It was a quiet spring afternoon in 1963 when young Terry Dobson experienced major turning point in his life. The event occurred as an unexpected surprise one day on a train in the suburbs of Tokyo. The train was comparatively empty. Then, as the train arrived at a stop and the doors opened, the calm afternoon was suddenly shattered. A man on the platform bellowed at the top of his lungs, yelling violent, obscene, incomprehensible curses. Just before the doors closed, the still yelling man staggered into our car.
He was big, drunk and dirty. He wore laborer’s clothing. His ragged shirt was stiff with dried vomit, his hair crusted with filth. His bloodshot eyes were bugged out, beaming scorn and hatred to all who caught his glance.
Screaming obscenities, he swung his big fist wildly at the first person he could reach, a scared young woman holding a baby. The blow glanced off her shoulder, sending her spinning into the laps of an elderly couple.
The frightened young woman ducked for cover, protecting her baby, and the elderly couple jumped up and scrambled toward the other end of the car.
The big laborer aimed a wobbling kick at the retreating back of the old lady. He missed, as the old woman barely scuttled to safety. This so enraged the wretched drunk that he grabbed the metal pole in the center of the car and tried to wrench it out of its stanchion.
This is it! he thought to himself, as he stood up tall and proud to confront this menace to society. This cruel animal is drunk, mean and violent. People are in immediate danger. He knew if he didn’t do something fast, somebody was going to get hurt.
Seeing Terry stand up, the belligerent drunk relished the chance to focus his rage. “Aha!” he roared. “A foreigner! You need a lesson in Japanese manners!” He landed a heavy punch on the metal pole beside him to give weight to his words. Terry puckered my lips and blew him a sneering, insolent kiss.
It hit him like a slap in the face. “All right!” he hollered. “You’re gonna get a lesson.” He gathered himself for a rush at me.
Yet just as he was about to lunge, a single-syllable shout pierced the air.
Terry wheeled to his left; the drunk spun to his right. They found themselves staring down at a little old man that was well into his seventies. The tiny gentleman took no notice of Terry, but beamed delightedly at the laborer, as though he had a most welcome secret to share.
“C’mere,” the old man said in an easy Japanese vernacular, beckoning to the drunk. “C’mere and talk with me.” He waved his hand lightly towards the seat next to him.
The big man followed, almost as if on a string. He planted his feet belligerently in front of the old gentleman and towered threateningly over him. “Talk to you!” he roared above the clacking wheels, “Why should I talk to you?”
The old man continued to beam at the laborer. There was not a trace of fear or resentment about him. “What’cha been drinking?” the old man asked lightly, his eyes sparkling with interest.
“I been drinking sake,” the laborer bellowed back. “Whatsit to you?” Flecks of spittle spattered the old man.
“Oh, that’s wonderful,” the old man said with delight. “Absolutely wonderful! You see, I love sake too. Every night, me and my wife warm up a little bottle of sake and take it out into the garden, where we sit on an old wooden bench next to our persimmon tree to watch the sun go down.”
He looked up at the laborer, eyes twinkling, happy to share his delightful information.
As the bewildered drunk struggled to follow the details of the old man’s conversation, his face began to soften. His shaky fists slowly unclenched. “Yeah,” he said slowly, “I love persimmons, too…” His wavering voice trailed off.
“Yes,” said the old man, smiling and leaning slightly forward, “and I’m sure you have a wonderful wife.”
“No,” replied the laborer to this so strangely friendly man in a softer, sullen voice. “My wife… she died last year.”
The suddenly changed drunk hung his head in heavy sorrow. Then, gently swaying with the motion of the train, this big, burly man, who was so threatening just a moment earlier began to sob. “I don’t got no wife. I don’t got no home any more. I lost my job. I don’t got no money. I don’t got nowhere to go. I’m so ashamed of myself.” Big tears rolled down his cheeks. A spasm of pure despair rippled through his body.
Just then, the train arrived at Terry’s stop. Maneuvering his way toward the door, he heard the old man speak sympathetically. “My, my,” he said with heartfelt care, yet undiminished delight. “That is a very difficult predicament, indeed. Sit down here and tell me about it.”
Terry turned his head for one last look before leaving the now-crowded train. The laborer was sprawled like a sack on the seat, his head in the old man’s lap.
The old man was looking down at him with smiling compassion, his hand stroking the filthy, matted head of this confused soul.
As the train pulled away, Terry sat down on a bench dazed with all that had just happened. What he had wanted to do with muscle and meanness had been accomplished with but a few kind words.
Now you see how Kindness is the Essence of Greatness!!
I have been absent for some time, but now I remember why I used to love this site. Thank you, I will try and check back more frequently. How frequently you update your site? Elsa Thaxter Beera