Yuki’s a quiet, young woman. She’s larger than most Japanese women, but manages to move through the world unseen. Her eyes look almost hot, as if they’re burning inside. Sitting there in class, without notice, her eyes will suddenly fill with tears, which she then holds back. I can’t be sure, but it looks like it hurts in there.
Yuki asks if she can read a letter, a letter from her sister. Of course, I say. I’m wondering why, and as if she can hear my question she tells me. My sister is in a hospital. She’s mentally unbalanced. She writes me letters that are very disturbing. They scare me. When I read them I can’t move. I can hardly breathe.
It looks like you like your sister very much. I do, Yuki says. And I feel terrible because I don’t know how to help her.
Let’s read your sister’s letter. I’d like you to read it out loud if that is okay with you. She nods. I want you to read a few sentences to us, and then read them again to yourself. And just continue like that for a while. Yuki begins.
I don’t understand Japanese. I have no idea what Yuki is reading. My translator has stopped translating. I look around. Everyone is riveted. I don’t need to know what is being read. In fact, it’s better that I don’t. I’m just watching my person. I’m with Yuki. That’s my job.
Yuki looks like she’s just been punched in the stomach. The hand that’s holding the letter is trembling. Her voice sounds strange, guttural, sounds that don’t sound Japanese. When Yuki reads to herself, nothing changes. It’s just as painful. She can hardly move, hardly breathe.
All the while I’ve been sitting next to Yuki, beside her and slightly behind her, in her blind spot. That’s where I often am when I work with my students, beside them and behind them. I can almost appear and disappear at will.
Reappearing, I place my hand on top of Yuki’s hand, the hand holding the letter, and softly guide her hand down so that it and the letter can rest in her lap. Yuki, I see just what you are doing. This won’t be difficult. I’d like to use my hands to help you if that’s okay. She nods.
Over the next five minutes I help Yuki to effortlessly uncoil. Little by little, from the bottom up, I get Yuki’s back resting against the back of her chair. I help her legs to un-brace. Her stomach relaxes. Her chest begins to fill out. She’s breathing fully and peacefully. Her head floats back on top of her spine, by itself.
Yuki, the chair is giving you its support and protection. It wants you to rest. I see the last remnant of tension leave Yuki’s face.
I put my hand under Yuki’s hand, and gently raise her hand, and with it the letter. Yuki, be here with the ground and read. Yuki’s voice is soft and clear. When she stops and reads to herself, she’s calm, calmer than I’ve ever seen her.
How are you doing Yuki-san? I’m with my sister. But I am over here and she is over there. We’re touching, we’re overlapping, but I am here and she is over there. I can’t help her if I go over there. I can only help her from here where I am.
There’s nothing to say. I look into those eyes, no longer red and burning, but warm, soft, and loving.