Friday, February 15, 2008

on roses and sushi

My hair is pushed back from my face, my hands still smelling like soy sauce and bleach from the long day finally behind me. I still have Korean menu items and sushi specials floating around nonchalantly in my head. It is hard to find peace in my heart and to leave the rush of Valentine’s Day dinners and hour-long wait lists behind me. But now? There is silence (save the Alexi Murdoch songs playing faintly in the background of my evening).

Now there is peace.

There are days when I feel like I am not getting far in life. I feel like I will always be waiting tables, always searching for a way to get back into school; forever the could-have-been. When I got home, Jeanine and I had a conversation tonight about goals in life, and about where this world places your ultimate value, whether in business accomplishments, retirement plans or a 401k.

“I don’t have those things,” she stated, “but I have found self-worth in things that are eternal. When I think on it, I have had a great life. I have lived in India, traveled the States, spent time in Seattle and Los Angeles, and I have my son Ben. I always want to keep learning in life… to keep finding out new things and new perspectives. I never want to feel retired to doing nothing when I am helping so many people in my job now. I am helping to change lives.”

When I first started my job waiting tables full-time in Tokyo Seoul, a sushi and Korean barbecue restaurant, I didn’t see the opportunity in it at all. In fact, God pretty much had to corner me into working there after other options just didn’t come through. I was a little bitter, thinking I had left my waitress and bartending days behind. I long for the day when I don’t have to pull out a pen and a pad with a plastic smile and ask if my guests are ready for dessert.

I can be very wrong sometimes, searching for the answers in life thinking they are hard to find.

One cool thing I am learning about the Korean language, as I struggle to keep up with it in my everyday life at Tokyo Seoul is this: depending on the intonation of just one syllable, it can turn a question into an answer. I think that is beautiful. That the answer to our questions can be so close, that the answer might already rest in our heart’s vocabulary someplace.

Because I am surrounded by a language barrier everyday, I am learning how important actions are instead of words. I am learning that making somebody coffee because they look like they might be having a rough day in the kitchen is more important than just asking how their day is. I am finding that being open to other cultures, traditions and the strange foods they may offer you out of love, is important because it helps those people feel like you are trying to meet them where they are. When action is the only thing you have to show you care, you learn to appreciate the essence of actually doing instead of just talking about doing.

Every morning a Korean immigrant named Ashjima makes me soup for breakfast. I can’t tell her that I have already eaten, or that onions and raw fish don’t really suit my taste buds at ten-thirty a.m. But she invites me to sit and eat with the four other Korean employees with a tug on my arm. She doesn’t speak more than three words in English, but I know she cares about me, and I know that she values my presence and my attitude in the restaurant. She is shorter than I am, with kind eyes and a soft spirit. Through her I am learning to speak more in what I do and how I do things than in words that seek to be high and lofty.

I am so thankful for this journey. I’m so thankful that I don’t need to have things all figured out; that maybe having goals and running toward them is more important than whether you get there in the end or not. I am thankful for today; I am thankful for roses sent to my work, and for a heart that is quickly captivating me. Thankful for Ashjima and sunsets and sushi, for family and for failures I have learned through.

Thankful for today.

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