About seven years ago a new security guard started working at one of the several part-time universities I work at and I nodded to her in passing. She nodded back. Then a year later we were still nodding but also smiling and from a distance started to wave now and then. Push a few years forward and we started actually saying a word or two “Otsukaresama” (thanks for your work—a typical Japanese greeting and farewell). Later, I dared to pose a question “Genki?” (healthy?) and we actually exchanged some real words.
Then she shocked me one day asking in halting English, “How … are … you?” And I said, “I am fine,… and how are you?” She inhaled deeply for a few seconds with her eyes looking up at the multiple Japanese heavens. Her brows furrowed and then drawing on everything she remembered she said pointing to the sky “Not good. Rain. Careful!”
She is a university security guard but she also seems to be a goddess who spreads social interaction to help people socialize. I suspect her role as goddess is more important than her role as security guard—certainly more frequent, and probably contributing to better security.
I had a student once approach me in the hallway of the same school who wanted to give me some homework and she suddenly fainted and I caught her before she fell down. And guess who else showed up quickly enough to help us? Luckily, the security guard was nearby and we both took the student to the health center. Over the last few years, I have come to appreciate more this woman who is there to help and protect us all, but who seldom seems to get appreciation and acknowledgement from others.
Just before our Christmas break last year, I was going through the end of one building that has an open area with a ceiling three floors up. It is a place where I sometimes stop and sing when no one is there because the “echo chamber” makes your voice feel like you are on stage singing at a concert. I sang a short songlet called “Love you Forever” from the children’s book by the Canadian Robert Munsch. It goes:
I’ll love you forever, I’ll like you for always
As long as I’m living, My baby you’ll be.
As I was finishing the songlet, thinking I was all alone, I suddenly noticed someone emerging from the shadows behind me in the corner of my eye. The security guard walked over and said “Naisu.” [Nice!]. I smiled, I stumbled, and then flew, “Nihongo mo dekiru” [I can do it in Japanese!] and I sang:
Aisteru yo Nani ga a temo
Ikiterukageri itoshi koyo
She smiled. Then I noticed her eyes looked watery. After a silent moment, full of connection, we said goodbye. For some reason I felt like that was the best Christmas gift I could have given.
I still do not know her name even and we have never exchanged more than greetings over the seven years. But that is the power of songs: you can say “I love you” to strangers (and almost strangers). You can express things to people that you seldom dare say to anyone. Songs offer a deep sense of civility (Porath, 2016, highly recommended,) brain health (Sacks, 2007) and connection (Hari, 2018).
I told the above story to some students just before Christmas. And one came up to me at the end of class and said she had already sung the song to her mom who lived several prefectures away on the phone, after we had read the story in our class a month previously. Her mom apparently asked her to send her the song lyrics in an email. She did and her mom printed it out and posted it on the door for her husband and siblings to see. What a great message to read before leaving home, or simply to have in mind when seeing people you appreciate, or to sing inside your mind, anytime, anywhere, or out loud to whoever may be there. Be brave. Go ahead and sing. Small acts and messages change the world, and yourself. Don’t wait for Christmas!
I think our security guards and gods would say that singing is not only safe but also bio-psycho-sociologically and neurologically healthy for us. (And sometimes more so for those who hear us!)
Hari, J. (2018). Lost connections: Uncovering the real causes of depression and the unexpected solutions. Bloomsbury.
Munsch, R. (1995). Love you forever. Firefly Books.
Porath, C. (2016). Mastering civility. Grand Central Publishing.
Sacks, O. (2007). Musicophilia: Tales of music and the brain. Knopf.
Tim Murphey is a part-time (semi-retired, as of 2019) professor at KUIS (RILAE), Wayo Women’s University Graduate School, Nagoya University of Foreign Studies Graduate School, and Aoyama University. He has a PhD in Applied Linguistics from the University of Neuchatel, Switzerland.