Kristen Nemoto Jay

I’m not really a religious person. The fact that I had to confirm with my mom, before writing this Dialogue, what church we affiliated with when I was growing up — whether we were Protestant or Evangelical, or both? — should give you an idea. What sticks out most in my childhood memories are snippets of the Christian and Buddhist religions; one never really presiding over the other. 

What I remember most about my Christian upbringing was Summer Fun camp in grade school, when we – my brother and cousins – would have an epic two weeks of excursions, song sessions and endless activities that would all culminate in a final production show filled with fun original group plays about the Bible and remixed songs about Jesus. Later in my teen years I’d accompany my mom to church on Sundays so that I could see my youth church friends and delve in the yummy pastries after the service and get a special possible outing to Zippy’s with just my mom and me. 

My Buddhist religion experience, unfortunately — similar to our Rainbow Connections columnist Trisha Nakamura’s experience on page 10 — was mainly through funerals. I can still smell the incense: strong and nearly hypnotic, matching the rhythm of the funerals I attended, filled with a chanting cadence and pews of stoic faces. I also remember smelling the incense burning throughout our Waimānalo home when my paternal grandmother, who lived downstairs from us, would get nostalgic. She didn’t drive or voice her need to attend a Buddhist temple to practice her faith, so on occasion we’d smell the incense in the air, as if it was a gentle reminder of who she was and where our ancestors came from.

Along with this editor role, I also teach yoga twice a week and have been a certified yoga instructor for nearly six years. While the teachings of yoga delve from the religion of Hinduism, its philosophies have no deity or particular god in particular to pray to. It’s rather a practice of mysticism, which preaches teachings about oneself rather than outwardly to a religion. I’ve delved into exploring my spirituality here and there through the teachings of yoga but nothing too serious or concrete as I’ve often used the excuse of “I’m too busy” or “maybe one day the religion or spirituality I’m meant to practice will come to me.”

A tragic event that unfolded this month, however, sent shockwaves into myself trying to find some kind of spiritual guidance. This mid-March, my best friend’s life was cut short as she decided to end her life-long battle with depression. When I was told of her passing, I couldn’t function. My brain battled every thought, every miniscule detail of my last moments with her. Was it enough? Did I hug her hard enough? Could I have called sooner? If I had only mentioned this when I last saw her… These thoughts were and still are on repeat. It’s become a ritual that I ask myself over and over and over again. I cried and cried and cried. I’m still crying, as I write this. I actually didn’t want to write about this and didn’t plan to but somehow the words are flowing.

When I finally got around to editing this issue and read parts from each of our stories, what stuck out in my mind that ties in the teachings of Buddha, and our issue’s theme of celebrating Hanamatsuri (the birth of Buddha), is that we all want and need love within our lives. And though some of us may receive all the love that we can be offered externally, it’s up to our own selves to accept that love as well as hold on to that love for ourselves. According to our Hanamatsuri feature, written by Hawai‘i Herald freelance writer George Furukawa, Buddha relinquished a life of luxury and wealth because he saw others still suffering around him. Others’ lives were no different than his own and therefore he sought to find a way to end the suffering as much as he could. What I admire most about Buddha is that he first strived for his own liberation and enlightenment before sharing it with the world. Because he felt no different than those around him, he needed to first practice what he preached, so to speak, before casting his beliefs upon others. For in order to be there for others, he must first take care of himself. That is all anyone could ask of us, is to be ourselves. Hopefully offer our best selves when they need it.

I may never know whether I said or didn’t say anything to my best friend could have made a difference. I think that’s the hardest part about her passing that we all are trying to figure out. What I do know and appreciate from tomorrow’s celebration of Hanamatsuri is Buddha’s acknowledgement of our suffering. He understands that suffering is a part of life. While I’m not quite there yet in acknowledging this chapter as a part of what was meant to be in my — and many others’ — life, I’m grateful for Buddha’s compassion during our time of great need.

I don’t know whether wishing anything right now is appropriate let alone writing about it and airing out my personal life for you all to read. I’m just still trying to piece together everything as everyday has been a challenge for myself and many others who knew and loved her. Writing has always been cathartic for me and maybe someone reading this may relate and find comfort in knowing they’re not alone as well. I do wish she knew how much she was and is loved. That nothing is permanent and everything is temporary. That no matter the circumstance, she wasn’t alone. Compassion is what Buddha wanted for us all to have and to expand to others around us. I’m happy to have learned that now and I’m grateful to be able to extend it to others who need it.


Please enter your comment!
Please enter your name here