Let me tell you a little about Japanese junior high schools, Mike, so you’ll understand how amazing you are (as if you didn’t know already.)
Lunch time at the schools where I’ve taught is generally the same. The students sit in their respective homerooms at their respective desks eating from their respective お弁当 lunch boxes, the only variations being the design on the box itself (Hello Kitty, Anpanman and Dragonball are all pretty popular) and the color of the Japanese-style handkerchiefs 風呂敷 (furoshiki) their lunch boxes are wrapped in. While they consume rice and what nots and chat raucously they listen to J-pop pouring down from the loud speakers- music which can be heard everywhere in the school except on the first floor where there are no homerooms, only offices- the songs selected by student DJs. Occasionally I join the students in the classroom for lunch so that they can gawk over my ability to use chopsticks (you use them better than we do someone invariably notes) and criticize my diet (You always eat yakisoba? someone’ll say) I enjoy this time because it’s optimal for getting to know the student body and seeing their personalities unleashed, and I can also catch up on the latest and most popular J-pop tunes.
But I had you on my mind and was feeling totally isolated in my grief so I decided to eat lunch in the teacher’s office, surf the net and try to find some stories or testimonials that didn’t feel like your death was a tragic end to a failed comeback attempt or the hardly gratifying not-even-in the-same-vicinity-of-being-just deserts of a publicly convicted child molester who’d escaped justice a la Orenthal (OJ) James (at least he had until recently.) I found a number of stories from people who felt as I do and that uplifted my spirits a bit. While the mass media seemed to be mourning the loss of one of their slabs of red meat, one they relished in gnawing on at every opportunity, sucking the marrow out of your bones, the public at-large, at least from what I’d scanned, seemed to be truly shocked and grief-stricken, liked they’d been hoping and praying, as I had, that you would have lived long enough to be vindicated of this stigmata.
A couple of links lead me to Youtube and I wanted so badly to hear your voice. But, of course, I was at work and I was already pushing my luck even surfing the web. The powers that be in the office are pretty lenient with me and I certainly am wary of falling out of their good graces…something that I’ve learned previously in my time here could happen at the drop of a hat without me even being aware that anything was amiss. So I settled for watching you trying to teach Micheal Jordan how to do your moves. Man, what a moment! I felt myself welling up again so. Watching you, so alive, so joyful, was a little more than I could deal with at the moment so I left the office and decided to roam the hallways alone…lunch is only 20 minutes or so here so I only had few minutes remaining.
As I approached the stairwell, drifting down from on high, I thought I heard Tina Turner’s voice which, goes without saying, has no place in a Japanese school. She was saying, “…We are all a part of God’s great big family…” and I knew suddenly what it was I was hearing and what would come next for I had heard that line of hers about 10,000 times over the past 20 some odd years: It was Billy Joel singing, “…and the truth, you know love is all we need…” By this time I was taking the steps three at a time because I knew you were next! I could even see you, with your Jheri Curl and your gold-braided military style jacket, highwater jeans, loafers and that damn glove of yours! In my mind’s eye, I could see you!
“We are the world, we are the children…” you sang. But, you were not alone. I could hear your words spilling out of the 3rd year students’ homerooms. They knew the words! Of course they knew the words, I realized, my heart racing. I’d taught it to them. We had sang the song at the beginning of every lesson for a month the previous year when they were 2nd year students, and I’d shown them the video. At the time, I was still taking you for granted, almost a little ashamed of your oddness and your tightness with that witch Diana Ross (another artist I’ve been taking for granted), so I’d been more focused on Stevie Wonder and Ray Charles (both of whom I’ve never taken for granted.)
I’d never heard an English language song played during lunch in my 3 years working at the school. I wondered, for a second if it were some bizarre fluke, or if the kids had learned of your passing and decided on their own to play the song, or if the Japanese English teacher had slipped them the MiniDisc she kept on her desk. Whatever the reason I couldn’t have been more grateful. I stood there in the hallway enchanted like I’d been the first time I heard your beautiful, profoundly simple message to the world, listening to it sung the way you had intended it to be sung, by the most simply profound beings on earth: the children of the world. And though you might have had the starving children of Africa in mind when you wrote it, your inspired heartfelt message expanded and extended itself so that it could feed not only a famine ravaged continent but a world hungry for inspiration.
Has their ever been a more fitting eulogy? I think not.
Micheal, thank you for all you’ve given us…May the Creator bless you and keep you! This world has been nourished with your love.