Invisible Candle

Published: October 19, 2008

I have two mothers in Japan. One is my real mother. The other is a seventy-four-year-old, wealthy widow who loves to drink whisky and smoke. I don’t remember exactly when I met her, but she and I have kept in touch over the past five years. She was one of my clients in the securities company I worked for as a broker. She and I talked a lot then, not only about investments, but also about our lives, Japanese culture, and so on. Physically, she is old. But she is intelligent and well-experienced and I can talk to her about anything. She has treated me like her own daughter; she has earned my love and affection. Respectfully, I call her “mother,” too.

Eternal flame brought from Hiroshima after the nuclear bomb destroyed that city. It has been kept burning inside this dove figure in Ueno Park, Tokyo.

She tells a story about what happened in Tokyo after World War Two. Although Tokyo had became one of the biggest cities in the world, it remained of “no buildings, no hope” after the war. Many people searched through the destruction for their families and friends. She was among those who walked around the streets in such desperation. She saw many dead and dying people and people with no hope. She had to turn dead bodies over to distinguish which might be her own relatives. She still remembers the touch of dead persons in her hand. The touch made her not feel fear or sorrow, but wonder, “Who’s going to die next?”

What did the war give to the Japanese people? It’s still a big issue, but my generation doesn't discuss it. The reason is not only that it’s too big to discuss, but also that we know nothing about it. The only thing I know is people in her generation struggled to live and managed to overcome the hardship. People had to work hard just to survive. Losing their families or losing their hope could not be an excuse to give up living. My second mother experienced over fifteen kinds of work: as bookkeeper, housemaid, broker, and so on. After her marriage, life for her and her husband improved and they established a small advertisement company in Tokyo. Their business was small but successful for a long time. Fifteen years ago, her husband passed away. She then had to handle everything in the business. Those days must have been another hardship in her life.

Five months ago, I was facing the most difficult challenge in my career. I completely lost interest in my job; I felt that there was nothing new any more. The job was a big and important part of my life. I couldn't explain the reason at that time, but now I can. Everything that had happened to me went too fast and too much. The market was always going up and down, and several hundred clients needed information and my support. Even on weekends I worried about them. Sometimes the market became a “monster." When the price of stock or exchange rate of currency crashed, my stomach killed me and I spent sleepless nights.

My six-year career had given me excitement and great opportunities to meet good bosses, colleagues and clients. My second mother was one of them. But I needed a break to think about my life. I felt I had lost my goal or purpose. My career had taken control over me. The option I chose was to leave Japan for Boston to improve my skills in English, which I’d studied for over ten years.

After I made up my mind to quit the job and leave my country, I called my second mother. Her reaction surprised me: “You made a good decision!! Go forward, and get some fresh air in the US!” She seemed to understand everything about the situation I faced and the conditions around me. My second mother cheered me up and supported me all the time like this.

A few weeks later, after I quit my job, she invited me to her home for a farewell party. She and I cooked together and her son and daughter joined the party. After a while, my second mother told the story of the Invisible Candle:

“Everyone keeps an invisible candle on her own back. Her candle is the length of her life. You were born with your candle. Everyone has one, but none of us is able to see it. And none of us can exchange it. If you hope to live longer than the length of your candle, you can’t. Life goes up and down. Now you feel like you are losing your goal, but just living itself is a tough journey. Take it easy and cherish your life. Sometimes you need a break. Now is the time for changing your environment. Nobody knows the length of your candle. You may die tomorrow, or 50 years later. Go forward; don’t be obsessed with the past.”

Her words and the story about her own experience helped me realize that I had made a right decision. The hardship I'd been feeling could be a tiny one for her. But she gave me a lesson. “Go ahead; don’t be obsessed with the past while your candle is burning.”

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Readers Respond

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Beautiful! Thank you for sharing your life, your candle experience. My daughter has been diagnosed as Borderline Personality Disorder. I'm always trying to find a story or experience to have her look forward to tomorrow and not to dwell on the past. Many therapy groups spend hours upon hours on the past without a ray of hope on tomorrow. Thank you.


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