1974. I was in preschool then. Outside the library I passed a little Douglas Fir tree growing in the small plaza outside the library. I inhaled the scent of books and library paste as Mom and I walked towards the doors. Once inside the doors I ran several steps straight to the window of a courtyard and watched water trickle down an abstract metal sculpture fountain. I lingered for a few minutes, fascinated. After awhile, Mom and I turned right and walked through another set of doors and into the library proper. On the right were books, books, and more books. I ran to pick out my favorites from the shelves under the window you see in the picture behind the tree.
2014. I passed the trunk of the fifty foot (15.24 meters) high tree growing in the little plaza outside the community center that once was the library. I knew the scent of books and library paste was long gone, but I smelled the air anyway. Once inside the doors I took three strides to the window of the courtyard to see what had replaced the old fountain. I turned away after a quick look then turned right and walked through the other set of doors, noting the button that would open them if needed. On the right was a wall and a door – a closed off space with no shelves, no books. Behind the door was a big empty room waiting to be filled with people, food, and good memories. It was time for me and my new friends to set up the room for the annual Christmas party for the organization of dojos we belong to.
I worked hard with friends – most of whom outrank me, two who have taught me and my daughter. As the time for starting the party approached, more people helped to set up and I found myself coordinating one part of the efforts – people who outranked me had asked how they could help, then they cheerfully fulfilled my requests. After helping a family with three toddlers get food I went through the buffet line myself and sat down at a table with a new acquaintance and his family. I ached for the company of my daughter, home sick with the flu.
We were given a chance to eat and fellowship, then awards were presented. Right in the spot where some of my favorite picture books had once awaited me under the window by the tree, my Senseis honored me and gave me an award. I about cried – the recognition meant so much to me. I accepted another award on behalf of my sick daughter, remembering how she had picked out books from the same spot, remembering the Empty Bowls charity event she and I attended a few years later in the same room I was standing in now. So many happy memories rooted in one spot just a few yards from a tree that has grown up with me.
All too soon the Christmas party was over. Many hands were available to help clean up and most of the work was done in the space of half an hour. Those of us who had been there from the first stayed on until the work was done to the satisfaction of the community center’s manager.
As I helped clean the floor, I took a moment to look out the window at the trunk of the tree. I imagined my four-year-old self standing in the exact same spot. That little girl could never have imagined her grown up self – a student of karate mopping a floor alongside two mop-wielding instructors. A mother wishing her nearly grown child had been healthy enough to be there to hear the affirmations and the challenge for the new year, and to receive the award herself. A woman striving for personal growth, physical health, and the means to defend herself and others if need be.
At last the work was done and the manager signed us out, remarking that we were remarkably quick and thorough workers. She made it clear we were more than welcome to hold future events there anytime. Outside, I took a moment to look up into the night-darkened branches of the tall Douglas Fir tree. Fog obscured the night sky. The tree was enchantingly beautiful in that moment. I started to think about how I’ve changed and how that tree has changed. My thoughts were interrupted by the welcome voice of one of my Senseis.
“Is that the tree?”
“Yes it is, Sensei.”
I guess at some point I had told Sensei about how small the tree used to be. I was flattered he remembered. I took one last look up into the branches high above me and wondered what changes the tree would see in the years to come. Then I fell in step behind the people I’ve trained under and worked with so I could participate in the lingering chatter and wish them well on their journeys home.
On the way home I passed by the storefront that had once been the dojo I trained in when I was a teen. I wished my parents and I could remember my old Sensei’s last name. The dojo was part of a different organization. Last Spring at a tournament I took the opportunity to talk to the head of that organization. He doesn’t know where my old Sensei is now. I wish I could find her and talk with her again. I wish she could meet my daughter. I wish I could thank her.
Merry Christmas, Sensei, wherever you are.
P.S. – I actually wrote this article several days ago. Since then, while visiting a sister dojo I met another student of my old Sensei who had started after I left. He remembered her last name. What a great pre-Christmas present! Hopefully I’ll find her soon!!!