Friday Reflection – Wind Phone

Ōtsuchi_wind_phone_5

I am going to start this reflection with a disclaimer: I am not qualified to advise anyone on grief or loss but I am going to touch on it today so please take this as my trigger warning.

Sometimes I come across an idea and wonder whether the concept isn’t well known or if I am just late to discover it. This week I came across the Wind Phone. The original wind phone is in a beautiful and remote garden on a hill in northeast Japan and is simply a disconnected rotary dial telephone placed inside a white, glass-paned telephone booth.

The wind phone was placed in the garden of Itaru Sasaki (ee-TA-rue sa-SA-key) as a means for him to stay in contact with his cousin following his death. He knew he could no longer talk to his cousin over a regular phone line so created one that carried his thoughts on the wind. Sasaki then opened his phone up to the public following the earthquake and resulting tsunamis that killed almost 20,000 people in the region in 2011. Since its opening more than 35,000 people have made the pilgrimage to the wind phone to say the words they want to say to loved ones they have lost, maybe words they were unable to say in life. There is also a notebook where messages of remembrance can be left.

People have travelled from across the world to the Wind Phone and some make the trip an annual mark of respect. Other Wind Phones have since also been installed in other places in the world. They are normally remote and the journey to the wind phone is not easy, it is intentional that there are no signs, no maps and no guides telling you how to get here. To Sasaki, the very act of wandering is important—enabling people to end up reformulating their memories of the person they have lost so they arrive ready in their own feelings in order to talk to someone else.

I loved this idea, I know since my Dad’s death, this is one of the things I have missed the most – simply picking up the phone and talking to him – I used to do this a lot on my commute home and still, a number of years on, go to call him when I am in the car before I remember I can’t. Someone told me once I should just have the conservation, but I have struggled to do this.

The Wind Phone reminded me of a book, maybe coincidently or not, by Japanese author Toshikazu Kawaguchi (Toe-She-Kazo Cow-a-Guchi) called Before the Coffee Gets Cold. I don’t have time to go into the book here but it is touching and lovely, there is a line when one of the characters is talking about the death of his sister he says:

“If I had led a sad life as a result of my sister’s death, then it would have been as if her death had caused it. So, I thought I mustn’t allow that to happen. I swore to myself that I would make sure that I was happy. My joy would be the legacy of my sister’s life.”

As I say I am no expert when it comes to loss but I do believe there is a part of everyone we have lost that remains, in us, the ones left behind. Not just in how we remember them and keep their memory alive, but in how we allow their memory, both their life and their loss, to influence how we live ours.