A Silent Sakura Moment: Lamenting and Loving in Light of COVID-19

It took a stroll by the sakura trees to slay my stoicism.

There they were on my morning walk home from the supermarket – a cluster of cherry blossoms a couple feet above me. Whether it was their first morning out of hibernation or they had been patiently waiting a few days, I don’t know. But they were all but calling my name.   

“Why hello there,” I responded. (I don’t always talk to flowers. But Chi says I do talk to myself more since our daughter was born.)

We exchanged glances for a moment. Then it hit me: how few people will gaze upon these blossoms this year.

How few tourists will travel from across the globe. How few blue picnic tarps will be spread out beneath these branches. How few friends will shout “Kanpai!” under their shade. How few couples will smile for selfies, saying “Chee-zu.”

Just silence.

Soon my mind shifted from empty blue tarps to empty airplane seats. Empty ryokans. Empty restaurants. Empty art studios. Not just in general, but specific ones. The Tokyo-bound plane tickets that three families from LA cancelled. The empty rooms at the 64-year old onsen ryokan that filed for bankruptcy. The empty dining tables at the yakiniku restaurant in the OC that temporarily shut its doors. The empty stools at the art school in Monterey Park. 

For the first time since the start of the COVID-19 crisis, I began to lament.

*

Japan made world headlines early, first with the Diamond Princess cruise ship, then with Prime Minister Abe shutting schools on Feb 27. Since then, our lives have been similar to yours now. We just had a few weeks head start.

Like the Shibuya Crossing, it’s been a scramble. Do we cancel our worship services? Which drug store has toilet paper? Can we still fly back to LA in May? Why am I still touching my face?

Thankfully, this scramble has only been an inconvenience for our family. Yes, the volatile stock market has made work more stressful for Chi. We certainly miss our church family, having not gathered in person for a month. And with no LA visitors, we’re bummed our stash of Trader Joe’s snacks is down to its lowest in years.

But we’ll live. (Probably longer without those snacks.)

More urgent however, has been the scramble for opportunities to serve others. Christians in Japan are no strangers to national emergencies. And any believer here will tell you that the greatest disaster in recent past – 3/11 – has also been the greatest opportunity to love others.

Such opportunities require moving quickly though. Like the sakura petals, many will soon vanish.

*

Perhaps that’s why amidst all the fear, anxiety, frustration, and exhaustion, the one emotion I hadn’t felt yet was sadness. After all, there are people that need to be served, online services that need to be prepared, masks that need to be bought. If there’s one thing I don’t have time to do, it’s lament. Lament after this has passed. Act now.

Yet the reality is that people are already lamenting.

As I reflect on that sacred sakura moment, I’m convinced that lament is what my soul needs now. To lament with struggling small business owners. To lament with victims of blatant racism. To lament with the lonely on lockdown. For how can we truly love the suffering without entering into their sadness?

Lament may not be the quickest path to love. But it is the path to a deeper love. Nothing embodies such love like Jesus’ entering our sadness. It wasn’t a distraction for Him to weep before raising Lazarus. And if He took a moment to lament even on the cross, I doubt our lamenting will delay our doing God’s will.

So if a moment of sadness falls upon us like a petal from the sky, let it sink in. And may lament move us to love.   

This article was submitted for the Evergreen SGV Leaflet, to be published Mar 25.

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2 Comments

  • Byron Spradlin says:

    Praying for you today, Ian. This Scripture encouraged me today —
    Daniel prayed: “Praise be to the name of God for ever and ever; wisdom and power are his. He changes times and seasons; he sets up kings and deposes them. He gives wisdom to the wise and knowledge to the discerning. He reveals deep and hidden things; he knows what lies in darkness, and light dwells with him. I thank and praise you, O God of my fathers: You have given me wisdom and power, you have made known to me what we asked of you, …”
    – Daniel 2:20-23  blessings to you —

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