Graduation season has always been a tough time for me. Since I left high school under the cloud of a deep familial loss, it’s often gone hand-in-hand with more tragedy.
On March 11, 2011, I’d just watched my first class of junior high school students in Japan finish their graduation ceremony and go home to their families. That afternoon, a magnitude 9.0 earthquake struck off the coast of Tohoku and triggered a tsunami that claimed the lives of almost 16,000 people. My prefecture was land-locked. We were at no risk from the waves, but the images we watched on the news as the waters rose will always be etched in my memory.
In Japan, on certain occasions of celebration, a tea is served from the pickled blossoms of cherry trees. The tea is clear and has a salty taste, very unlike the more well-known green tea. The cherry blossom tea, or sakurayu, represents new beginnings.
We didn’t have sakurayu that day, but on graduation day the next year I found a cup on my desk with a single pink blossom. As I drank tea made from the previous year’s flowers, reminded of what had been happening while they bloomed, and watched the current year’s new flowers swaying on the trees outside, I remember thinking that the salt of the tea tasted something like tears.
It was a complicated feeling, one that I’ll probably have better luck unpacking in a story rather than in a blog post, but by the time I’d finished my tea I’d arrived at a decision.
I’d dreamed since I was young of writing the kind of books I grew up loving. I’d studied, practiced and planned, and yet I hadn’t summoned the courage to make that dream a reality. Reflection is easy, and action is scary. But cherry blossoms don’t only represent spring and new beginnings, they remind us that our time here is too short not to bring our dreams out into the sun.
Two years later, I sent out my first query letters on the cusp of another graduation day. After the duds I’d had in the past, a few manuscript rejections didn’t seem that dire. And if I was lucky, maybe I’d have some good memories of graduation day for a change.
By the end of the week, I spoke with my new agent on the phone for the first time. This year, I sent a signed contract to my publisher for my first novel. And by next spring, that book will be out in the world, with many more to follow.
It’s scary to take chances, especially if you’ve been burned before. Whether you find success or failure, remember that you had the courage to try. And every time you do, celebrate your own graduation day.