As I step in, the only other woman in the shop smiles. It's clear she works here. I notice her feet positioned at a well articulated angle to each other. I smile and say, "if don't me asking, do you dance?" Her eyes widen and she pauses then replies, "no..." like there is more she needs to say. I add, "it's just that your feet are in a perfect third position."
She looks with a layered curiosity towards me. "Ballet," I say. "I studied it as a kid. Your upright posture, your feet... You stand like a dancer." She smiles. As I come closer, am seeing tears in her eyes. She says, "my father said he would teach me to dance. I was six years old." I hear her accent. Sounds familiar with a softness and simultaneous achingly quivering quality. Vietnamese.
She tells me, "my father taught me to ride a bicycle. He told me I could do it. He walked quickly beside me and let one hand go then the other. I just pedaled so fast and..." She smiles, thousands of miles away right here. I nod my head up and down with a slow and steady pace.
She turns away then back towards me, "What you said... My father gave me chocolate for the first time, told me, "here eat this. It is the best food. I loved it." I told her mine did too. She asks if I am visiting. I tell her I live nearby and came for my birthday to see the beauty. She wishes me happy birthday. I add with delight, "today is also Girls Day in Japan, a day celebrating little girls."
She lifts up her hand with a sudden vibrancy and and turns to get her purse. She pulls out a small wooden figure of a girl and offers it to me, "Happy birthday!" I thank her, "Oh, she is lovely." She continues with a measure of lightness, "My father would make birthday flan instead of cake. I loved it." My eyes widen as we both savor that imagined taste.
She reaches out and touches my hand as tears fill her eyes. "Sometimes I just don't know if I can go on for all the years I have been here." I breathe with her, then affirm softly, "He loved you." Tears spill out. We breathe. She continues, "One night, my father sat beside me. He said he had to go away. He told me, "when I come back, I will teach you to dance."
I feel my body shaking slightly like a tiny tremor is running between us. I focus on my belly and breath flowing there. I say, "what happened?" She says, "The war in my country..." I keep my gaze steady, meeting hers. "He never came home. Even now... And you... How did you know?" Tears spill out.
I open my hand wide, the one she is touching. I place the other hand on my heart and breathe with her. I sway side to side. I tell her how my dad had me step on his toes when I was little and that's how we danced.
I say, . "he wanted you to dance." She squeezes my open hand. I say, "you are not alone." We breathe like that, eye to eye and gently swaying, until I feel us both settling into an even cool rhythm. I ask if she has heard of Thich Nhat Hahn. I tell her about Mindful Peacebuilding. Her eyes sparkle through the tears as she recognizes the name as if a distant glimmer of hope.
She corrects my pronunciation then tells me of her uncle and writes his name, saying he sent Thay (TNH) a poem, which Thay loved. She shows me her father's dogtag and photo, which she carries with her. I give her my lovinglive card. As we hug, I feel us gently swaying from side to side. A warmth and rhythm fill the whole space. I feel a release while gazing once more into her eyes.
We sway slower and slower until the movement is imperceptibly subtle, as if these feet are beating in time with the whole space shifting. I cannot tell what or who is moving. My hands let go and I step back. I see her father in her eyes. I see Thay and my parents. I see myself. We are all smiling while crying with joy.