Mono-no-aware: the transience of things
It finally hit me in Maruyama Park, when I saw once again the great weeping cherry tree. The last time I’d seen it, it had been in glorious full bloom, the petals cascading down in an explosion of life greeting the spring; now, on a bitter winter’s afternoon the branches were bare, the park deserted and forlorn under a sheen of fine rain. Now, the memories came welling up, and with them came the tears I’d been waiting for. I hadn’t really expected this park to be the place to trigger them, there were other places in this city I associated more strongly with memories of her… but the sight of that tree took me back to an April evening of wine and cheese under the cherry blossoms; and now, two years later, seeing that tree again I had to sit down and let the memories run over me and my tears run their course.
So I sat there in Maruyama Park beneath the great weeping cherry tree, and I wept.
The whole time I’d been away, back in my hometown in faraway England, I’d wept each night when I was alone with my thoughts. I’d been longing for this city of purple hills, this sultry temptress of the East; yet I’d also been dreading my return, for I’d left a piece of my heart here in Kyoto and felt the city was doomed to be a place of sadness for me. But the Kyoto I’d left, that Kyoto didn’t exist anymore, because she wasn’t here anymore; the life that might have been wasn’t here, and never would be. And as my tears finally dried up and I felt the salt crusting on my cheeks, I knew that now I could finally let go. I could finally accept that when I’d stepped off that train and the doors had slid shut between us, and when our eyes had locked one last time through the glass, that that really was the last time I would ever see her; as the train left the station I’d crumpled against the wall in tears, walked home in tears, and presently had left Kyoto behind, and Japan, and that little piece of my heart with it.
And now here I was again, searching for that missing piece. But the thing that was really missing was her, off now in another faraway land living her new life; and now, for the first time, I felt okay about that. This was a different Kyoto now, and I could never go back to the other one I’d known; but that was okay. She was alive and happy somewhere, and I was alive, and what had been would always have been. Kyoto was still here, the great weeping cherry was still here, and its blossoms would soon burst forth once more; and so I sat beneath it and wept, one last time. And I knew that from then on my thoughts and memories of the city no longer needed to be only about her, that I could come to Kyoto again and not weep for a lost love, but just enjoy the wonder of Japan’s great living treasure; and I knew that from then on my thoughts and memories of her no longer needed to be only about regrets and sadness, but joy for what once had been. For it is precisely the all-too-brief spell for which the cherry blossoms grace us before they fall and scatter that reminds us of the transience of things, that all things must inevitably pass, and it is that which makes them so precious; this feeling is encapsulated in the Japanese term mono-no-aware, and now I finally understood it. Savour them while they last; savour it while it lasts. And accept that when they and it are gone, they’re gone. Until the next time.