“The Sound of Water”
written by Tokuzawa Aiko, translated by Andrew Hall
For the last twenty years I have been going to help clean at an old-age nursing home once a month. There are days when I am too busy to volunteer, but when I have a chance, I try to go, taking the opportunity learn and prepare for my own oncoming old age.
Today was one of the rare sunny winter days in the Hokuriku region, a nice day to do service. My husband and I worked together to clean a long corridor, me swinging a dusty mop, my husband sweeping. We are an elderly couple ourselves, and our turn to live in this nursing home may begin at any moment. So, while we are still healthy, it is a happiness to be able to clean up.
A sprightly-looking grandmother came towards us down the hallway. I called out to her, “You’re looking good today!” She came over and took both my hands in hers in a friendly greeting. But then she covered her face with both hands, and started sobbing. I was surprised–all I could think to do was to repeat my greeting and pat her on the shoulder. Then she planted an intense kiss on the back of my hand.
Oh, how lonely she was, how hungry for love. The pain of aging pierced my heart.
I remembered the haiku by Santōka, “Unescapable death, the sound of water.” In this world, there are many things we don’t understand until we age. Declining bodies, declining vigor, forgetfulness, and death itself are all moving towards us, and it breaks my heart. At that instant, I could hear with my spiritual ears the sound of water within her. It was like the drip-drip sound of water seeping out of a tap in a midnight-dark kitchen, enveloped in deep loneliness.