into a challenge or am asked about “how Japan is treating me”, I can’t quite give an answer.
The grotto of my mind is full of “gadgets and gizmos aplenty” from the place I love. I’m interested in Japanese cinema, Japanese literature, modern Japanese history – and there are some things I know about that I think would startle the typical Japanese person. But in the end a collection of trinkets in a grotto is just that – unsourced, decontextualized information without experience to be grounded in.
I must be willing to lose my elocution in order to be close to the culture I have loved. This means I speak slower, make mistakes when talking and writing, and that in conversation I am sometimes perceived as quiet even though my brain is boiling over with things to participate with. I can say what I want to say, but I’m not native, and sometimes not native is just not enough. As someone who took years and years to get to a point where they finally feel like they can say what they want to say in their native language, this imposed dumbness is incredibly, incredibly frustrating. Add on the fact that studying on-and-off for 10 years should have gotten me further than this, and some days I just want to pack my bags and go home. It’s hard to understand how much it means to be Canadian until you leave Canada.
And in the end Ariel gets the fairy tale ending – her father’s magic powers grant her legs, and she gets married to the handsome Prince Eric, the first person she meets from the surface.
We can think about all the factors that came together and will come together. How many times had Ariel been to the surface in order to assemble her collection? How many times had she gone there and back without seeing a single person? What are the chances that the first man she lays eyes on is the good-looking, rich heir to the kingdom? And if she can use a dinglehopper to comb her hair, how much trouble will she have adjusting to all the other parts of human culture? How much will she be ridiculed by the courtesans around her, even if she is a princess?
Without King Triton and his kingly trident, those of us who aspire to a culture apart from our own have to deal with problems like this. Just like Ariel, we may have a father and a caretaker who urge us not to go, by any means necessary. Unlike Ariel, our caretaker may not employ the entire ocean to implore us to stay, and in song, no less. Just like Ariel, we may be stuck laying at the bottom of a grotto filled with treasure, staring at the white light permeating from the sun’s rays. We may think we are experts without ever having once gone there. Unlike Ariel, aspirations, marriages and immigration are not as simple as a 1, 2, 3 and a “But, Daddy, I love him!” (No, Ariel. You’re in love with his culture and his looks, not the person himself.)
At this point, I can’t say that I have unwavering resolve. Some days are very, very hard, and for someone with my goals and my outlook who came here, I feel like it really shouldn’t be. But – and this point is just like Ariel – if my love and my longing to be here is strong and authentic enough, I will be able to overcome those obstacles. Every time I can’t make sense of a reading, every time someone automatically switches into English because I’m a “foreigner” – even though these things get under my skin and destroy my nerves way, way more than they should (and more often than not), if God has truly put this country, this language, and this culture on my heart, then I know I will be able to overcome it. Since I’m here, I know that He has. And since He has, I know I can.
“For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the Lord, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.” (Jeremiah 29:11 NIV)