The Year of the Shinigami
By Morgan Straughan ComnickWhen I was young, I was taught all about Thanksgiving. The pilgrims came to America on the Mayflower and settled on Plymouth Rock. How harsh the winter was. How many got sick and perished, never achieving their dreams. Then, almost out of thin air, almost like they were a dream, a phantom from beyond, Native Americans came to help the pilgrims, teaching them to take care of themselves. To thank their new friends, the first Thanksgiving was celebrated, a great feast held. In every picture book I recall, there was turkey, corn on the cob, pumpkin pie, yams, mashed potatoes, and a long table where this plentiful food is being passed around, everyone having a smile plastered on their face as the background trees are an array of brilliant fall colors. Happy ending. The end. Now, we make pilgrim hats, hand turkeys, and teach children to write in pictograms as they wear handmade Native American headbands. It is adorable, a sweet part of childhood. Thanksgiving never stayed with me though. It never rested inside my heart. I was thankful every day for what I had. Why did I have to celebrate it superficially with a big meal, the only time of year we used our good plates, and watch a parade I get bored with?
I now get to educate young ones about the ways and importance of Thanksgiving with the same books I was read to, the same craft projects I did, and the same celebration I attended where the gym coach dressed and spoke like a Native American chief, dancing around. The children are delighted by all this, their eyes aglow. I smile, absorbing their warmth like sunshine, hoping I had that look on my face once upon a time. Still, I cannot join in the dance as I observe how thanks is slipping away. I just got finished with an assignment I was aiding a teacher with. The students had to tell me one thing they were thankful for. A few said family, but most said things like video games, vampires, or werewolves. We had explained to the children several times what thanks meant and the teacher had to have a stern talk with the class of how we cannot be thankful for superficial things. The glitter and gold of life makes it more enjoyable and I am grateful for the chance, the freedom, to see it, but I agree with my mentor and with each generation, thanks, what is important in life, is slipping away. This is why I cannot join in the dance although I am singing my dad’s favorite song, “Turkey day,” as I am thankful for him, my mother, and brothers for getting to share this experience with me, my dad’s favorite holiday (no school/work for him and lots of good food).
My Thanksgivings are pleasant, but nothing fancy and the years roll by like that. Simple. Then, 2011 hits. November, Thanksgiving season. I am now working for my local middle school and we receive news that one of our students who had been fighting cancer for two years had lost his fight. Good students yell in my face when I make a request. Some lock themselves with the guidance counselor in her office. Cards are made, regards passed. Some people go on with their routine. The day of the visitation is pouring cats and dogs, high school boys holding umbrellas for visitors. The line of mourners is never ending, the air thick in the church. Thunder cracks, shattering our already dampened souls. I see the boy’s mother ahead, hearing an echo of “I’m sorry for your lose…” Her face is solemn, pale against her black attire. I shake her hand, a message coming into my head. It was if someone was telling me this story must be told:
“I met your son when he was in the third grade, just once. I was a junior in high school and was finishing a dissection lab I missed in your husband’s class. I had a week old fish. I had to cut it open and it was so dried out, my knife barely went through it. I tried for twenty minutes until I got fed up, which never happens. I started using my fingers to rip open the fish. It helped a little, but not much. I then stood up on the table, ripping and clawing at the fish like a maniac, screaming at it. I was in a frenzy. All of the sudden, I heard a small thud and I turned to see a small boy, his face wide with shock. His eyes were glued to me and his backpack was dropped on the floor. I got down fast and just looked into his eyes. I straightened myself up and combed my hair with my fingers. All in my hair were white fish scales. I was so horrified at this point, but he didn’t say a word, just looked at me and then sat down at his dad’s desk going about his business. His dad laughed and his sister pointed at me. But, the whole time, I thought of how this kind little boy who was helping his little sister with her work, did not judge me, did not run away no matter how scary I looked, how unknown I was. I think that is amazing. Your son is amazing and I am sorry I did not have the chance to truly have him in class.”
She stared at me, her eyes as round as her son’s had been on that day. Then, she nodded and said, “Yes, he is an amazing boy and not judgmental. Thank you for saying that.”
I am not sure if I helped at all, but she did not look any sadder.
The next week, I got an e-mail in my inbox stating that two of my students had lost an uncle. It was the day before Thanksgiving break. I blinked, rubbed my eyes, slapped my head a few times, twirling the name in my head, praying that it was wrong. I went to my principal and asked her about the uncle and she confirmed the name. I was surprised I was able to stand as the world sucked me into a tunnel so fast. The world was in slow motion, sounds muffled although I was near the crowded gym.
It was my classmate. He was my cousin.
He had committed suicide.
He was the type of guy everyone loved. He got along with everyone. He had so many talents, so much love, so much…life. No one expected he was so lost. No one knew he had so many demons surrounding him. No one expected him to do the one thing that hurt him so badly ten years earlier; copy the death his older brother, his hero, had given to himself. Maybe he wanted to be a hero too. Maybe he thought it was the only way out. Maybe. Maybe…Too many maybes! It shocked my class to the core. None of us will ever be the same.
At his visitation, I decided that for every hurt, every confusion, every doubt he had, I would find a gift in life, a thanks, that he can see, he can hold on to.
