Layers

It was not a big deal at all, just something small and insignificant that any normal person would have gladly obliged to and gone on without a further thought. For some reason, it struck me as strange. Saturday night my visiting parents, my husband, I and our two boys were walking from Izanami through the small parking lot separating the restaurant from the adjacent Ten Thousand Waves (Japanese-themed mountain spa). We had enjoyed a delicious izakaya dinner and were going to make our way past the spa down the outdoor stairs to the lower parking lot.

A woman who had exited the spa was walking towards us in the direction of her car. She had a few items in her hands, but nothing heavy or bulky. She asked us, “Excuse me, could one of you open my car door for me?” We were all a little surprised she accosted us, and no one said or did anything at first. From what I can vaguely remember, she was holding a plastic cup with a few sips of water left and maybe a towel or jacket and some slippers. After those first awkward seconds passed, I went over to where she was pointing to her door with her plastic cup in hand. She said something to the effect of her hands being full. I quietly opened the door with a halfway smile and lowered gaze before rejoining my waiting family and continuing to our destination.

That was that. However, in the car, I asked my mother, “Was that weird?” My mom agreed and wondered if maybe the lady was used to being catered to all her life. Later when I asked my husband the same question, he also agreed wondering why she couldn’t have put the cup on her car and opened the door herself like he would have. There is no denying that it was strange to us, but was it strange to the average person? Maybe not, you tell me.

It made me think of how every action, every interaction, every word, every conversation, can have layers and layers underneath it. Spa lady may have no idea how strange she seemed to us. After all, I smiled and carried out her request. She has no idea that her one-sentence question produced a multitude of assumptions. (Did she have a pampered life? Did she think because we’re Asian that we worked there and were supposed to serve as her valet? I do not think the latter is true because really no one who works there is actually Asian. Still, the question popped up uninvited in my mind.) She has no idea that I had spent the previous week soaking in stories of my Dad’s physically harsh refugee years during the Korean War and trying to piece together my Mom’s emotionally harsh motherless childhood. When he was my older son’s age (9), my Dad sold whatever he could (gum and popsicles) to contribute to the family’s stark conditions. When she was my younger son’s age (6), my mother lost her mother to a childbirth-related infection that robbed her of being raised in a mother’s tender love. I am so glad that I was the one to respond to spa lady’s beckoning and not my parents who in my opinion have earned the right not to carry out such inane requests. They have always figured out how to open doors themselves despite having their hands full with whatever life placed in them.

Before that dinner, we had hiked the slot canyon trail at Tent Rocks National Monument. The area is full of volcanic tuff from a massive explosion 6 or 7 million years ago. Wind and water erosion over time has formed amazing shapes and caverns that reveal the multiple layers of rock and ash. They tell of the storms weathered to create those unique formations: the wind and rain beating against the tuff to leave behind one-of-a-kind marks of nature. When I gaze upon the towering mountain of rock, I am taken by its beauty. It is like many southwestern landscapes. To some observers, it just looks brown, ugly, sparse and barren. But in its rugged nature, there are so many signs of enduring life. Those trees and plants whose roots are long and wide hold my utmost respect and awe. They merge together with the ancient rock into a canvas that stands as a testimony to their Creator, the Artist behind the breath-taking work.

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Our layers are shaped by childhood, experiences, people, faith, difficulty and death. The layers cannot be discarded but are carried with us everywhere we go. Many times they remain hidden beneath the surface. I try to remember this when I come across anyone who might seem strange, who might seem annoying, or who might seem hard to understand. They have their own layers that I cannot see. This is especially true in the case of spa lady with whom my interaction was limited to a few brief minutes. Often when we are allowed the privilege to see some of those layers revealed in others we are much better able to understand them. I have had the honor of having more of my parents’ layers delicately revealed this past week during their visit when they shared treasured aspects of their past with me. It has only made my love and respect for them deepen. I have seen the wind and rain erode protective barriers and expose layers in others facing life’s harshest storms. When I see these layers, not all of which are pretty, I still stand amazed at the Creator’s hand in working a masterpiece in each of them. I remember He loves me in my brown, ugly, sparse and barren nature; He sees the rugged beauty and declares it good. I hope and aspire to do the same with others, as strange or difficult or annoying as they may be. They are testimonies to His artistic work and deserve the same treatment I am given in my ashes and dirt.

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