My father was always silent. He never told me about his feelings or his life. As a child he never enriched my powers of imagination by sharing the pictures of his mind. I always thought he didn’t share them because they didn’t exist, and so, as his heir, his ticket for the family future, I failed to find my own pictures and there were no feelings in sight. I searched wildly for them, and in the end decided it was my fault, as children do.
He was sick, thin and weakened by tuberculosis. The only sounds he made were coughing and rasping, always in the distance when he was at home. But mostly he was at work making tatami mats, the dust and dryness of the rushes always irritating his condition.
Hearing him speaking tersely to the doctor when he came was a shock. His voice was gruff, words like stones dropped into a deep tank, and I knew then that the tank was deep but empty, sterile.
I learned my pictures and feelings from others eventually, from women mostly. But the constant presence of his silence like a kind of weather, made them somehow trivial, easy to vanish, like crushed ice on a hot day. I longed to ask him to teach me the skill of making pictures which other people seemed to have naturally, and to enjoy. I felt an empty tank like him, and when I spoke, which became increasingly rare, my words dropped into the deeps just like his had.
When his condition was at its worst in the winter, he had to sit outside on the flimsy balcony and make a little fire in the fish grille to warm himself. The cold air was the only thing that stopped his incessant coughing and allowed the bleeding of his lungs to subside. I watched from inside as the snow settled around him, and on his balding head. I squeezed and toiled so hard so I could make my own picture of him as I watched. Then I turned away to check if it was there, and it was for a brief second, then it vanished like crushed ice in the hot sun.
Friends told me that silence was rare and that I should be grateful for it. That in their busy lives between work and sleep, they could not find it. They told me that my father loved me in his way and to just accept that he was a quiet man. Accept? Quiet? How could I tell them how empty I was, and how the abyss of my life at home was truly bottomless.
When I got older, and my father had died, I thought I would climb out of the bottomless tank of silence and it would disappear. I had managed to find a way of making pictures and being briefly acquainted with feelings without him. But the silence was still there, the blank sides, the dimensionlessness. I could not climb out.
Then I felt deep regret and realisation that I was perhaps the only one who could have aroused him and pulled him out of the tank. That this had been my mission, my true purpose in life, but out of fear, the vision of a raised fist knocking silence into me with a hard blow, had paralysed me. I had failed, and so the tank and the numbness were my legacy.
Then one day, I met a Holy Being who asked me to always stand in the shoes of others, to always act from the position of understanding how others felt. I said that I had no idea how to understand the feelings of other people. I was told that I made myself separate from others and that it was only true love and respect that would enable me to understand them.
I told how my father had made himself separate from me by using silence as if it were a weapon, and that I then made myself separate from him. ‘He loved you in the only way he could. By feeding you and making a roof over your head. You could have reached out to thank him with love. He would have taken your hand and you could have dragged him out of his tank. But your own fear trapped you in a tank of your own making.’
Now, unconditional love is the creator of all my pictures and I can stand in the shoes of others. My father taught me silence so that I could know the joy of sound. He taught me blankness so that I could create magical pictures and impressions, and an infinity of human understanding. Silence and stillness are rare treasures in my life today.