The line of people crying, saying their respects.
I give thanks for all the friends we have in our lives.
Shaking your siblings’ hands as they force smiles.
I give thanks for siblings, for play mates, for best friends we call brothers and sisters.
Your mother’s words of kindness on a facebook post I wrote about you.
I give thanks for the comfort of words, the magic of piecing them together to make something amazing.
Your father’s hand in mine when we embrace
I give thanks for loving parents, parents who give us this rare chance at life and the gift of experiencing it.
We stare at you together, your body still
I give thanks for the Earth that will cradle your body like a mother does to their darling child
Your father points out your brother’s Superman decal that you also wore at graduation
I give thanks for heroes, role models, morals, peace, and hope
My friend’s shoulder taps mine, giving me a reassuring smile although she is scared, it being her first time at a visitation.
I give thanks for emotions, for the ability to read them, experience them, and to have people understand them
We depart, the sky dreary, the wind chilly
I give thanks for nature and the Heavens, your soul’s paradise, who on this day were sharing in the sadness we all felt at your early end.
We are told the weapon you used to take your life
I give thanks to the human mind, it’s ingenious and scary way it creates
We watch a movie and bake, trying to dull the pain
I give thanks for food, shelter, clothing, and simple comforts
I make you an origami swan and write a message on it in your honor
I give thanks for other cultures, how we are unique and united at the same time
My voice chokes as I absorb my parent’s faces when I tell them the news at our first Thanksgiving in my apartment, my first Thanksgiving as a married woman.
I give thanks for being able to see the beauty of the world, hear the world’s callings, taste its nectar, touch every inch of it, and smell the aromas of life as I fill my lungs with precious air, hear the heartbeat like a melody, and move my muscles to go forward on my journey…
I never did give his family the swan. I meant to, but my heart would not allow it. I placed it in my living room. It is beaten up now, but still, to me, it is priceless, like him.
Thanksgiving has now reached its way into my heart.
Two years have gone by. I still work at the middle school. I am used to being on my own with my husband in the apartment. My Thanksgivings are now split in two since my parent’s separated. I have gotten older. I am stuck with the memoires of us dipping chips in mustard as you called me cuz and how you would shout lines of Shakespeare randomly in the hall. How opposites our lives are.
Two years have gone by and you have no job where you can use your skills, no life partner to love. Instead of a split home, there is an empty chair at the table at your parent’s place, a chair waiting for a phantom guest that will never appear. You are forever 22. Your memories have gone with your soul, your body no longer needing them. How opposite our lives are.
I am still thankful to have had you in my life, no matter how small. I am thankful for how you opened my heart up to Thanksgiving, how me being grateful for all I have every day is not crazy. I am thankful that you gave me the legend of the shinigami.
In Japan, a shinigami is a death spirit and in one version, they are the death spirits of people who committed suicide and since they ended their gift from God, life, early, they must serve the Lord or their boss (depending on the version) forever by releasing souls to Heaven or Hell when it is their time. I reread this legend after my mother told me she swore she saw a younger version of my cousin run past her in a coat, laughing as he reached for the clouds. This scared me for I kept hearing your laughter for days as I looked at the sky, it filling up the world. Your laughter, something I am sure you did not do your final seconds, comforted me. But my mind was ringing with shinigami.
You are gone, but maybe you lead others to find their way. Maybe like my student who died too young of an illness he could not control? Maybe that was your place? Maybe you are now a hero? We feel you lead us still, especially during this time of year, the time of thanks, the time you went on your way.
Maybe Shinigamis have been a part of Thanksgiving since the start. Maybe the Native Americans who helped the pilgrims were death spirits as well, guardians who refused to take more souls of this brave group of men and women? Maybe the Native Americans were led by their own version of shinigami? Phantoms from the mist, balls of light, beings with wings and halos. No matter what version you see them as, I believe they are telling us we are not alone, that we need to reach out to those who are lost, those who are sick, and be thankful for everything we have.
The year of shinigami was one of the hardest of my life, but I still give thanks to it.
Copyright 2013 Morgan Straughan Comnick
Morgan Straughan ComnickIf God gave you a deadly mission, would you answer His call? Once you do…you can never go back…
High school freshman Stary Moon never imagined that her strange visions of lights and shadows, the dead body of a young unknown girl, and past connections to the otherworld meant that she was the Spirit Warrior for God. The Lord has given Stary a mission: to find the murderer of the dead girl, named Maren, and her friend, Umbra, who were both killed by the same person, and extinguish the evil out of their killer. Stary’s powers are now activated, but she must be trained to use them…and try not to get caught by the murderer who has the unworldly ability to hide and conjure up dark powers from the fallen angel Lucifer. On top of this, Stary is just trying to be an average high school girl with a dad for her teacher, protecting her friends, and ignoring the tingling, melodious sensation she gets when near the short-tempered, handsome Umbra and her timid classmate Credence. If Stary fails, Maren and Umbra will not only lose their entry into heaven, but the world will be exposed to the madness of the murderer for the next forty years until the new Spirit Warrior is born, and Stary will lose her life… High school drama is nothing compared to facing a murderer bent on destroying you!