Today, as I was packing for a move, I pulled a large, flat box out from under my bed. As soon as I lifted the lid, it was as if another world wafted out.
The textured black fabric with purple chrysanthemums and cherry blossoms was familiar enough. I think it was the meticulous way the kimono was folded that took me back.
I recalled the second-story practice room in my Japanese dance teacher’s house. We sat on the hardwood floor; one wall was occupied by a huge rectangular mirror.
My teacher was a tiny woman who had been learning traditional Japanese dance since she was 3 and was now a grandmother. Her mastery of the art would easily have merited her being the center of attention but she was very down-to-earth and seemed to naturally focus on other people.
That day she spread out my new kimono on the immaculate floor and demonstrated the proper way to fold it. First smooth out all the wrinkles and pull on the seams so that it lies perfectly flat and rectangular. Then fold it in half lengthwise–this required both hands and the whole body to execute as precisely as folding a giant piece of origami. Smooth out the wrinkles again. Then fold the first sleeve back, making sure that it bends just at the crease. Fold the skirt up, carefully turn the neat bundle over, fold the other sleeve over. It was a work of art.
Seeing my kimono folded just so in the box reminded me of the reverence with which my teacher treated the garment. There was no pretension in it–the folding seemed to be an act of gratitude for owning this fine article of clothing.
Today, when I opened the box, the memory of that novel sensation of gratitude and humility stopped me in my tracks and made me wonder.
It was in the Japanese countryside that I first perceived the puffy layers of pride and ingratitude that cover my own heart. The people I met seemed to have a clear view all the way to the bedrock.