A Pearl Named Ganbaru

by Matters of Inquiry

On the last page of my black, hard bound notebook, the one where I write down story ideas, interesting words, and assorted disjecta membra, there is a page of indecipherable green scribbling where only one word can be read, capitalized and firmly pressed into the page, a hieroglyph of ink pressed into paper:

“Will y…”

Wayne wrote this.

A few weeks before he died, he wanted to say something, but the tracheotomy claimed the last of his voice, and even putting these marks on paper exhausted him. I have no idea how this sentence would have ended. It could have been something profound, something humane or even moribund—or something as innocuous as “Will you change the channel?” or “Will you get that damn black notebook off my bed, crazy girl?”

Whatever his intention, one word surfaced in its entirety: “Will.”

In Japan, this is called “Ganbaru”; in Finland, “Sisu”: the ability to strive in the face of adversity, to keep trying even when—especially when— the odds are stacked against you. In the face of death, Ganbaru was all Wayne knew. He held onto life, no matter the pain or helplessness it fomented, even if “life” didn’t mean living at all, but rather listening to machines pump oxygen in and out of his lungs or suctioning mucus out of his throat with a long, plastic tube. At the end of life, life is, in itself, not just everything but the last thing, that one remaining gesture from the cosmos that motions for the spirit to lean closer, if only to tell a final secret.

In the end, love won. But it won at the end.

I’ve written so much on love. Pages and pages, poems and prose, love in all its forms; for my family, my friends, for the sublime and the ineffable; even romantic love, though it only brings longing and cold sheets.

I keep a certain romantic love inside of me the way a pearl keeps a grain of sand, and I cannot remove it. I can only watch as thoughts and experiences and otherness collect in concealed silence, metamorphosizing this tiny core into a treasure that is not so easily swept by wind and wave, watching it become, slowly, drop by drop, a different kind of treasure—a different form of love. But no matter what becomes of the outside, the inside remains inviolable; I cannot remove the catalyst; I cannot remove the ardor that threw reason from her tribunal. I can only shape it into something else.

Ganbaru, then, is the love inside the pearl; the center around which all entity develops and becomes beautiful; that sequestered piece of otherness evolving in the ocean-song; that remaining fragment of love that, for its own reasons, will not be sacrificed at the altar of friendship.

The heart must overcome many pains—perhaps the hardest is love.

I often wish it was easier.

But I would never wish it away.