道ありき  Michi Ariki  (Miura Ayako, 1970)

(Has been translated into English as ”The Wind is Howling” by V.Griffiths)

This is the first part of Miura Ayako’s autobiography. It begins with the onset of illness soon after the end of war and describes her pathway from nihilism and despair to faith in Christ through the faithful witness of Maekawa Tadashi. Miura Ayako movingly describes her grief at Maekawa’s death, her gradual recovery of health and her eventual marriage at the age of 37 to Miura Mitsuyo.

Ayako begins her story in 1947 aged 24. She has resigned from her much-loved job as a primary school teacher, ashamed that she had been guilty of teaching the children things that were fundamentally wrong during the war years. She decides to marry but on the day of her engagement collapses with anaemia. Six weeks later she develops a fever and is diagnosed with pulmonary tuberculosis.

She spends the next three years in hospital in her hometown of Asahikawa. Food is scarce and there are no antibiotics so tuberculosis claims many lives. Ayako’s fiancé visits her regularly but she is overwhelmed by a sense of the futility of life. In order to keep busy and to earn a little money she becomes secretary of the TB Patients Association. It is during this time that she receives a visit from Maekawa Tadashi, a childhood friend, who had developed tuberculosis while studying to become a doctor. Knowing that Maekawa is a Christian, Ayako argues with him that Christians are hypocrites who look down on others while being no better themselves.

On leaving hospital, Ayako breaks her engagement and attempts suicide. She fails but has no desire to continue living. Maekawa, however, knows that he has only a few years to live and decides to devote them to helping her discover the real meaning for her life. He takes her on a trip to the hills above Asahikawa. It is a beautiful day but nothing is able to lift her spirits. In a defiant act to demonstrate how little she values her life, she lights up a cigarette. In despair, Maekawa begins to hammer his foot with a stone. Ayako tries to restrain him but he exclaims, “I have prayed so hard that you would get better and live. I would gladly give me life for you, but I’m such a poor Christian and now I see that my faith is not enough to save you. That’s why I’m striking myself, it’s a punishment for being so useless.” Ayako is speechless in the face of this love that seeks nothing for itself. She decides to find out more about his faith.

Their relationship at this point is that of a teacher and pupil. Maekawa encourages her to write poetry and to read the Bible, which they discuss together. She begins to attend church with him but is critical of people’s simplistic and unquestioning approach to their faith. Through reading the book of Ecclesiastes, however, she discovers that the Bible is not simplistic in its approach to life and she is challenged by the conclusion, “Remember your Creator in the days of your youth.”

In the midst of continued illness, their relationship gradually changes as they realise that they are in love. Ayako describes this change in the following poem: “For two years I have been guided and scolded. And suddenly I am deeply in love.” On her birthday, Maekawa kisses her for the first time and prays that they might be faithful to each other and to their Heavenly Father.

Ayako realises, however, that her newfound happiness is entirely dependent on Maekawa. If he should leave or die, her world would collapse. She continues to question God’s existence and the real meaning of her life. At this point, her health unexpectedly deteriorates and she returns to hospital. In contrast to her previous stay, she finds that she has a new concern for her fellow patients and suggests that they invite a Christian pastor to speak to the ward at Christmas. This idea is positively received, as the patients have been impressed by Maekawa who visits faithfully every day and shows concern for everyone that he meets. Despite the talk being too difficult for them to understand, they invite the pastor to return once a week to teach them the Bible. Everyone in the ward buys a Bible and eventually two patients believe and are baptised. Ayako is deeply moved by the power of God’s Word to change lives.

No cause is found for Ayako’s continued illness and she is moved to a hospital in Sapporo. This means the end of daily visits by Maekawa, who tells her she must learn to depend on God for herself. Maekawa contacts Nishimura-sensei, the owner of a large bakery and an elder at a church in Sapporo, explaining Ayako’s situation. Despite a busy schedule, he visits Ayako regularly and, through his bible teaching and practical concern, she grows in her understanding of the Christian faith.

Ayako is eventually diagnosed with spinal tuberculosis, the treatment for which is absolute rest encased in a plaster cast. She compares the effect of this disease on her bones to the effect of sin on her soul. Both had remained undiagnosed for a long time but their effect was real. She now recognises her need of God’s forgiveness and is baptised in a simple service in her hospital bed.

Maekawa arrives in Sapporo for major surgery, which entails the removal of eight ribs in an attempt to halt the deterioration of his lungs. He spends several days caring for Ayako before his operation. A few months later, Ayako returns in a plaster cast to her home in Asahikawa. She is now aged 31 and has been ill for nearly eight years.

Maekawa’s operation is unsuccessful. His visits and letters become less frequent and he is confined to his bed with lung haemorrhage. One night Ayako awakes in the early hours and vividly recalls many of the times that they have spent together. In the morning she receives the news that Maekawa has died. Her grief and sense of helplessness are overwhelming. Confined to her plaster cast, she is unable to even attend the funeral.

Maekawa’s mother brings a letter for Ayako to be given to her in the event of his death. Maekawa thanks her for the love that they have shared and reminds her of her promise to live in a positive way. He expresses his confidence that she will continue to do this and his desire for her to be free to love again should someone else appear in her life.

Before Maekawa’s death, Ayako had written to a magazine for those suffering from illness offering to send out copies of a Christian periodical. Before long, patients are writing to her from all over Japan. She writes to encourage many in difficult circumstances and finds that as she seeks to comfort others, she is comforted herself. She begins to receive many visitors who have been impressed by her letters and her poetry. Her anger at God over Maekawa’s death gradually changes to an acceptance of His loving sovereignty in her life.

One of her visitors is Miura Mitsuyo, a member of the same church as Maekawa. Mistaking his first name for that of a woman, the editor of the poetry magazine had suggested that he should call on Ayako. On his first visit, Ayako is taken aback at how similar in both appearance and character he is to Maekawa. He begins to visit Ayako to read the Bible together, discuss poetry and pray. Their relationship gradually deepens and he declares his love for her saying, “I love you for the beauty that has come to you through suffering. We will get married when you are better. If you do not get better, I will remain single.” He reassures Ayako that he does not want her to forget Maekawa. Instead their life together must be such as would make Maekawa happy.

Ayako’s health gradually improves. She is able to sit up in bed and then able to stand and walk around. She has been ill for 13 years and has spent 7 years in a plaster cast. As the wedding day approaches, letters and gifts and visitors arrive from all over Japan. They begin their married life with great thankfulness and with a prayer that they would continue to live with sincerity and stand firm in their faith.

© Japan Christian Link 27/3/2004