I sometimes pray with a man on the hospice floor, I'll call him Masu, who has some of the saddest eyes I've ever seen. I often suddenly recall his eyes when I'm in the middle of doing something else.
In clinical terms, Masu isn't depressed per se. He's just profoundly uneasy, feels lost in the cosmos. His wife passed on several years back, and, I don't know the details, but his daughter is not a supportive presence in his life now.
Masu has some church background, though probably not so strong. When I pray with him, he often puts his face in his hands and cries quietly.
He's a grown man, but something about him reminds me of a boy who got left behind somewhere by accident. Time has passed, the panic and hysterical wailing have died down, and now he's just tired, and sad, and scared, and wondering if he'll ever get home again. Wondering if things will ever be all right again.
Today, there was a small celebration of Tanabata, the Star Festival, in the ward. Tanabata is a typical Japanese syncretic mishmash of Chinese legend, wish-making, and laid-back summer celebration.
We--me and the music therapist, a female student doctor, some volunteers--sat around the ward Common Room, singing Japanese folk songs and drinking cold green tea. At first, no patients came. Everybody's energy level is pretty low at the moment.
But the music slowly drew them. First, Kubota-san and his rheumatism-ridden wife, both in wheelchairs. Then the taciturn Kawai-san and her middle-aged daughter. Then Masuda-san, looking bewildered as usual, accompanied by his wife and four thirty-something people whom I guess are his children.
And then Masu came in, pulling his IV pole. He's really tall! He's always sitting in bed when I see him, so I didn't know. He was looking quietly sad today, too.
There's a whole culinary category in Japan of "sweets that go well with bitter green tea". So there was a small spread of 'mizu-yohkan' (sweet redbean paste jelly), and dried apricots. There were also these cute little pastel colored cubes of sugary powder wrapped in tissue paper called 'o-higashi'. They melt in your mouth.
At first, Masu just sat, listening. I asked him if he had any song requests, but he didn't. He didn't want tea, either, but the volunteer brought him a glass anyway. He didn't touch it.
And then the student doctor offered him one of the o-higashi cubes. At first, Masu just let it sit in front of him.
As I listened to the next song, I watched out of the corner of my eye as Masu carefully unwrapped the tissue paper and put the sugar cube tentatively in his mouth. He seemed to stop moving for a moment. Then he took a sip of the tea he had refused earlier.
And then, he started to reach for another cube. The student doctor noticed, and said, "Tasty, aren't they?"
And Masu smiled. Like a golden glow that suddenly broke out all over his face. The sheer delight of the sweet delicacy, a perfect complement to the cool green tea. "Yes, it is," he said, and he looked pleased and even slightly naughty as he quickly put a second cube into his mouth to melt.
Amid all the sorrows of hospice, there are clear moments of joy, small happinesses that would probably pass unremarked in normal circumstances. I hope that today held such a moment for Masu.
I know that seeing him smile was a joy to me.
And I am grateful for the power of delicious food, which can sometimes reach even the saddest heart.